Will the proposed Minuteman Bikeway Extension threaten the habitat of the Blanding’s turtle, an endangered species?
The answer depends on whom you ask.
The Friends of the Reformatory Branch Trail, are hosting a free talk by Dr. Bryan Windmiller on Thursday, Oct., 6, at 7 p.m. at the First Church of Christ, Congregational, 25 The Great Road. The Friends are described by one member as “just a group of Bedford residents who’ve united over a common goal.”
Dr. Bryan Windmiller is director of field conservation for Zoo New England and for almost 20 years has led efforts at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord to monitor and head start the threatened Blanding’s turtle.
“He will be sharing information about one of our commonwealth’s rarest wild animals and how the proposed Minuteman Bikeway Extension through West Bedford threatens this fragile population,” according to an announcement of the event.
David Manugian, Bedford director of public works, wrote in an email, “The project has received all relevant local, state, and federal environmental permits. These approvals included review of the most recent regulatory mapping of wetlands, wildlife, endangered and rare species, and habitat of species such as the Blanding’s Turtle.
“No impacts were found based on these lengthy reviews, and further detail on these findings can be found on the project website.”
Threats to endangered species are among the objections raised by opponents of extending the paved Minuteman Bikeway from Railroad Avenue along the former Reformatory Branch railroad right-of-way to Route 62.
After more than a decade of design, the state-funded project was shelved when a land-acquisition authorization vote at the March 28 annual town meeting failed to realize a required two-thirds minimum. The proposal will be back on the floor at special town meeting Nov. 14.
“Nearly all nesting females and hatchlings in this population need to cross the path of the Reformatory Branch trail annually. Thus potential changes to the trail, which could increase the traffic and speed of that traffic (especially bicycles), could short circuit this remarkable rare species recovery,” according to an announcement of Windmiller’s upcoming program.
But Manugian pointed out that “the town met with U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff in charge of wildlife refuge to discuss the project and the fact that no improvements will be made within the refuge. This project will not have a direct impact on the Blanding’s turtle population. All estimated habitat of rare wildlife species occurs outside of our project limits.”
There are even dueling versions on the Web.
The event sponsors wrote, “You can read more about the Blanding’s and the conservation efforts here: https://www.zoonewengland.org/protect/here-in-new-england/turtle-conservation/blandings-turtles/.
Blanding’s turtles can live more than 80 years, which is a span of less than three generations since the species was identified by naturalist William Blanding in 1830. Many Massachusetts females don’t lay their first eggs until they reach age 20.
Great Meadows is home to one of New England’s largest and most genetically unique Blanding’s turtle populations, according to Zoo New England.
Zoo New England and agency partners, along with citizen volunteers, have been executing a recovery plan for the Blanding’s turtle population of the Great Meadows area in Concord and an area of adjacent Bedford. This involves the painstaking work of finding and protecting turtle nests, “headstarting” young turtles, and enhancing habitat for young turtles.
“Headstarting” means caring for them indoors from the early autumn when they emerge from their nests until May or June., according to Zoo New England. This fosters a boost in early growth rate that leaves the turtles much better protected from predators.
“Our goal, with Blanding’s turtles and all the rare species that we work to help, is to help in the recovery of populations that can be sustained in the future with as little ongoing human intervention as possible,” according to the Zoo New England website. “Towards that end, we help determine what habitats are most critical to the populations that we work with and, where it makes sense and is feasible, work to create or enhance suitable habitat.
Manugian pointed out that the Bedford Conservation Commission “has approved the project and has mandated, through an order of conditions, the hiring of an independent environmental site supervisor to monitor the project on a weekly basis, ensure protection of the resource areas, and submit monthly progress reports to the commission.”
Windmiller oversees the zoo’s local wildlife conservation programs and its support of international conservation efforts. He earned a master’s degree in environmental policy and a Ph.D. in biology from Tufts University and he has worked in various roles as a conservation biologist since 1987, specializing in the restoration of rare turtle, frog, and salamander species in Massachusetts.