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Monday, January 25 • 2:00pm - 2:20pm
Status Assessment of The Wood Turtle in the Northeastern USA, From Maine To Virginia

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AUTHORS: Michael T. Jones*, Lisabeth L. Willey, Paul R. Sievert, Thomas S.B. Akre, Lorien Lemmon, Jeff Dragon, Lori Erb, Brian Zarate, Michael Marchand, JD Kleopfer, Derek Yorks, Jonathan Mays, Phillip deMaynadier, Glenn Johnson, Lori Johnson, Kathy Gipe, Chris Urban, Kieran O'Malley, Scott Angus, Barry Wicklow, Jay Drasher, Ed Thompson, Scott Smith, Deanna McCullum, Angelena Ross, Bill Hoffman, J.W. Tamplin, Thomas Pluto, Hank Gruner, Steve Parren, Jenny Dickson, Chris Raithel, Maureen Toner, Russell Burke, Tom Duchak, Ray Farrell, Colin Osborn

ABSTRACT: Wood turtles are a riparian species of regional conservation concern and a high-value focal species for landscape-scale planning in the northeastern USA. Wood turtles have apparently undergone recent, widespread population decline; many populations are small and isolated. Threats include riparian habitat fragmentation as well as mortality from cars, mowers and farm equipment, collection, and predators. From 2011 to 2015 we developed a status assessment and conservation strategy, supported by Northeast AFWA's Regional Conservation Needs (RCN) program and led by the Massachusetts Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. We amassed corroborated occurrences and built species distribution models (SDM) from climatic and stream geomorphology data. We evaluated and refined visual survey protocols, undertook standardized population assessments in ten states, and examined the influence of landscape on abundance. Over 50% of SDM stream habitat in the Northeast Region has urbanization and deforestation characteristics similar to survey sites with repeated negative results, and it appears that wood turtle abundance is best explained by these variables at relatively large spatial scales. New Jersey and Maryland appear to have the largest proportion of potentially impaired SDM habitat in the Northeast Region (over 80%). Maine, West Virginia, and New Hampshire appear to support relatively non-impaired SDM habitat. Approximately 25% of corroborated occurrences are >50% protected, but only 14% of SDM streams are >50% protected. Historic occurrences last observed before 1983 have higher potential impairment values (compared with recent observations) based on urbanization and forest cover. The level of regulatory protections provided to wood turtles and critical components of wood turtle upland habitat do not appear to correspond to the high level of concern for wood turtle conservation. To avoid further declines, conservation actions will protect remaining, functional populations in high-quality riparian habitats, and respond to opportunities for riparian restoration and population management on protected lands elsewhere in the range. In 2014, we received regional funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Competitive SWG program to develop a comprehensive conservation plan for wood turtles in the Northeast Region.

Monday January 25, 2016 2:00pm - 2:20pm EST
Emerald B