OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego biological sciences professor Peter A. Rosenbaum recently received a federal grant of more than $14,000 to develop a conservation management plan for five populations of rare bog turtles in three counties.
Rosenbaum, who has studied the federally threatened and state endangered turtles for a quarter century, will work under the sponsorship of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to re-evaluate threats and develop strategies for protecting the palm-size reptiles in Oswego, Seneca and Wayne counties.
“All of them have threats,” Rosenbaum said of the five known bog turtle sites. “Some involve human development such as roads, some involve invasive species, some involve subsidized predators like raccoons.”
The bog turtle, found in 11 states and, according to Rosenbaum, “arguably North America’s smallest and rarest turtle,” is a symbol in the effort to reduce or avoid harmful environmental impacts to the mucky fens and sedge meadows it favors. Rosenbaum frequently has served as a consultant on alleviating the threats from planned developments.
“In the 20-plus years I’ve been studying them, I’ve identified less than 200 animals at these five sites,” Rosenbaum said. “So the terms endangered and threatened have a real meaning at this level.”
The ultimate goal of the federal recovery plan in what is known as the Lake Ontario coastal plain is to discover five additional bog turtle populations or to repopulate five sites where the reptiles once lived but have disappeared, so the turtles can thrive enough to be removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.
Rosenbaum said there has been good news this year: A land trust acquired property encompassing the Wayne County site, meaning the fifth and final bog turtle location is afforded some land-use protection. And another land trust was able to buy additional property around an Oswego County site.
“Protecting the habitat is the first step in protecting the species,” he said. “The flip side is we did discover this summer that invasive (plant) species at some of the sites pose a bigger threat than in the past.”
Sunlight-blocking plants such as the common reed, glossy buckthorn and even the cattail act as invasives in some of the wetlands that bog turtles favor, Rosenbaum said.
The conservation management plan Rosenbaum will help develop will include strategies for minimizing those and other site-protection issues, he said.
Upcoming meetings with representatives of Fish and Wildlife, state Department of Environmental Conservation and three land trusts also will begin to consider criteria for deciding whether to reintroduce bog turtles to promising sites where they formerly thrived.
“Why are they no longer there? What caused their local extinction?” Rosenbaum said those are floor-level questions that need to be answered for sites that still appear otherwise desirable for the rare turtles.