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Grant to fund monitoring rare turtles by air, land, water

Dr. Peter Rosenbaum of SUNY Oswego's biological sciences department will work with other scientists and students in a two-year project funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor elusive bog turtles and their habitats at two sites in the region, as part of a larger effort across the Eastern United States. Here, Rosenbaum displays a bog turtle on a small scale and carrying a radio transmitter on its shell in 2012, during fieldwork on another grant.

Dr. Peter Rosenbaum of SUNY Oswego's biological sciences department will work with other scientists and students in a two-year project funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor elusive bog turtles and their habitats at two sites in the region, as part of a larger effort across the Eastern United States. Here, Rosenbaum displays a bog turtle on a small scale and carrying a radio transmitter on its shell in 2012, during fieldwork on another grant.

OSWEGO — Dr. Peter A. Rosenbaum of SUNY Oswego’s biological sciences faculty has won a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant to lead a multidisciplinary team to monitor elusive bog turtles and their habitats at sites in Wayne and Seneca counties.

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Dr. Peter Rosenbaum of SUNY Oswego’s biological sciences department will work with other scientists and students in a two-year project funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor elusive bog turtles and their habitats at two sites in the region, as part of a larger effort across the Eastern United States. Here, Rosenbaum displays a bog turtle on a small scale and carrying a radio transmitter on its shell in 2012, during fieldwork on another grant.

The $58,000 grant, “Population Monitoring and Habitat Monitoring for the Bog Turtle at Two Sites in the Prairie Peninsula and Lake Plains Recovery Unit of New York,” gives Rosenbaum the opportunity to continue a research interest of more than a quarter-century and to intensively assess a rediscovered bog turtle site and a historically well-known one as part in a large, mult-istate monitoring project.

The bog turtle, on the federal threatened and state endangered lists, is found in 11 Eastern states and, according to Rosenbaum, is “arguably North America’s smallest and rarest turtle.” It is a symbol in the effort to protect and restore the mucky fens and sedge meadow environments the turtle favors. Rosenbaum frequently has served as a consultant on alleviating the threats from planned developments, and has a long history of working with other conservation groups to protect and steward the bog turtle’s rare habitats, which sustain a unique mosaic of plants, animals and geology.

In this latest grant, Rosenbaum will work with other scientists and students using trapping, tagging, radio telemetry, remote photography and drones. As part of the larger study, the effort will focus on two of 62 verified sites across the Northeast for these palm-size reptiles.

Along with students from SUNY Oswego and, potentially, other colleges, scientists from four conservation organizations will partner with Rosenbaum to carry out the project and lend high-tech monitoring equipment such as wildlife cameras and aerial drones. Principal scientists include Lori Erb and Brandon Ruhe of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Herpetology and Conservation, James Curatalo of the Wetlands Land Trust, Patrick Raney of the Upper Susquehanna Coalition and James Eckler of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Student opportunities

Rosenbaum said “three or four dozen students” have helped with fieldwork and other tasks in his and colleagues’ research on bog turtles and their habitats over the years. In the current two-year project, Rosenbaum expects student researchers to learn many skills, including the art and science of setting out traps around habitat favored by bog turtles, mapping the traps’ locations using GPS and how to check the traps daily.

The students will also learn about bog turtle habitat and have the opportunity to learn about radio telemetry, using drones as habitat monitors and utilizing different wildlife photography equipment to try to digitally “catch” bog turtles and other wetlands creatures.

One of the sites now under study was first discovered in 1916 by world-renowned wildlife biologist and herpetologist Albert Hazen Wright of Cornell University. The site and its location were not well described, and it was not until 2004 that Rosenbaum was able to trap and tag a bog turtle at the Wayne County site he long had suspected was the one Wright had found.

“We put a radio transmitter on her and followed her around, but found no other bog turtles there in 2004,” Rosenbaum said. “Next year will be our first opportunity since then to locate other bog turtles at this site.”

Part of the new grant will help assess that site in detail as part of the ongoing federally funded effort to help conserve and, where possible, restore bog turtle habitat. Several restoration and stewardship projects are ongoing at each of the five known bog turtle sites in Central and Western New York, Rosenbaum said.

The ultimate goal of the federal recovery plan in what is known as the Lake Ontario coastal plain is to restore bog turtles in at least 10 sites, either by discovering five additional bog turtle populations or by reintroducing them into sites where the reptiles once lived but have disappeared.

Rosenbaum said he also plans to repeat a 1990s project first done with Syracuse’s Rosamond Gifford Zoo to collect turtle eggs and head-start hatchling turtles in captivity — protecting them from predators and other threats until they are more fully grown — and then release them in an attempt to reintegrate them into their native habitat.