DEC: ‘Give turtles a brake’

— Photo from NYSDEC

A painted turtle like this one can live for 40 years or longer.

In New York, according to a DEC release, thousands of turtles are killed each year by unsuspecting drivers when turtles cross roads to find nesting areas. 

"While a turtle's shell provides protection from predators, it does not protect against being struck by vehicles while crossing roadways," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in the release. "Vehicle strikes are a major cause of mortality among turtles and New York's native turtles are more susceptible at this time of year as they seek sandy areas or loose soil in which to lay their eggs.”

These gentle animals have been around for 200 million years, the release says, yet are rapidly disappearing due to smuggling, the exotic food industry, climate change, loss of habitat, and the illegal pet trade. 

Most of the 11 species of land turtles that are native to New York are in decline. Turtles are long-lived species and it takes many years for a turtle to reach maturity. Even losing one mature female can have a negative impact on a local population.

Drivers who see a turtle on the road are encouraged to slow down to avoid hitting it. If the vehicle can safely stop and drivers are able to safely do so, motorists should consider moving the turtle to the shoulder on the side of the road in the direction it was facing.

Motorists are advised not to pick turtles up by their tails, which could injure the turtle. Most turtles, other than snapping turtles, can be picked up safely by the sides of their shells. Snapping turtles have necks that can reach far back and have a strong bite, so if motorists try to help a snapping turtle, they should pick it up by the rear of the shell near the tail using both hands, or slide a car mat under the turtle to drag it safely across the road.

Do not drag the turtle by the tail as doing so can dislocate the tail bones, the DEC advises.

A licensed wildlife rehabilitator may be able to help if an injured turtle is found. 

The DEC reminds people not to take turtles home. All native turtles are protected by law and cannot be kept without a DEC permit. 

Four species of sea turtles can be found in New York waters, and these turtles are all either threatened or endangered. Anyone who encounters a sea turtle on the beach should not put it back in the water; instead, the public is advised to call the New York State 24-Hour Stranding Hotline at 631-369-9829 and a trained responder will provide instructions.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

More Regional News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.