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

Massachusetts Project

Conserving Wood Turtles and Associated Riparian Species

July 2014 - June 2017


Participating Agencies

  • Competitive State Wildlife Grant, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a riparian and terrestrial species of conservation concern throughout its range in northeastern North America. The wood turtle occurs discontinuously from Nova Scotia to Iowa and south to Virginia and West Virginia. Because of its terrestrial tendency and life history characteristics (low recruitment rates and late [15-18 years] sexual maturity), it is particularly vulnerable to habitat loss, fragmentation, and other anthropogenic sources of mortality that lead to population decline. Biologists and land managers have expressed concern for over thirty years that the wood turtle appears to be declining throughout its range, with abundant evidence of decline reported from the Northeastern States and adjacent areas. Quantifiable evidence of decline has increased substantially since the 1990s. The primary causes of population decline arew associated with habitat fragmentation and habitat degradation and are generally attributed to automobile roadkill and crushing of adults by farm machinery, collection of wild animals for domestic and foreign pet markets, and other sources. As a result of this concern, the wood turtle was upgraded from “vulnerable” to “endangered” by the IUCN in 2011, and from G4 to G3 (vulnerable) by NatureServe (2010), underscoring the urgency of the situation. In Canada, the wood turtle is listed as “threatened” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The wood turtle is listed as a species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) in the Wildlife Action Plan (WAP) of all thirteen northeastern states (NEPARC 2010), and has twice been proposed for federal listing by independent petitioners. The wood turtle has been identified as an extremely high-value focal species for landscape scale conservation in the northern forest, of high regional responsibility and concern by Northeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, and it is a representative species by the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Successful management of this highly sensitive and at-risk species will require aggressive coordination and strategic planning, with a strong emphasis on sustained implementation. Successful conservation and management of riverine and riparian habitats for wood turtles will also benefit several dozen species of SGCN across the Northeast Region.