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Minnesota Zoo, MnDOT Partner To Address Dwindling Blanding's Turtle Population

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A partnership between the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Zoo is helping turtles make a comeback.

Blanding's turtles are key to ecosystems across the state, but their numbers have been dropping for decades.

"Their main characteristic is a bright, yellow throat. If you see a bright, yellow throat, that's going to be a Blanding's turtle," said Tricia Markle.

They are known for their distinctive features, but not necessarily their speed. That's why every June, Blanding's turtles fall victim to cars and trucks on Minnesota roads.

"What we're finding is the ones getting hit are often these breeding females looking for nest sites. And even removing just a few from the population is going to have pretty drastic consequences for the population as a whole," Markle said.

Markle is a Wildlife Conservation Specialist with the Minnesota Zoo. She said Blanding's turtles are a major part of the state's wetlands. They act like janitors, eating dead plants and fish that spread disease.

So, to keep them safe, MnDOT and the zoo built fences to keep them off busy highways.

"We found it's really effective. So at our sites, we have four sites with fences, mortality has been down about 65% to 80% across these sites," said Markle.

Wraparound features at the end of the fences direct the turtles back towards the wetland.

Even though the fencing was saving adult turtles, hatchlings could still get through small openings. So this spring wire mesh was added to keep the smaller turtles from sneaking through.

Animals can still cross by using highway underpasses and culverts. For Markle, it could be the solution to a decades-old problem.

"The zoo is excited. MnDOT is excited. So we are hoping at the appropriate sites we can scale it up across the state," said Markle.

Markle said habitat loss is still a major factor affecting turtle species. She said they are working to preserve more nesting and foraging sites for both Blanding's turtles and Wood turtles.

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