Monday, December 03, 2007

Bog Turtles Near the Yale Farm Golf Course? Maybe, Maybe Not

Construction of a golf course proposed for North Canaan, Connecticut, in the Housatonic Valley, is being held up because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says a survey for bog turtles, a federally threatened species, was inadequate and has to be done over. That's interesting enough, but what makes this case really fascinating is that the bog turtle survey that Fish and Wildlife deemed inadequate was performed by Michael Klemens, who devised the bog turtle survey method that the Fish and Wildlife Service relies on.

Klemens, who is a friend of mine, also wrote the book that is the standard reference work on reptiles and amphibians of Connecticut (he also wrote this field guide, which is very useful even for those of us in eastern New York because, as he told me, the habitat is essentially the same). It's out of print and whenever I want to use it I have to get a copy from the library, but I clearly remember it describing a bog turtle sighting near where the Yale Farm golf course is being proposed. I remember it because it was east of the Housatonic River and Klemens made a point of saying that there were no known bog turtle populations east of the Housatonic. The one sighting was probably of a wanderer, which is something bog turtles do occasionally as they try to find new habitat.

When Michael surveyed the golf course site a few years ago, using his own federally-approved protocol, he didn't find any bog turtles. That plus the fact that he was working in an area out of the known bog turtle range, led him to conclude that there weren't any bog turtles there.

But neighbors who don't want the golf course to be built hired Hudsonia and its turtle expert, Eric Kiviat, who I know and am friendly with, and Kiviat challenged Klemens's findings.

The Hartford Courant has a good story about it all in yesterday's paper. I tend to think both sides are right. I'd be surprised if Michael Klemens is wrong and bog turtles actually are found on the Yale Golf course site -- surprised but not shocked. Stranger things have happened. And so my other reaction is that there's nothing to lose by looking further, which Klemens will do when the weather warms up again.

I've known Michael for a decade and his attitude has always been that when it comes to protecting important wildlife, we should compromise in situations where compromise won't damage wildlife, but in situations where it will, we shouldn't compromise. Importantly, no one in the Courant article challenges his integrity; they just say that in this case he might be wrong. But as always, he has an interesting and different perspective on the situation. Here's how the Courant quotes him:

During the active mating and hatching season from June to July in 2003, Klemens spent seven dawn-to-dusk days searching for bog turtles and other rare species. His 15-page report was submitted to the DEP and the wildlife service.

During an interview last week, Klemens said that he stood by his original research and that, over the winter, he would be forwarding to the wildlife service additional research supporting his conclusion that there are no bog turtles on Yale Farm.

"I basically concluded that although one or two areas contained suitable conditions and plants for bog turtles, none were there," Klemens said. "There haven't been confirmed sightings associated with established populations east of the Housatonic, and bog turtles typically occur at elevations lower than Yale Farm."

Klemens said that he had an additional concern about a public debate on the issue.

"Every time there's a controversy like this and no turtles are found, the public just assumes we are crying wolf and doesn't believe us anymore, so the turtles suffer," he said. "I've been trying to interest government officials for years in protecting some known bog turtle sites but no one is interested. But now suddenly they are interested here."



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it would be good overall if Bog Turtles were found at the site. More Bog Turtle populations is always a good thing.

8:14 PM  
Blogger GreenmanTim said...

There was, in fact, a turtle found in 1998 next to the site and recorded by CTDEP. This fact has been picked up by the USFWS, which gives more credence to the occurence than did DEP at the time.

9:49 AM  

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