by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
New Jersey is home to the bog turtle, one of the nation’s 10 most endangered species, according to a new report, America’s Hottest Species. Produced by the Endangered Species Coalition in conjunction with other wildlife conservation groups, the report identifies animals and plants most threatened by global climate change.
Keeping company with the bog turtle on the “hottest” list are the Kauai creeper (a bird found in Hawaii), polar bear, elkhorn coral, bull trout, Canada lynx, Pacific salmon, leatherback sea turtle, western prairie fringed orchid and flatwoods salamander. Global warming threats include increased disease, diminished reproduction, lost habitat and reduced food supply.
Bog turtles are among the rarest turtles found in the United States. They are also the smallest, reaching only four inches long when fully grown, with bright orange patches along the sides of their heads and necks.
The bog turtle’s northern range includes New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland Connecticut, Massachusetts and – right in the middle – New Jersey. New Jersey has more bog turtle sites than any other northern state.
Bog turtles have been documented in New Jersey as far back as 1891. But sprawl development has taken a catastrophic toll on their numbers. A 1989 survey found turtles at only 24 of 68 previously known sites, and development was found to be the major cause. More comprehensive surveys identified as many as 165 bog turtle sites in New Jersey, but only 72 are considered capable of sustaining bog turtle populations.
Take a look at the bog turtles’ habitat needs and you’ll easily see why they are so endangered – and why global climate change presents such an extraordinary challenge for these little critters. As their name suggests, they thrive in muddy, boggy wetlands. However, they prefer wetlands on the fringes: more open sky and less standing water. These “fringe” or transition zones are often vulnerable to development impacts in spite of our freshwater wetlands laws.
With such particular habitat needs, changes in weather patterns and hydrological cycles caused by global climate change can be devastating. These habitats are more susceptible to droughts and/or flooding, depending on weather patterns.
So when bog turtle habitat changes, what can they do? If their homes flood more frequently due to water runoff from upstream development, they might be expected to migrate. But it’s not that easy. To a small turtle, a two lane road might as well be a mall parking lot. Their odds of surviving are slim. And the likelihood of finding suitable habitat nearby is uncertain.
In New Jersey, conservation agencies and groups are buying and preserving critical habitat for bog turtles. It may be possible to buy most of their habitat sites over time if this state we’re in continues to fund open space.
But climate change and its many uncertain impacts will take a toll. New, innovative and creative approaches will be needed to keep bog turtles thriving in our state!
To learn more, go to the full America’s Hottest Species report at www.StopExtinction.org. The site includes information on each species and initial solutions
And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.
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