A snapping turtle crosses a road in the Bangor area. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

In its third and final year, the Maine Turtle Roadkill Survey is seeking volunteers to walk along roadways in search of turtles. This project, which depends on public participation, is an effort to pinpoint locations where turtles are at high risk of being struck by vehicles.

To get more people involved, the project is hosting two free volunteer training sessions this month, one in Houlton and one in Bath.

“It’s really about protecting our native species, including our common species,” said the project’s coordinator Sarah Haggerty, who is a conservation biologist at the Maine Audubon. “Roadkill can have such an impact on a population.”

This citizen science project is led by the Maine Audubon in partnership with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine Department of Transportation, with funding through the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.

Volunteers commit to walking along specific road segments, documenting turtles — live or dead — and any other roadkill or live animals at risk of harm from the roadway. The routes are less than 1 mile long, and volunteers are asked to collect data at least three times between May and September.

“There’s 22 million acres in Maine and just a handful of wildlife biologists, most of whom don’t work on roadkill,” Haggerty said. “To be able to collect enough data with enough geographic spread to really get a full understanding of what’s going on really requires volunteers.”

Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

At the training sessions, volunteers will learn how to identify different turtle species and how to collect data for the project using iNaturalist or paper forms. During the session, trainers will lead a walk along a nearby road to demonstrate good survey safety and methodology.

All volunteers will be provided with safety vests, data forms and small rulers, which should be laid beside roadkill to document the animal’s size in photographs.

“The most common species folks will find are painted turtles, which are widespread throughout Maine,” Haggerty said. “And then, of course, snapping turtles. And we’re really interested in finding the state listed [threat e ned or endangered] species, which are the Blanding’s turtle, box turtle, wood turtle and spotted turtle.”

Motor vehicles are one of the top threats to turtles in Maine, Haggerty said. Another big issue is habitat loss and fragmentation of habitat, usually by the construction of roadways.

Over the past two years, the Maine Turtle Roadkill Survey has trained over 100 volunteers. Of those, about 30 volunteers have followed through and collected data each year.

“We’ve had pretty broad coverage in the southern half of the state,” Haggerty said. “This year, we’ll be going up to Houlton [in northern Maine], so that’s pretty exciting to get up into that neck of the woods and get some coverage.”

In addition to protecting turtles and restoring habitat connections, the project seeks to improve public safety. Often drivers attempt to swerve around turtles if they see them in roadways, which can cause vehicle crashes and collisions.

“We’re hoping we’ll get enough data to ID some of the worst places in the state for turtles crossing roads,” Haggerty said. “We’ll then evaluate the situations and work with the DOT (Department of Transportation), the towns and the [Maine] DIF&W to figure out if there’s something we can do at each spot.”

Options for improving areas where turtles are at high risk of being hit by vehicles include: installing fences that bar turtles from crossing, installing larger culverts that allow turtles to pass under roads and erecting signs that alert motorists when entering turtle crossing areas.

Credit: Courtesy of the DIF&W

The upcoming volunteer training sessions are:

  • 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 11 at Houlton High School, 7 Bird Street.
  • 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 28, at Grace Episcopal Church, 1100 Washington Street.

For more information or to register, call Hannah Young at 207-781-2330, extension 219, or send an email to hyoung@maineaudubon.org. To register for the training online, visit maineaudubon.coursestorm.com/category/classes.

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Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.