Citizens raise concerns over endangerment of turtle nests

Tire tracks from the equipment that mowed the roadsides of Princess Street near Westbrook. This area is one of Kingston’s hotbeds for turtle egg nests.
Submitted photo
A snapping turtle lays eggs among the foliage recently sprayed with herbicide on Princess Street near Westbrook.
Submitted photo.
A turtle nest among the foliage that was sprayed with herbicide alongside Princess Street near Westbrook.
Submitted photo.

Kingston residents have taken to social media and sent complaints to City Hall, taking issue with some of the City’s practices and the impact those practices may have on local turtle species.

On Wednesday, Jun. 27, 2018, Rick Jefferies was finishing up his 9 km running loop and returning to his home on Unity Road when something caught his attention – and prompted him to grab his camera and start recording.

As he was running back towards his house, he noticed some work had taken place along the roadside, specifically along the stretch of Unity Road that crosses Collins Creek. That day, City workers with a an open-bellied dump truck, a grader, and a vibrating roller had replaced and graded the gravel on both shoulders of the road – An area rife with turtle nests.

As Jefferies videoed, he walked the stretch of road crossing the Creek, counting the number of turtle nests he could see just outside the area that had recently been regraded. By the time he got to the other side of the creek, Jefferies counted 17 or possibly 18 nests, just on one side of that same stretch of road – leaving him to pose the question: how many turtle nests were harmed or destroyed in the stretch of road where the grading had been done.

“I’m an outdoorsy kind of guy and a conservationist and an environmentalist, and when I saw the ignorance of the decision making in this process – especially after the preservation efforts over near the Ambassador Hotel on Princess Street – it struck my conservationist chords, and I felt compelled that I had to do something,” Jefferies said of why he made the video, which he later posted on Facebook.

Jefferies referred to the preservation efforts along Princess Street near the Ambassador Hotel because he felt that, with no preservation efforts taking place along the section of Unity Road so heavily populated with turtles, having crews come and do such grading work was only compounding the issues associated with turtles nesting along the roadside. Add that to the fact that the Kingston area is home to a number of turtle species that are considered ‘at-risk,’ ‘threatened,’ or ‘endangered,’ and the issue just gets worse, he expressed.

“Somebody up the chain has made the decision: ‘we’re going to go and grade this road no matter the time of the year.’ I don’t know what process of decision making they had, but it was clearly an oversight by somebody.”

The video Jefferies posted quickly garnered a lot of views and shares, one of which landed in front of Councillor Lisa Osanic. Coincidentally, Osanic had been working for the past two days attempting to address another possible threat to turtle nests – this time, along the stretch of Princess Street that crosses the exact same watercourse between the Bayridge/CollinsBay area and the Westbrook area of Kingston.

There, in the past few weeks, Mabyn Armstrong, a member of Turtles Kingston, noticed something happening: mowing and spraying by City of Kingston crews to stave off wild parsnip (the invasive species of weed that can cause burns and irritation to human skin). The mowing and spraying, Armstrong said, was done by 2,000 lb+ payloaders with mower arm attachments, and the equipment rolled right over a prime nesting area for nearby turtles. Furthermore, there is no research showing the effects that the herbicide spray used by the City to treat the wild parsnip may have on turtle embryos, hatchlings, or the water of the wetlands, Armstrong explained.

Armstrong, who, also coincidentally, happened to meet Jefferies a few weeks ago when she stopped on Unity Road to check on a nearby turtle, contacted Osanic immediately to voice her concerns.

“I asked Lisa to please do whatever was necessary to inform Public Works not to spray,” Armstrong said, noting that she raised concerns about the spraying and cutting practice last year and was dismayed to see it occurring again.

“My stance is ‘Can we not err on the side of caution? Or is this going to be one of those situations where it’s far too little action way too late? And we’re going to look back and go ‘Uh-oh. We blew it,’” she said, pointing out that both Blanding’s turtles (currently considered a ‘threatened species’ by the provincial government) and midland painted turtle (recently elevated to ‘at risk’) are native to both the areas in question.

“We are dealing with species that are on the way to extinction.”

Osanic was planning to file a motion with the Environment, Infrastructure and Transportation Policies Committee on Tuesday, July 4, she said, however, in speaking with City Staff, she believes they have come to an agreement with regard to these issues. Osanic said a lot of what has recently occurred was “bad timing,” in that while she was trying to talk to City Staff about options, work continued to be done, such as the work that took place on Unity Road.

With regard to the mowing, Osanic said she has already received a commitment from City Staff to employ a new mowing method in wetland areas.

“They are going to try to use something called a flail mower… the wheels will actually be on the road instead of on the shoulder, and the boom is really long, and it can just like sort of breeze over the grass and cut it down to a few inches,” Osanic said.

“So that can’t help what happened in Westbrook and on Unity Road recently, but going forward, this is something that, you know, a cutting alternative Staff are willing to try.”

With regard to the grading work done on Unity Road, Osanic said she has also received a commitment from City Staff to change policies surrounding roadside work in wetland areas.

“Going forward, Staff are going to be changing their policy when it comes to wetlands, because they have heard about the concerns from citizens with the turtles laying eggs, so they’re going to try to change the timing of any such gravel work,” she said.

And with regard to the herbicide spraying, Osanic said she has request into the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change for information on the effects the spraying may have on hatchlings.

“I’m waiting to hear back. Hopefully they’ll have some data to give me… I don’t think there’s actually been a specific study looking at that, that’s what I think the answer is going to be,” Osanic said, noting that the use of these herbicides to treat wild parsnip issues only began a few years ago.

Osanic said Staff told her they would look at reducing the use of herbicides next year, or possibly not using them (particularly in wetland areas), depending on how effective their efforts to eradicate the invasive species have been.

“They said ‘We’ve heard you, Lisa, we get it… next year we might not have to spray at all, we’re going to see how much of the roots come back, and if there’s really nothing there, we’re not going to spray,’” she said.

Osanic said that City Staff told her they would be making a post on Facebook today regarding the issues, and that she would be waiting to see what their response was.

As of 6 p.m. today (Thursday, Jun. 28), the City had not posted anything about the turtle issues to their own page. They did, however, respond to Jefferies video with a comment.

“The turtle habitat is important to the City. The City is also obligated to address issues that have the potential to impact public safety. We continue to explore options to better balance these priorities so there is as little impact as possible on wildlife. Specific to Unity Road, road inspections identified areas where washouts and pavement drop-off required repair. This type of repair is regulated by provincial standards. Crews did grade and add new gravel to the shoulders as required to ensure public safety at this location and other locations along Unity Road,” the City commented at 4:37 p.m. on the post.

View Jefferies original video here.

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