Turtles in Ontario face many challenges, but probably the most obvious is the interaction of turtles with roads as they move to access resources. As more and more roads are built that bisect turtle habitat the probability that a turtle will collide with a vehicle increases. Turtles are especially vulnerable to vehicle collisions because females often lay their eggs on sandy gravel road shoulders, and a startled turtle crossing a road, will often lay still on the road surface instead of moving away from the ensuing danger. To make roads safer for turtles, transportation planners and wildlife biologists are working together to find solutions. Wildlife warning signage is a low cost, and less permanent mitigation solution used to alert motorists to watch for and avoid collisions with turtles on roads. However, it is not known if and how much road-kill is reduced, if the signs encourage poaching, and if renegade motorists deliberately run over turtles in these locations. Further, road experts caution that motorists will become desensitized to over-use of the signs, ignoring what they represent.
In response to these knowledge gaps, and the Ministry of Transportation’s initiative to develop wildlife warning sign policy for Species at Risk in Ontario, Eco-Kare and it’s partners began a research study to inform effective sign placement on roads. We inventoried and obtained an accurate location using geographic positioning technologies for a rigorous sample of over 700 turtle crossing signs, with various designs, along municipal roads. Inventories were difficult because often sign locations were not well-documented, and or signs were stolen from their selected location! Ongoing work will evaluate placement mechanisms for signs, including citizen science knowledge, turtle dead and alive on road data, and Geographic Information System predictive models as effective tools for sign placement. To maximize effectiveness of a road signage strategy across large regions, a co-ordinated approach is required that utilizes current technical, and expert knowledge. In addition a strategy should consider selective placement, and subsequent monitoring of warning signs in an adaptive approach.
*Final results for this study will be made available in spring 2012. For more information contact Kari Gunson (firstname.lastname@example.org), Eco-Kare International, 644 Bethune Street, Peterborough, Ontario, K9H 4A3.