With the Grain
Habitat
Box Turtle Habitat
Site conditions dictate survival for individuals and the species. If you are blessed to see box turtles on your land, their physical isolation is your utmost priority. Limit roads and traffic, educate neighbors, and exclude humans and other predators.

For more box turtle stewardship guidelines, see Habitat from Humanity.


I need privacy, security, and stability.

Priority 1: Stop the Killing!
Resist, forbid--do whatever is necessary, for as long as necessary--to stop new road construction or increased traffic through an active box turtle colony. Buy the land, sue the county, contact the media--just be certain it stops. As you collect crushed bodies of ancients and hatchlings next to one another on fresh asphalt, you will understand.

Reduce populations of raccoons, skunks, and other predators.
Compared to priority 1, this is minor, but may be vital where turtles nest. It takes effort. (Or, drop any resistance to hunting, and find someone with 'coon dogs.) Turtle nests are few, but obvious fodder for ring-tailed bandits. Eggs go like popcorn; until at least age four, hatchlings are a mere snack. Remember: every new rural residence increases predator populations, by creating edge habitat and trash gathering points.

Educate neighborhood adults to leave space for turtles.
They have stewardship choices, and may respect yours. For example, if they mow tall grass sporadically near a turtle area, can that wait until after frost? Also, turtles in the right-of-way need a quick boost to the far side of the road. They know where to go, but need a reminder to keep moving. Local drivers can save (or kill) an entire colony in a single summer. Teach subtly, and by example. Demands will breed resentment, not turtles.

Educate neighborhood kids to leave turtles in their space.
Even with guidance, many kids eventually remove a box turtle from its home. (A special purgatory awaits kids who experiment on these incredibly tough critters; the details are not fit to print.) A turtle's resilience may make it seem a good pet, but mere survival is hollow. Its life's learning is useless, and each new experience is more frightening or frustrating than the last.

Eventually, mom will ban the turtle over a soiled carpet, or the creature will escape silently when ignored briefly in the yard. Young turtles may survive relocation; some adults, too. If released within a few thousand feet of their home range, many will find their way back. Some, however, will wander for months until they starve, freeze, or are recaptured, or--perhaps more merciful--they wander under your front wheel.

Educate new landowners before the bulldozers arrive.
Bulldozers are lethal weapons. Visit a target site the day before, and remove turtles to (your own) large outdoor enclosure until construction is complete. Ask permission to work safely ahead of equipment, and rescue any animals still in harm's way.

The site plan is important. New driveways often unnecessarily intersect vital nesting, basking, or overwintering areas. Poor, but typical, driveway placement can undermine other preservation efforts. As a sunny basking area, a driveway means death as surely as any public road. It is essential to retain previously existing, open natural areas nearby as the preferred alternative.

Educate new landowners after the bulldozers leave.
New houses bring predators--wild and child--but grueling torture comes in many forms. Dogs and cats are as dangerous to turtle hatchlings as are raccoons. Adult dogs can inflict fatal injuries even upon adolescent turtles. In the garden, a pesticide cocktail can kill turtles who have survived decades of profound challenges.

Lawns are as pointless as they seem, and far more dangerous. Sandy nesting areas, and soft overwintering sites, are the first targets of grass-crazed homeowners. Merely turning the soil will compact it, destroying the sites' utility. Then come non-native turf grasses, which--while slightly less murderous than asphalt--are just as biologically sterile and aesthetically void. Encourage natural areas in person, and by example. Lawn = Yawn.

A personal note: Your efforts will be lost on some people. Don't blame yourself. Your values are at odds with those of most land developers. Some of them fear that you may discover something rare on their land. They might respect the rarity, but would prefer destroying it to the alternative: thinking ahead to preserve it. Their lack of foresight reinforces the virtue of your values. It also makes living by those values more difficult for you.

Being a bit lazy and shortsighted is a tempting way of life to them. However, admitting that their life's work is lazy and shortsighted is brutal. We can't blame developers for avoiding such an unpleasant reality about their profession. To acknowledge the need for alternatives is a frightening first step for them. To seek out those alternatives is simply a step too far.

For example, at this moment, bulldozers are leveling an active turtle area near my home. The builder has chosen to ignore alternative approaches for the parcel, or the clearing. He does not hate box turtles. However, he does refuse to acknowledge the enormous damage his industry is causing our community in the long run. Ignoring the disastrous effects of this small action helps him pretend that other, larger results don't exist. Such pretense keeps the money moving, and so keeps his political cronies satisfied, and him sleeping at night.

He has failed (along with many of his associates) to see his own selfishness, in its many forms. Until he sees this, he can not accept help toward becoming a steward of the land, let alone a humane citizen. He has heard and been offered all that he needs in order to grow. However, in his condition, he simply can't afford to admit who he is, and what he does.

So, again: don't blame yourself. When you have done all you can, the turtles will forgive you. They are patient in life, and will be patient in death. Rest assured that they have friends in very, very high places. Eventually, some person will answer for each and every turtle lost to pointless greed.

For more box turtle stewardship guidelines, see Habitat from Humanity.
With the Grain - - Box 517 - - Mattawan, Michigan - - 49017-0517 - - wtg@wtgrain.org

...head home now!
Reason to Plan Preservation Spoken Softly Waiting to Die