Rare turtle may impact new school site in southern Kitchener

In 2014, there was an unconfirmed sighting of a threatened Blanding's turtle near the future site of Chicopee Hills Public School.

School board will be searching for signs of Blanding’s turtle this spring

A Blanding's turtle is distinguished by its bright yellow chin and throat. This particular turtle is still quite young. (CBC)

In the spring, officials from the local public school board will be searching a property they own to see if a rare turtle has been basking in the sun.

In 2014, someone said they possibly spotted a Blanding's turtle, which is a threatened species in Ontario, near the future site of the Chicopee Hills Public School.

Ian Gaudet, the controller of facility services with the Waterloo Region District School Board, said they will need to watch for signs the turtle does actually exist in the area before moving forward with the new school.

"In March or April, we need to study the site over a period of a number of days to see if the Blanding's turtle in fact has come out to warm itself," he said in an interview with CBC News. "When they come out to bask, I believe they leave impressions in the melting snow or wet mud, kind of leave their footprints that they've been out and about."

Smiling turtle

The Blanding's turtle has a distinctive bright yellow neck, a domed shell "like a big, old army helmet" and looks like it's smiling, Joe Crowley, a species at risk expert herpetologist with Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, said in an interview.

It is considered a threatened species in the province, meaning it is not endangered, but could become endangered if steps are not taken to address threats against it.

The turtles face two major survival threats — the first is the loss of habitat and the second is being run over while crossing the road.

"Blanding's turtles occupy wetlands, shallow bays of lakes, aquatic habitats and especially in southwestern Ontario, we've lost a very high proportion of those habitats. We've lost over 70% of our wetlands in southwestern Ontario," Crowley said.

As well, the turtles "can move many, many kilometres during some of these migrations and so they can actually have to cross quite a few roads while they're moving around."

Blanding's turtles have exceptionally long lives, but have a low reproductive rate, Crowley said.

"The odds of (juvenile turtles) surviving to adulthood is extremely low to the point where one adult female that maybe breeds for her entire life, say for 75 years or so, might only produce a couple of turtles that will actually survive," he said. 

Work schedule affected

If officials find a Blanding's turtle, Gaudet said it may impact their work schedule.

"I think it depends on, if the turtle does exist, where it does exists, whether it just ventured on to our property or whether that's actually where its home is and where its nest would be," he said.

"I'm uncertain at this point if we can co-habitate" with the turtle.

Asked if a turtle sighting could cancel plans for the school, Gaudet said he did not know.

"I don't believe that's been discussed."

with files from Melanie Ferrier


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