Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program:
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Project


Mitigating the Effects of Prescribed Fire on Eastern Box Turtle Populations

August 2022 - July 2026


Personnel

Participating Agencies

Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) mortality during prescribed fire is a management concern in Massachusetts and other northeastern states from RI to NJ. Numerous observational and experimental studies have examined fire effects on Box Turtles and Box Turtle populations across their range, finding indications that individual Box Turtles exhibit a range of complex behavioral responses to fire, and that early growing season fires may be most lethal under normal circumstances. However, the effect of fire is highly variable, and likely to influence populations differently based on habitat, landscape connectivity, population structure, season, fuel conditions, and weather. Fire mortality of Box Turtles has been documented in Massachusetts populations from the Connecticut Valley to Cape Cod. In part due to the complexity of the issue, we lack a coherent, empirically informed, locally tested management protocol for Box Turtles in the context of fire management in Massachusetts. We propose to undertake a 4-year intensive field study to build upon the existing body of literature and test specific, relevant hypotheses about the effect of fire on Massachusetts Box Turtle populations.

The primary objective of this multifaceted study is to evaluate the population-level effects of a range of prescribed fire conditions on Massachusetts box turtle populations, to better identify priority box turtle populations at risk of extirpation or substantial decline resulting from prescribed fire management and to minimize the mortality/morbidity rate through practical modifications where feasible. This study will incorporate new data from a reference box turtle population at Camp Edwards and conduct experimental and observational studies at Camp Edwards and adjacent conserved areas. MassWildlife envisions a focused and practical study with a range of opportunistic and experimental components, recognizing that some of these objectives are subject to the frequency accessibility of prescribed fire events and the cooperation of fire managers.