We don’t often think about the dangers that turtles have to go through on a day-to-day basis but if they live near the highway, those dangers are very real. Perhaps that is why the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Natural Resources got together with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2016 to do something about it. They constructed a tunnel under Highway 66 to reduce the high levels of turtle mortality according to Robert Mentzer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
Wetlands are on one side of the tunnel and the Jordan Pond is on the other. When they built the tunnel, it was just what the turtles needed but the problem was, they didn’t realize it was built for them. That is where Pete Zani, associate professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point comes in. The herpetologist installed aluminum flashing on the outside of the openings to reflect the sky. In other words, the turtles would see light at the end of the tunnel. In addition, Zeni allowed more sunlight to enter by installing grates above the tunnel. A small cul-de-sac was built into nearby fencing so turtles who missed the tunnel would turn around and find it.
The first year after the tunnel was constructed, an 85% reduction in turtles killed on the road was seen. Interestingly, no baby turtles were killed that year. In the past few years, a total of 40 turtles died but 66 died in 2015 alone before the tunnel was built.
This is not only good for the local turtles, but the local humans also benefit. The intersection near the tunnel is always busy with people on their way to Jordan Pond. Since the turtles cross under the road, it doesn’t lead to the possibility of accidents and traffic congestion.
This is a view of the tunnel. You can see how the sunlight shines through the grates they installed, and how aluminum flashing at the end of the tunnel shows the turtles that, yes, this passes all the way through. pic.twitter.com/oBIcNabfJN
— Rob Mentzer (@robertmentzer) July 10, 2019
Although many of the turtles are now using the tunnel, not all of them seem to take advantage of it. 30% of snapping turtles and 20% of painted turtles go through the tunnel and that has been consistent since it was constructed. “They either get it or they don’t,” Zani told Wisconsin Public Radio.
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It seems as if other animals are also taking advantage of the tunnel. Zani established a turtle-wrangling program so students would monitor trail cameras for any turtle activity. The photos captured by the cameras showed that rodents, mink, skunks, raccoons, and even house cats were also using the tunnel.
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