Tanks and turtles? 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown receives species-at-risk award for turtle conservation efforts

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Article / November 27, 2015 / Project number: 15-0195

Ottawa, Ontario — If the Wood Turtle is anything to go by, living in a zone dedicated to training soldiers is preferable to almost any other location for some species at risk.

It certainly is a flip on the way the public sees us,” said Range Biologist Deanna McCullum of 5th Canadian Division Support Base (5 CDSB) Gagetown, in New Brunswick. “We might be training but we are not impacting the habitats of species at risk.” 

The Wood Turtle, a medium-sized freshwater turtle measuring from 16 to 25 centimeters long, is a species at risk in its entire range from Ontario to Nova Scotia and south all the way to North Carolina. Remarkably, it has found a safe place in Gagetown, reported Ms. McCullum. “I’m confident that Wood Turtles are doing well on the base but for most of their range, they are at risk.

The Canadian Army, specifically 5 CDSB Gagetown’s environmental program has been working collaboratively with Environment Canada and the province of New Brunswick to protect and conserve Wood Turtles for a number of years – with promising results.

On September 19, 2015, Ms. McCullum attended an event held by the Canadian Herpetological Society (CHS) where she collected a Silver Salamander award on behalf of 5 CDSB Gagetown in recognition of its contribution to the conservation of the Wood Turtle. CHS is a registered Canadian charity that advances reptile and amphibian research and conservation and awards only two of Silver Salamander awards each year across Canada.

I don’t believe this award has ever gone to DND before. It’s very exciting,” said Ms. McCullum.

The Wood Turtle has a bumpy, sculpted shell that is dark grey to brown and resembles wood, hence its name. It also spends much of its time on land, although it is considered a freshwater turtle.  Its throat, tail and underside are orange-red. These bright markings make it attractive to the pet-trade industry. This, along with urban sprawl and busy roads, threaten the Wood Turtle population. A Wood Turtle can live up to 60 years and does not reproduce until age 15, so removing one or two from an area can have a big impact on future numbers.

The base began monitoring Wood Turtle populations in 2002 and continues to work closely with other government departments towards the species’ conservation. Amphibian and reptile monitoring and conservation are integrated into range maintenance and operations to sustain the turtle habitat while continuing to meet all the requirements necessary for the training of soldiers.

There are approximately 18 species currently under careful observation on the base, including the Eastern Whip-poor-will, the Butternut Tree and the Peregrine Falcon. Ms. McCullum, a University of New Brunswick graduate of the Forestry and Wildlife Management program, joined 5 CDSB Gagetown’s Environment Services Branch in 2005.

In addition to monitoring and facilitating species at risk, the eight-person branch, led by Sheldon Downe, Environmental Officer, Environmental Branch, is responsible for a wide range of issues like fish and fish habitats, contaminated site management, regulatory matters, green procurement, environmental assessment and spill response, to name a few. All of Canada’s army bases are home to environmental service offices and monitor species at risk.

With five military schools, major summer Reserve exercises, helicopter and para-rescue courses, RCMP and U.S. Military training and varied equipment testing, Gagetown is a highly-used base. It hosts hundreds of training exercises, many of them with live ammunition, every day of the year, aside from three weeks in December and January when soldiers are on collective leave.

Ms. McCullum pointed to 5 CDSB Gagetown’s efforts to facilitate nesting Peregrine Falcons as an example of its balanced approach to conservation. There are approximately 15 rock faces used for rappelling on the base’s 110,000 hectares of land.  Every year, falcons choose one of these rock faces to nest. Range Control ensures that those specific areas are not booked for use during the nesting season, yet keeps the rest of the walls available for exercises and when possible, for recreational use.

Large open grasslands so preferred by birds such as the Whip-poor-will are another reason why army bases are favorable for species at risk. Vegetation management practices maintain these open areas for training while timing these activities to benefit wildlife.

Ms. McCullum noted that, in terms of species at risk work, there is always a balance between the training needs of the Army and the needs of the species. “We do not shut down entire training areas. Our goal is to facilitate training as much as possible.” 

By Anne Duggan, Army Public Affairs

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