Drivers urged to watch out for turtles on Southern Interior roads

Watch for turtles on roads

It's turtle crossing season. The Nature Conservancy of Canada is asking motorists to keep an eye out for the critters on Southern Interior roadways.

This is the time of the year that turtles are setting off, often crossing roads, trying to find mates and reach their nesting grounds.

One such turtle crossing is in West Kelowna on Westlake Road where the municipality has installed signs to remind drivers to slow down.

The many at-risk species of turtles in Canada, like other reptiles, are cold-blooded, so basking on gravel, sandy roadsides or warm asphalt feels good on cool spring days. And while a turtle’s shell can protect it from predators, it’s no match for a car. Every turtle lost in a vehicle collision has a significant domino effect for its entire species.

In southern British Columbia, the extensive road network means that many turtles are struck each year as they are crossing or basking on the warm roads. NCC is asking motorists to slow down when they see a turtle on the road and make sure they can safely steer around it.

Turtles must survive for many years before they are able to reproduce. Many only produce eggs once a year and tend to have a very low egg survival rate. A loss of one adult turtle can mean the loss of a decade or more of turtle population development. To maintain their numbers within a population, turtles count on the survival of the adults, especially the females. Studies show that just a five per cent increase in annual mortality can put an entire population at risk of decline.

“Turtles are an important part of wetland ecosystems,” said Virginia Hudson, NCC manager of conservation planning and stewardship in British Columbia. “They play the role of the wetland janitor by helping keep wetlands clean and healthy by eating dead plants, insects and animals.”

The western painted turtle is the only native pond turtle left in the province (the Pacific pond turtle is considered extirpated, or no longer occurring, in BC). Western painted turtles are found in southern BC, where development pressures have significantly altered or destroyed much of their habitat.

“Whenever possible, our conservation work in British Columbia has prioritized conserving and restoring wetlands in the densely populated and developed valley bottoms through the settled south of this province,” says Hudson. “Not only turtles, but many other wildlife species rely on wetlands for some or all of their lifecycle.”

“Western painted turtles do happen to be among the more charming wetland creatures,” said Hudson. “It’s always uplifting to see a bunch of them sunning themselves on logs or swimming in the shallows. They are a great sign that our conservation efforts are working.”

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