About our Western Painted Turtle Program

Since 2009, HAT has been helping to identify and conserve Western Painted Turtle populations on Vancouver Island. Results of our work, including surveys, threat assessments, nest site enhancement and more, can be found in our Annual Western Painted Turtle report on our Publications page.

Surveys

kristina ovaska at magic lake pender island

Since 2008, we surveyed over 100 wetlands or wetland complexes for turtles, and some search were repeated over several years. The surveys have focused mainly on the Capital Regional District and Alberni Valley. The sites included water bodies in urban and rural areas and in forested backcountry, and were selected based on habitat suitability or following tips from residents. The Western Painted Turtle was present sporadically throughout the areas surveyed on the south and east coast of Vancouver Island and in the Alberni Valley; in total, we found this species at 15 (15.8%) of the sites surveyed. We also solicited information from the public through the media and HATs outreach program. These efforts resulted in additional observations of Western Painted Turtle on land or from small ponds within residential areas. On southern Gulf Islands, we were unable to confirm the presence of the Western Painted Turtle on Pender or Galiano islands. However, the species occurs at several sites on Saltspring Island, where the Salt Spring Island Conservancy has carried out surveys and collected records from residents.

Information was also obtained on introduced turtles, of which the Red-eared Slider was the most commonly encountered species (found at 21 or 22% of the sites surveyed from 2008 to 2011). Most likely, these turtles were released pets, as there is no evidence of them successfully breeding in the wild in BC Release of captive turtles into nature is illegal and potentially harmful for native turtles and other wildlife; introduced turtles can spread diseases or compete for nesting sites, food, or other resources with native species. We also occasionally encountered other exotic turtles, such as the Reeves Pond Turtle, Eastern Painted Turtle, and Cumberland and Yellow Belly sliders.

Threat Assessments

On southern Vancouver Island, populations of the Western Painted Turtle occur within urban and rural areas, and are threatened from shoreline development, intensive recreational use, road mortality, and nest predation by raccoons, other predators, and/or free-roaming pets. In Alberni Valley, turtles occur within forestry lands and are vulnerable to some activities associated with forest harvesting, such as modification of water regimes and modification of riparian habitats, and from road kill on logging roads while migrating between water bodies and nesting areas on land. In all areas, turtles are particularly vulnerable on nesting grounds, and it is important that these areas be identified and protected from disturbance. Part of our work has been to identify locations and type of habitats that turtles use for nesting.

Basking Log Installation

Basking logs are a critical habitat feature for Western Painted Turtles and many other wetland species, including frogs and birds. Unfortunately, naturally occuring logs in lakes and wetlands are often removed due to the hazard they create for boats, or for aesthetic reasons. In lakes and wetlands lacking appropriate basking logs, HAT will install logs for turtles and other wildlife to use.  We continue to refine our design to create functional, natural looking logs that will last many years.

Nest Site Protection & Enhancement

In collaboration with landowners and volunteers, we have undertaken nest habitat creation or restoration at three sites. Monitoring the effectiveness of the restoration activities is on-going, but initial results are promising. Information on techniques for restoring turtle habitat and studying turtles can be found at Collaborative Species At Risk Site.

Landowner Stewardship

HAT meets with public and private landowners with Western Painted Turtle habitat on their properties, including lake, wetland, or nesting habitat. We help property owners identify land care practices that protect habitat that turtles and other wetland wildlife needs.

Management Planning

HAT will prepare Management Plans for landowners that have Western Painted Turtles or nest sites on their property.  These plans will help landowners conserve this habitat for future.

Road Mortality Signage

turtle crossing sign BC LSielecki 2007 jpgTurtles often cross roads to reach nesting sites, when young emerge from nest sites and move to water bodies, and to migrate to new waterbodies. HAT worked with the District of Saanich to install road signs at one particularly dangerous crossing on Beaver Lake Road.  We also provide informal signs for landowners to post on their property near other danger areas.

Landscape Use (Telemetry) Study

HAT is continuing to study how Western Painted Turtles use the landscape around Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary through tracking 6 turtles that have been tagged with radio-telemetry devices. By understanding how turtles use this complex landscape with roads, trails, multiple nest sites, and heavy recreational use, we can better conserve important habitat features, and protect turtles, and nests, from threats.

Information Sharing

There are several organizations working on conserving coastal populations of Western Painted Turtles.  HAT hosts a collabrative, information sharing website at speciesatrisk.hat.bc.ca that allows to share best practices, results of research, and outreach materials that make all our programs stronger.

We are grateful for funding from Environment Canada's Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at RiskCRD Parks, Shell Canada Fuelling Change, and private donors like you that makes this program possible. 

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