by Scott Prater
4/11/2013 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Thanks
to the work of the Natural Resource Section at New Boston Air Force
Station, the scientific community is about to gain a bevy of knowledge
about an endangered species that calls the base home.
Following eight years of research on Blanding's turtles and their
habitat, Stephen Najjar, NBAFS natural resource planner, and his staff
plan to submit a detailed study on the topic to national scientific
journals later this year.
The state of New Hampshire lists the Blanding's turtle as endangered and
threatened, which means the species' prospects for survival in New
Hampshire are in danger because of a loss or change in habitat,
over-exploitation, predation, competition, disease, disturbance or
According to information released by the state, assistance is needed to
ensure their continued existence as a viable component of the state's
Najjar said his team has actually been studying the turtle for more than 10 years.
As part of their research, the staff trapped a number of turtles,
measured their size and weight, tested their DNA and affixed radio
frequency transmitters to their shells [carapaces] among other measures,
in an effort to study their movements and habits.
"We discovered a tremendous amount of interesting information about
them," Najjar said. "One habit we discovered was that females tended to
cross roadways more often than males, so they're more predisposed to
being killed by traffic."
The researchers also discovered that the species follows a seasonal pattern of movement.
"Blanding's turtles are wetland natives," Najjar said. "They move from
one water source to the next as the seasons change. They start out in
beaver ponds, but they'll gravitate toward seasonal or vernal pools,
which are pools that form in the spring and dry up in the summer. There
aren't any fish in these pools because the water dries up, but wood
frogs breed there and they create a food source for the turtles. They
love to eat frog eggs and tadpoles."
During nesting season, the turtles can travel upwards of a half a mile
to lay their eggs, usually in early June. The females travel on land to
ideal nesting spots. They prefer gravel types of material so nests can
often be found on road shoulders. From there, they tend to use
intermittent streams to travel back to the vernal pools, and later, the
beaver ponds again.
At roughly 10-inches in length the Blanding's are considered medium
sized. They're distinguishable by their yellowish chins and throats, a
domed shell and are oblong shape. Hatchlings are about the size of a
half dollar and they, like adult females, tend to get run over when
crossing roads, simply because they're not easy to spot.
During the study, the natural resource office created an awareness campaign centered on the Blanding's Turtle.
"We spoke at commanders calls and put the word out for drivers to keep
an eye out," Najjar said. "I think people on base are much more aware
now. They are letting us know when they see them, so it seems like we've
been successful in our efforts."
Perhaps more importantly, Najjar and his staff have been able to advise
engineers, project managers and base leadership prior to construction of
new buildings or missions.
"When there has been a potential to impact turtle habitats, we've
managed to come up with viable alternatives to lessen or eliminate that
impact," Najjar said. "Another positive that came out of the project
stemmed from what we learned. We can now demonstrate to the New
Hampshire Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that we
understand the habitat the turtles are using. We've also altered our
Years ago, NBAFS employed an engineer who liked to use vertical curbing
during road construction projects. Thanks to this study, staff now
advise today's engineers to use slanted or curved curbing.
"For a Blanding's turtle, a vertical curb is like a 10-foot wall,"
Najjar said. "They can't get up and around them, so they have to keep
going until they find a break, which exposes them to prolonged road
Though the study has come to an end, protection efforts remain strong.
"What we're doing is active management," Najjar said. "We're required to
do that, much like our other management missions such as forestry,
timber harvesting and prescribed burns."
New Hampshire Tracking Station at NBAFS is the largest remote tracking station in the Air Force Satellite Control Network.
"Environmental stewardship is important to the 23rd Space Operations
Squadron," said Lt. Col. David Hanson, 23 SOPS commander. "Team 23 SOPS
makes great efforts to protect species indigenous to New Boston Air
Force Station that are on the state's endangered list, including the
Eastern small-footed bat, the Eastern hognose snake and the Blanding's
turtle. Through our natural resources section, we pay deliberate
attention to the type of road construction techniques and storm drain
covers used and conduct base awareness campaigns, all to adequately
protect their habitats. The base we call home takes a lot of work to
ensure it is rightly taken care of...but it's absolutely worth it."