RALEIGH, N.C. — A tiny turtle with an uncertain future in North Carolina got a helping hand recently, thanks to a donation of 25 acres of wetlands in Burke County.
The family of Robert Millard and Mary Charlotte Crump Smith donated the land to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, which will use the property to conserve much-needed habitat for bog turtles, a species that is federally and state-listed as threatened, as well as identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan.
Bog turtles are the smallest turtles found in North America, reaching an adult length of only 4 to 5 inches. In North Carolina, bog turtles are found only in the western part of the state. They live in marshy, wetland-type habitats, and spend most of their time under water, buried in mud or hiding in thick, low vegetation. Destruction of their habitats is one of the greatest threats to bog turtle populations. The draining and filling of wetlands or conversion to ponds for residential, commercial, and agricultural development has destroyed or fragmented large areas of suitable bog turtle habitat.
“We have been conducting bog turtle surveys every year to monitor their populations in the state,” said Kendrick Weeks. “What we have found during these surveys is that bog turtle numbers continue to decline overall. That is why we are so excited to get this land donation.”
This property, which sits along Bristol Creek near the Commission’s Johns River Game Land, is even more exciting to biologists because it is near areas where bog turtles have been found in the past, and contains all the elements that provide for the turtle’s life cycle, according to Weeks.
“Bog turtles need soft, mucky wetland soil to forage throughout the spring, summer, and fall as well as to hibernate in during the winter,” Weeks said. “They also need an open canopy and low vegetation cover for efficient thermoregulation. For nesting purposes, they need some embedded or adjacent drier areas.”
Commission biologists conducted surveys last summer, but did not find any bog turtles. This spring, they will continue to survey the site in hopes of finding turtles there. They will also assess the site for needed habitat improvements and implement those as needed.
“As a listed species, bog turtles are the focus of conservation efforts through partnerships between landowners, land trusts, and state and federal agencies,” Weeks said. “I am so glad that Foothills Conservancy facilitated the introduction of the Commission and Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith’s grandson, James Peeler Smith says that the land was part of an original 400 acres his grandfather purchased in 1904.
“These partnerships are important for realizing conservation successes and thanks to the generous donation from Mr. Smith and his relatives, this acquisition is one of them.”
For more information about bog turtles, read the Commission’s Bog Turtle Species Profile. Learn more about nongame and endangered wildlife by visiting the Wildlife Resources Commission’s Conserving page.