Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

pic of grassy, marshy meadow
Bog turtle habitat. (MDSHA)
see caption
Bog turtle with transmitter. (MDSHA)
pic of woman carrying tracking equipment in marshland
Tracking the bog turtle. (MDSHA)

Maryland Department of Transportation

Maryland's Protection and Enhancement of Bog turtle Habitat

A small turtle which can live up to 40 years has a new lease on life, thanks to a Maryland highway-improvement project and habitat management plan. The North American bog turtle was listed as "threatened" under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Over the last few decades, the wet meadow habitat required by the turtle has significantly declined so, when Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA) engineers learned a 4.5-mile bypass on Carroll County's congested MD Route 30 would cross through "bog turtle country," they relocated the bypass around the town of Hampstead and well outside of the bog turtle's home range.

Research on turtle movements contributed to the design change. Information gained by fitting bog turtles with radio transmitters and following their movements allowed MDSHA to place the bypass where its effects on the turtles would minimized. Since bog turtles do not usually move at night, plans for a turtle-crossing pipe were abandoned in favor of a 15-foot-high bridge to allow movement to other turtle populations downstream.

Even though the research demonstrated the relocated alignment would not impact bog turtle habitat nor have major effects on hydrology, MDSHA's environmental staff took extra steps to ensure an uninterrupted turtle corridor. They purchased two wetland-and-upland properties along the east and west sides of the new alignment. On the wetlands, they used state-of-the-art stormwater management techniques to control runoff and maintain the conditions needed for bog turtle habitat. The agency rented some upland agricultural areas to farmers who agreed to convert the fields previously harvested for grain (primarily corn and soybeans) to timothy grass. When timothy grass is harvested for hay, a perennial grass cover remains on the upland slopes, ending off-season bare soil, reducing runoff, and increasing infiltration to groundwater resources which feed the wetlands.

Everyone benefited from the MDSHA-farmer partnership: the agency got new runoff coefficients; the timothy grass farmers paid less rent; and the turtles gained enhanced habitat and habitat linkages.

Luckily, progress on the acquired properties can't be undone by human activity. A document has been filed in county court limiting all future activities on the sites to only those maintaining the turtle population.

The project's habitat management plan is ambitious. It has set goals of increasing the age diversity in the bog turtle population, reducing the number of areas dominated by invasive plants, restoring the wet meadow vegetative community to the wetlands, restricting access by humans, and reducing predation by animals like raccoons, foxes, skunks, and dogs. Each goal is measurable and has to be accomplished within a timetable. For example, reducing the area occupied by non-native, invasive reed canary grass by 50 percent has to be completed by the end of the first management year.

How is success determined? Hydraulic monitoring stations have been installed to measure stream flow through the wetlands. And MDSHA is partnering with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on an annual bog turtle census to determine numbers, habitat quality, and evidence of predation. Besides the DNR, other partners in various aspects of the project include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maryland Department of the Environment, Frostburg State University, Carroll County government officials, the Mayor and Town Manager of the town of Hampstead, FHWA, and numerous environmental consulting firms.

For more information, contact William Branch, wbranch@sha.state.md.us

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