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Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter, 2000, 4:6-7
© 2000 by Chelonian Research Foundation

Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter

Workshop Addresses Long Range Protection and Management of Bog Turtle Habitat in Maryland

David S. Lee1, Chris Swarth2, and Kurt Buhlmann3
1 The Tortoise Reserve, Inc., P.O. Box 7082, White Lake, NC 28337
2 Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, 1361 Wrighton Rd., Lothian, MD 20711
3 Conservation International, 1919 M St., NW, Washington, DC 20036

The Tortoise Reserve, Inc., Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, and Conservation International hosted a day-long workshop to develop action plans for the long-range protection of bog turtle habitat in Maryland. The meeting was held at Jug Bay on 27 February 2001. Participation was by invitation and the number of people invited was limited to allow for a productive working atmosphere. The fifty people who attended represented a wide range of conservation interest groups from both the private and public sectors. The action plans developed are ones that will address the needs and concerns of the entire conservation community. A published summary of the workshop will be made available.

The bog turtle has been listed as a threatened species in the northern portion of its range (Federal Register: November 4, 1997. Vol. 62 No. 213). Maryland bog turtles are part of this northern population and sites of occurrence support some of the most important populations of this species. Minimally 25-30% of the global population now occurs in four Piedmont counties of Maryland. These turtles have off and on been listed as state threatened or endangered since the early 1970s. Studies conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in 1992 and 1993 indicated that the state’s bog turtle population had declined 43% over the previous 15 years. Thus, this is one of the few reptile species listed as a conservation priority where we have real numbers to show declines over time. While over collection for the pet trade is usually listed as the main reason for the rarity of this turtle, loss of natural habitat through development, natural succession, and succession accelerated by man’s activities are the primary reasons for the species decline. The state of Maryland had done an excellent job of gathering base line information and is strictly enforcing the loss of additional wetland habitat through development. However, in Maryland over 97% of the sites of known occurrence are on private lands (all the important sites are on private lands). Few coordinated efforts have been made to work with land owners to educate them about the needs of the turtle, to control succession, to work the wetlands into land easements, or to provide other incentives for land owners to manage lands in ways that provide viable habitat for the species.

This bog turtle conservation effort is a classic example of a program that is not clearly under the mandate of a single group or agency. The grass roots conservation and management efforts which are now needed do not fall under any particular agency, are outside the scope of traditional academic interest, and will not generate the level of outside funding that the larger conservation organizations typically require to become involved. The sites on private lands will probably always be held in private hands. Most local conservation programs have failed to effectively work the bog turtle into their long-range goals. A major meeting, spear headed by the state’s Department of Natural Resources, which addressed all levels of conservation needs for Maryland’s bog turtles, was held in the spring of 1999. In part, our 2001 workshop was a follow up effort so that the interest and information generated at that meeting could be put to use and to encourage increased involvement by the private sector. While it is clear that bog turtle conservation is a concern of many organizations and agencies, to date major activities were largely limited to those of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. It is our opinion that the private landowners need to be the focus of such activities and that NGOs and local land trust need to play key roles in working with these landowners.

Bog turtle conservation is complicated by the fact that former rural areas are under high end development (mostly suburban housing) and recently passed ordinances often prohibit domestic animals, burning, and in one county, unregulated tree removal. Thus, many traditional methods, which formerly kept the wetlands open, are now unavailable to landowners. Former farmers who are of advanced age own many of the sites. At their passing, most sites will be subdivided and sold by their children. In the next 15 years, we anticipate a decline in the number of occupied bog turtle sites similar to the decline documented from the mid 1970s through the early 1990s. Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources is planning a follow up survey to document the status of bog turtle habitat starting in 2001. In addition to this upcoming survey, the participants in the meeting strongly believe that focused conservation efforts (land easements, succession management, education) need to begin immediately.

The morning session of the 2001 workshop was intended to bring everyone up to date on the current situation. The afternoon consisted of a number of meetings of sub-committees charged with the development of action plans for long term conservation of local populations. An informal evening session lead by Kevin Smith (MD Department of Natural Resources) and supported by pizza and beer, discussed the action plans proposed by the various working groups and attempted to fine tune activities and to build on areas of consensus. This workshop was put together by a total volunteer effort, a zero budget, and complete lack of registration fees. While the program would have benefited from an additional half day of activity, this was not realistic, and we feel that most of our initial goals were met. The working groups continued to work together (mostly through e-mail) for several weeks following the meeting. The following topics were presented in the morning session: An overview of the biology and natural history of the bog turtle (Dave Lee, Tortoise Reserve), Current status and conservation activities in Maryland (Scott Smith, MD Department of Natural Resources), Management of metapopulations (Kurt Buhlmann, Conservation International), A summary of the structure and activities of Project Bog Turtle in the Southern Appalachians (Dennis Herman, NC State Museum); Some recent activities regarding bog turtles (educational slide set, breeding bird surveys in bog turtle wetlands, the Tortoise Reserve’s Sanctuary Program: Dave Lee), The Baltimore Zoo’s education program (Anthony Wisenieki, Baltimore Zoo), Succession and invasive plant eradication (Dennis Herman), The role and limitations of land trust (Mike Hollins, Mason Dixon Land Trust), Building local consensus (William Branch, MD State Highway Department), and Legal issues and the Safe Harbors Program (Andy Moser USFWS).

The afternoon working groups consisted of preparation of the following guidelines and documents: A primer of conservation options for private land owners; Coordinating programs between land owners, private organizations, and county, state and federal agencies; Education and public relations; Options for control of invasive woody and exotic plants; Restoration of wet lands; Development of a land owners/managers guide to care of sites and a packet of resource information for land owners; and Long-range planning. Information on portions of these programs is available at under research and conservation. Representation from the academic community, state and federal agencies, NGOs, regional land trust, people working on wetland conservation issues in other states, and volunteer regional invasive plant control groups was well balanced and provided the working groups with perspectives from many disciplines. While the reports from all the working groups are not yet completed, it became clear that everyone was in agreement that the following goals were key to the survival of bog turtles in Maryland:

• Long-term conservation of metapopulations of bog turtles needs to involve the private sector and the working groups recognized that the private sector has many tools and much flexibility, which are not always available to public agencies.

• A program needs to be set in place so that conservation efforts are run locally and are structured to perpetuate. Much of this could be accomplished by working with regional conservation programs which are already in place but that have established missions which are not directly related to bog turtles.

• If we could secure 5 important sites and any number of secondary sites in a metapopulation and have one to two metapopulations established per county (or sub drainage units) this would provide tangible results on which future efforts could build.

• Captive breeding should be considered as a viable strategy for providing stocks to restored wetlands of specific drainage systems.

• For long-term protection, a grass roots program such as the one developed by Project Bog Turtle for the southeast is needed with establishment of some sort of standing committee to oversee and coordinate individual efforts.

• Ongoing educational components are critical at all levels.
We see what develops from this workshop as being the ground work for a program which is broad based and can be locally modified to fit the Bog Turtle Recovery Plan of USFWS once the draft plan is finalized.

The meeting was intended to act as a catalyst to increase interest in protecting an additional number of bog turtle sites and to assure or reestablish the appropriate successional windows at the currently protected sites. Many of the components of action plans proposed are in place, the sites of occurrences are known, and the needs of the turtle are reasonably well understood. The participants recognized a need for coordination and the desire to get an aggressive, locally run, conservation program in place using segments of existing programs and regulations. These activities need to involve the private sector. The program will be a combination of educational and awareness activities coupled with land management and site protection. The latter is to come from land trusts, easements, trying to lower county taxes on key sites, donations, and perhaps purchase. In addition to protection, sites will need periodic management, and some may require major restoration. There is enough local interest that much of these activities can be run on volunteer effort.

We anticipate that this workshop will result in a fast track conservation effort. We received a number of favorable responses from those who were present at the workshop. Within days of the meeting a local land trust had written and submitted grant proposals for acquiring easements of key wetland sites. Additionally, the state and federal agencies helped us set up a program for control of invasive woody vegetation at several important sites on private farms. A number of draft accounts of morning and afternoon sessions have been submitted, and Tom Wilson, George Mason University, has agreed to edit our written summary of the workshop. Educational programs are being developed for local schools, and we have a request from individuals in Pennsylvania to host a similar workshop there. A web site address has been secured which will be available for sharing information as the program matures.