900 turtles relocated from path of ICC
Project part of initiative to protect native Maryland species
Using specially trained dogs and volunteers, state highway officials have found about 900 Eastern box turtles and relocated them out of harm's way of Intercounty Connector construction.
They used Earth Day to make the announcement to Washington Christian Academy students, who spent the day learning about the impact the east-west highway's construction has had on the turtle population.
Washington Christian Academy was chosen in part because it is located on Batchellors Forest Road near the ICC project in Olney, said David Hawes, the school's vice president of operations.
"Participating in the Eastern Box Turtle Initiative is an excellent way to teach children the importance of our environment and to educate them on the complexities and challenges of balancing the need for urban growth with the responsibility of caring for the environment," he said.
Fourth and fifth grade students got a look at the turtles, learned about their life cycle and habitat, and watched demonstrations of turtle-tracking dogs. They also learned about career opportunities in environmental sciences and enjoyed a visit from the project's mascot, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Raphael.
The Eastern box turtle is a tortoise that lives in woodlands habitats throughout Maryland.
Although the species is not listed as threatened or endangered by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a population decline has been noted. The State Highway Administration agreed to take steps to avoid and minimize impacts to box turtles during the ICC construction.
The Eastern Box Turtle Initiative, part of the ICC project's $370 million program to mitigate the environmental impacts of construction, began prior to construction in fall 2007. The SHA relocated box turtles away from ICC construction and equipped them with transponders, allowing data to be collected and their behavior to be analyzed.
"The Turtle Initiative is a creative project that reconciles the possible threat to a species in the construction process by vigorously providing human intervention to avoid and diminish the impact," said Melinda Peters, director of the ICC project.
SHA's ICC Environmental Manager Robert Shreeve presented a summary of findings to the students, which included details on the locations and quantities of turtles found.
Over two full seasons of searching fall 2007 through fall 2009 nearly 900 box turtles were relocated to safety outside of the project area.
In the geographic area within what is known as Contract A, the section between Interstate 370 in Derwood and Georgia Avenue in Olney, 413 box turtles were found, with the majority coming from the Metro Access Road at I-370 and Shady Grove Road and from within the North Branch Rock Creek Stream Valley Park.
In the area known as Contract B, between Georgia Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue, 445 box turtles were found, with most coming from forest and field edge habitat between Norbeck Road and Georgia Avenue, within young and more mature forest habitat between Notley Road and New Hampshire Avenue, and within the Paint Branch Special Protection Area.
In the area known as Contract C, from New Hampshire Avenue east to Laurel, 39 box turtles were found.
All of the rescued turtles were immediately relocated outside of the project's right-of-way in a suitable habitat, SHA officials announced.
Volunteers from the Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society provided housing and care for young, underweight or sick box turtles that could not be immediately released.
Shreeve said he found that that mesh fencing stapled to the ground in the construction zone is generally not adequate to keep turtles from trespassing back into the right-of-way and other fencing options should be investigated for any future turtle relocation projects.
The SHA also provided funding to Towson University for a three-year study addressing the effectiveness of long-distance and short-distance relocations on relocated turtles and resident populations.
Washington Christian Academy students said they enjoyed the April 22 lesson.
"Turtle Day was fun," said fourth-grader Maya Burris. "I saw two beautiful turtles. I learned about how we should treat the environment. We also learned how special dogs track down turtles."
Her classmate, Vivian Mammen, agreed.
"Turtle Day was awesome," she said. "I never knew the difference between a female and male box turtle. It's amazing how God has made dogs able to smell box turtles out. I think it's amazing that the ICC workers are taking the time to save God's creatures."
The first seven-mile segment of the 18.8-mile ICC is scheduled to be complete late this year or early next year, while the segments east of Georgia Avenue are slated to open late 2011 or 2012.