Executive Summary and Needs Assessment Report
Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is a species at risk found in the South March Highlands (SMH) of North Kanata, in the City of Ottawa. The species is long-lived and associated with wetland and upland habitats. Nesting occurs in the late spring/early summer and typically involves movements of varying lengths, often through upland forests, to sandy nesting areas. The species is sensitive to urban development, primarily from increased risk of road mortality, but also from loss and fragmentation of habitat. The species is also targeted frequently for poaching as part of the exotic pet trade. Blanding's turtle is thought to be abundant in the Ottawa region, with several populations identified throughout Ottawa and Gatineau. The field research reported herein represents one of the first in-depth studies conducted on an individual population in the urbanized area of the Ottawa and Gatineau region.
In 2011, an extension of Terry Fox Drive was completed through the South March Highlands, along the municipal urban boundary. Residential land development and municipal infrastructure work is already on-going on the urban side of Terry Fox Drive, and more is planned over the next five to ten years. As part of the permitting requirements for the Terry Fox Drive extension, the City has undertaken a 4-year mark-recapture population estimate and range study of the SMH Blanding's turtles. The first year, 2010 should be considered as organizational, with the most relevant mark: recapture and radio telemetry data having been collected during 2011 and 2012. Field work, analysis, and reporting is being conducted by Dillon Consulting Limited and currently will continue for 1 more field season until the end of 2013. To date, 97 turtles have been identified and several key areas have been determined to be important for life processes such as overwintering and nesting. The data from 2013 will be added to this baseline, but the data set is now rich enough to begin drawing conclusions on the important habitats and distribution of Blanding's turtle in the South March Highlands.
The City of Ottawa has contracted Dillon Consulting Limited to prepare a Conservation Needs Assessment based on the data collected to date. The assessment consists of a review of turtle biology, a threat assessment, a population viability analytical model, a characterization of suitable habitats, potential and observed movement corridors, and specific objectives and recommendations to manage Blanding's turtle conservation in the SMH.
The specific threats to the Blanding's turtle population in the SMH were evaluated, with vehicle collisions and habitat loss due to urbanization being most significant. Other potential threats included poaching, natural predation, disease and parasites, climate change, plastic floatables, and bioaccumulation.
A population viability analysis (PVA) was completed using life-history information collected over the span of an almost 50-year study in Michigan, and with SMH-specific data collected during the population estimate and range study. The PVA was used to identify threats to which the population is most sensitive, and to identify effective management strategies. A key finding of the PVA is that planned development will exacerbate the risks. The analysis shows that adult survivorship is the most important factor for viability and should be the main focus of conservation actions. However, variables such as fecundity, hatchling survivorship, and juvenile survival are also important factors in determining long-term population viability and should not be overlooked.
Identification of habitat is important for conservation management. Habitat quality was determined using desktop GIS methods and on the ground knowledge of the SMH. Trapping and radio telemetry movement data allowed us to identify some areas in the SMH as being key to the life processes of Blanding's turtles. Furthermore, we also conducted a GIS linkage analysis to determine suitable areas for movement corridors and made comparisons with radio telemetry-derived movements.
In general, the conservation needs assessment makes recommendations to support a productive, viable Blanding's turtle population in the SMH. Specifically, the assessment establishes seven objectives for discussion, ranging from rather simple mitigation measures to broader collaborative and potentially costly actions. The objectives are listed below (detailed examples are provided in the report):
Objective 1- Reduce the direct and indirect causes of Blanding's turtle mortality.
Objective 2- Continue to improve local and global knowledge and an understanding of the SMH Blanding's turtle population through research and monitoring.
Objective 3- Protect, conserve and manage Blanding's turtle habitat.
Objective 4- Improve understanding of Blanding's turtle habitats through research and monitoring.
Objective 5- Raise public awareness of the Blanding's turtle and the need for conservation.
Objective 6- Enhance cooperation between municipal, provincial, federal, international agencies and non-governmental organizations.
Objective 7- Promote lawful protection of the Blanding's turtle.
In addition to these objectives, recommendations have been made to handle the current issues surrounding land development and Blanding's turtle conservation in the SMH, including, but not limited to, residential development, stormwater management, road restructuring, emulating the Terry Fox Drive Wildlife Guide System, adult turtle protection and hatchling enhancement programs.
Within the study area, a large residential subdivision is draft-plan approved, the potential effects of which were evaluated for this Assessment. In the absence of planned mitigation measures and/or compensation, it is assumed that Blanding's turtle habitat in the development area would be lost.
Similarly, a review of the proposed use of the Kizell Wetland for stormwater servicing of the new development suggests that it would have substantial implications for the protection of Blanding's turtle in the wetland.
Blanding's turtle conservation and management in the SMH should remain a priority of the City of Ottawa and other stakeholders to help preserve this threatened, unique species. Should the objectives, targets and recommendations of the conservation needs assessment not be implemented, the Blanding's turtle population of the SMH will continue to face threats to its core habitats, recruitment success and population abundance. Approaches to successfully implement the conservation needs assessment must consider the outlined species, habitat, research, education, awareness, collaboration and legislative aspects. In addition, the recommendations made to curtail habitat degradation and other threats to the SMH Blanding's turtle should be explored prior to further urban development in the area. The protection of species at risk requires collaboration, research, awareness and enforcement by government, landowners, researchers, non-governmental organizations, interest groups and the public. At the same time, it can inspire our youth, through educational field programs, hands-on involvement and participation in the conservation process.
The full report is available in English only. If you require a French version of the report, or have questions, please contact:
Nick Stow, Planner
Planning and Growth Management
613-580-2424 ext 13000