As COVID-19 restrictions ease and more people are getting back on the road, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is asking travellers to slow down for wildlife, especially the endangered western painted turtle.
Turtle populations are vulnerable to collisions along roads and highways, particularly in B.C.’s Okanagan region where the combination of turtle-supporting wetland and high-traffic roads results in many turtle deaths each year. The western painted turtle is considered a species at risk by the Committee of the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and incidents like vehicular deaths can put the entire population at greater risk.
In West Kelowna on Westlake Road, May and June have already seen several turtles crushed by vehicles as they try to cross the road from one wetland to another. There is signage in the area telling drivers to slow down and currently, the City of West Kelowna is in the process of installing trail cams in the area to observe the turtles and figure out how to best help them cross the road.
“Turtles are not just adorable, they’re an important part of wetland ecosystems,” NCC program director Kristyn Ferguson said.
“They help keep wetlands clean and healthy by eating dead plants, insects and animals, and play the role of the wetland janitor.”
Travellers will sometimes encounter turtles on busy roads in major centres or on back roads where there may be wetlands. According to the nature conservancy, turtles can wander as far as 10 kilometres between May and October. They set out to mate in the spring, with newly hatched turtles travelling from their nest to a nearby wetland or body of water in late summer and early fall.
The nature conservancy is asking motorists who see turtles on the road to slow down and drive around them. If it’s safe to do so, motorists are encouraged to pull over and move the turtle in the direction it was going.