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As turtles of all types deal with the grim prospect of crossing roads this time of year, a Lake County program to boost the population of one endangered species is finding success.
And the long-running Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program to give the endearing babies a fighting chance is set to continue for the foreseeable future.
The Lake County Forest Preserve District next week is expected to extend for 10 years an agreement with the McHenry County Conservation District. The collaboration ensures the once plentiful creatures will get a head start before being released into the wild.
Blanding’s turtles are known for a bright yellow chin and seemingly smiling countenance. In 2009, the species was designated as endangered in Illinois, their numbers thinned by high road mortality, loss of habitat, increased pressure from predators and illegal poaching.
Turtles, including Blanding’s, become more active in the spring and cross roads in search of water, food, mates or nesting sites. Turtle crossing signs and alerts to drivers have become more common in the suburbs.
And captive rearing and head-starting programs throughout the region are relieving the pressure on Blanding’s turtles and replenishing their ranks.
Under their agreement, Lake County ecologists brings turtles to the McHenry County Conservation Department’s research facility. There, they’re induced to lay their eggs.
“Once the eggs are far enough along in development, we run the turtle taxi” to return the mothers to where they were captured in Lake County, said Gary Glowacki, manager of conservation ecology for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
Meanwhile, the eggs are kept in incubators until they hatch and are tended for a few months in McHenry County. The youngsters then continue their growth in Lake County, where they’re held in captivity beyond the point of extreme danger from predators.
“They have the expertise, resources and the proper facility to do that for us at their wildlife resource center,” Glowacki said of the McHenry County Conservation Department.
According to the McHenry department, a 1-year-old head-started turtle could be the size of a wild 2- to 4-year-old turtle, and the larger body size gives them a better chance of long-term survival.
Every year since the deal was struck in 2010, Glowacki has been releasing his young charges for what hopefully will be long lives into a large marshy area in the far northeast part of Lake County. The renewed agreement with the McHenry conservation district would cost Lake County $6,000 annually and run through May 31, 2031.
“This pending agreement means that we are having success and would like to continue this successful partnership,” Glowacki said.
Lake County is the lead agency for the recovery effort of Blanding’s turtles as part of the Chicago Wilderness Priority Species Program. But it is far from alone in collaborative efforts to give the turtles a better chance to survive and thrive.
The McHenry County Conservation District has been in the Blanding’s business for 25 years and microchipped more than 1,100 turtles. Similar programs are happening in DuPage County and elsewhere.
“There are a lot of organizations working with Blanding’s turtles in the area to get their numbers increased,” said Sara Denham, manager of the McHenry district’s Wildlife Resource Center. “Everbody’s doing what they can.”
In Lake County, the Blanding’s population has not only stabilized but grown to the point where the county has the largest Blanding’s population in Illinois and the Midwest, Glowacki said.
Last year for the first time, rather than adding to the single location, Blanding’s also were reintroduced in a second location.
“We call it a start from scratch,” Glowacki said.
Of the 70 turtles reintroduced last year, 68 have survived.
In a few weeks, about 100 turtles in different batches will be released in an annual tradition to honor World Turtle Day, which this year is May 23.
“The strength of all the parties working on turtle conservation is pretty remarkable,” Glowacki said.