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    Top-Secret Turtles: Native species find stronghold in Camp Grayling

    Graduate students seek out turtles hiding beneath Grayling snow and ice

    Photo By Sgt. Samantha Hall | Elizabeth Cubberly and Reine Sovey, graduate students at Purdue University, track...... read more read more



    Story by Spc. Samantha Hall 

    Michigan National Guard

    Camp Grayling, the largest National Guard base in the country and host of yearly multinational, joint, live-fire exercises over an expanse of 147,000 acres of Michigan wilderness, is home to individuals whose locations are sensitive to the survival of their species.

    These top-secret turtles are thriving among the vast training ranges more so than almost anywhere else in their natural range, and Camp Grayling and Purdue University - Fort Wayne are working to understand why.

    The two species, the Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) and the wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) are both classified as imperiled species in Michigan and are in decline across the regions where they are found.

    A study is being conducted by Dr. Bruce Kingsbury, Ph.D, professor and associate dean of Arts and Sciences and director of the Environmental Resources Center at Purdue University, and implemented by graduate students Reine Sovey and Elizabeth Cubberley over two field seasons.

    The research is funded by National Guard Bureau in order to update the Integrated National Resources Management Plan, which states the natural resources that are present within the camp, any conservation issues, and how resources will be protected.

    “It helps us manage the populations here and informs what we can do to help the turtles while also maintaining the military’s mission,” said Michael Ravesi, the natural resources specialist in the Environmental and Mapping Services office at Camp Grayling. “It’s our most important document here.”

    According to Ravesi, there haven’t been many recent issues balancing conservation with the huge training operations conducted on Camp Grayling. In fact, military bases provide an expanse of uninterrupted habitat which is increasingly rare to find in Michigan and valuable to the livelihood of many native threatened species, including the Eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus), Michigan’s only rattlesnake; the Northern long-eared bat, (Myotis septentrionalis); Houghton’s goldenrod (Solidago houghtonii), and Kirtland’s warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii), a colorful songbird that is in the process of becoming unlisted despite almost becoming extinct 50 years ago.

    “We help manage, research and understand all of these species,” said Ravesi.

    Hopefully, Kingsbury’s study will help these two turtles, imperiled by habitat loss and poaching, join the ranks of the warbler.

    “The resource opportunities for this kind of work can be limited, so the Department of Defense can be a great partner in research. They have the populations and the resources to support the effort to understand the ecology of imperiled species and also to actually implement best practices,” said Kingsbury. “I definitely do think that the military is taking an active role in conservation and I think that’s really valuable.”

    This winter, students Cubberley and Sovey took to the snow-sheeted woods of Camp Grayling during their last week of research to track the winter resting sites of the turtles. Hopefully, their data on the turtles’ locations and movements will help them better understand their habitat needs.

    “Blanding’s turtles tend to move a lot between different wetlands. For example, the turtle we’re tracking right now spent most of her summer in a stream, but we now think she’s in a bog,” said Cubberley while trekking through the woods to reach a remote wetland. “Unfortunately, there is the risk of people coming in and taking them. We’re very careful about making sure not to share our locations.”

    In a study in another part of the country, entire populations of wood turtles were wiped out by poachers after their locations were published academically. They are meticulous in ensuring the Grayling turtles’ safety.
    “They’re doing fairly well in Michigan compared to other areas where these species are found, but it’s important to conserve that stronghold,” said Sovey.

    While Camp Grayling and Kingsbury’s team are hard at work this summer, what can you do to help Michigan’s turtles?

    According to Cubberley, many turtles are killed when attempting to cross roads, so avoiding hitting them and helping them across roadways, if safe to do so, is an easy way to help both turtle species. In addition, be aware that both species are illegal to keep as pets; populations have been eliminated in the wild simply because the turtles are beautiful. Please refrain from buying them and, if you encounter one in the wild, let it remain wild.



    Date Taken: 04.01.2019
    Date Posted: 04.01.2019 12:27
    Story ID: 316367
    Location: CAMP GRAYLING, MI, US

    Web Views: 385
    Downloads: 1