It’s that time of year when turtles are busy nesting and attempting to cross highways. Turtles are an important part of our ecosystem — freshwater turtles, like the ones found in our state of South Dakota, help control wetland vegetation, balance river and lake aquatic life, and facilitate nutrient cycling from water to land, and land to water. Turtles are important to maintaining healthy lakes and rivers.
Because turtles are slow movers, they are at greater risk of injury and death when they attempt to cross busy highways. Recently, there has been a surge of campaigns from organizations like Farm and Dairy, PETA, and the Nature Conservancy to help bring awareness to good Samaritans who may want to help turtles safely cross roads.
Here are some tips:
1) Using all proper road signals, pull over and park in a safe spot. Only assist a turtle when it safe to do so. Never put yourself or other motorists in danger. Be aware of your surroundings and traffic before pulling off the side of the road. Never park in areas with heavy traffic, high-speed limit areas, or in blind spots. Turn on your hazard lights.
2) Before walking onto the highway, look both ways and ensure there is no oncoming traffic.
3) Do not handle the turtle more than necessary. Only pick up the turtle for as long as needed to get it to safety. Handling turtles more than necessary can put them in distress and disrupt their normal behavior.
4) Handle turtles gently. Grasp the turtle along its shell near the midpoint and carry it in the same direction it was traveling. Place the turtle on level ground, away from ditches or rocky areas.
5) If you find a turtle on its back, gently turn the turtle on its belly and carry if off the road in the same direction it was facing.
6) Avoid picking up snapping turtles. Snapping turtles can be aggressive. According to the Nature Conservancy, “larger snapping turtles can be lifted up by the back of their shells and ‘walked’ across like a wheelbarrow.”
7) Never relocate a turtle. Although you may have the best of intentions, relocating turtles away from their home territories may adversely affect their survival and reproduction rates.
8) Dire outlook for injured turtles. There is no full-time veterinarian on Cheyenne River, so when you find an injured turtle, your choices could be limited as to what to do next. A representative from the CRST Game, Fish, and Parks Wildlife Department said they do not have the means to help an injured turtle. You could take them to a vet; however, veterinary clinics in Mobridge and Faith do not offer services for turtles. Vet clinics in bigger cities such as Rapid City and Bismarck do.
If you find turtles crossing, and conditions are safe for you to help them, then please help those turtles cross to the other side of the road.