New Hampshire is home to seven species of native turtles; snapping turtle, painted turtle, musk turtle, spotted turtle (state threatened), Blanding’s turtle (state endangered), wood turtle (special concern), and eastern box turtle (state endangered). You may notice that more than half of these species have some level of state conservation listing. These at-risk turtles face a variety of threats not just here in New Hampshire, but throughout their range in the eastern United States. Loss of habitat to residential or commercial development, road mortality, disease, and even illegal collection have all been ranked as the highest risk to the long-term persistence of their populations. The decline of these species has prompted a petition for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), with a decision likely within the year.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program has intensively monitored populations of Blanding’s, spotted, and wood turtles throughout the state thanks to USFWS Competitive State Wildlife Grants, Conservation License Plate funding, and private donations. This funding has also allowed nongame biologists to initiate conservation actions, such as habitat creation or enhancement, land protection, and the development and distribution of Best Management Practices (BMPs). Most of this work was conducted on state-owned lands or permanently protected land trust properties, but privately owned land was an important, missing piece.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) came to the rescue with the Working Lands for Wildlife – Northeast Turtles initiative. Funding from the Farm Bill directs incentives to priority at-risk species conservation on private lands. Properties that qualify for incentives include agricultural, tree farm, current use, conservation easements, and any other land with the presence of turtle habitat. Landowners can voluntarily sign up for programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, and the Healthy Forests Reserve Program which can all provide financial assistance to create, enhance, and manage habitat for turtles. NRCS also offers Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE) for landowners who want to permanently protect their land and associated wetlands. This program provides assistance to property owners for restoration where past agricultural practices degraded wetlands for turtles and other threatened and endangered species. To learn more about these programs and the practices commonly used, visit Working_Lands_for_Northeast_Turtle_web.pdf (usda.gov)