Bikeway Extension Foes, Advocates, Differ on Turtles

Turtle Stretching Neck Near Water
Stock image of a Blanding’s turtle. Photo Credit:  Andrew C, CC BY 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons

 

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/.

Manugian wrote: “We encourage people to visit our web site at www.bedfordma.gov/minuteman-extension for additional information.  They can also reach out directly to bikeway@bedfordma.gov.

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.

ZooNewEngland.org has a Blanding’s Turtle “headstart” program. https://www.zoonewengland.org/protect/here-in-new-england/turtle-conservation/blandings-turtles/

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.


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Bill Robichaud
Bill Robichaud
10 hours ago

Dr. Windmiller should be commended for his expertise, and his dedication to preserving the threatened Blanding Turtles at Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge (GMWR). I look forward to his presentation, and answers to the following:

It is claimed that improvements to the RBT will significantly harm the Blanding Turtle. There are more than 17k miles of shared use trails in the US alone.

Question 1: What evidence is there that shared use trails cause significant harm to turtles, and what effective mitigations have been constructed?

Consider that within the area designated “Priority Habitat of Rare Species” around GMWR are the following conditions:

  • A railroad bed containing creosote and arsenic.
  • Public Works and Waste Water Treatment Plant with heavy equipment traffic. 
  • Sleepy Hollow Cemetery with paved roads, traffic, and commercial landscapers. 
  • GMWR’s paved road and parking lot.
  • GMWR’s Dike Trail used as utility road for heavy vehicles.
  • Peter Spring Farm tractors tilling the fields.
  • Approximately150 private homes utilizing power mowers or commercial landscapers.
  • Dozens of public paved roads with speed limits of 25-35 mph.

Question 2: How do bicycles traveling 10-15 mph compare to the above conditions?

Scientists proclaim that Climate Change is real and automobiles are one of the biggest contributors. Multiple scientific studies (including the Minuteman Bikeway) show that where there are multi use trails, there is significant reduction in automobile travel.

Question 3: What does research say about the effect of climate change on the Blanding Turtle?

LeeAnn Horner
LeeAnn Horner
1 day ago

I know Dr. Bryan Windmiller through his connection to ZNE. I have had the opportunity to go on several walks with Bryan, including one session where we tracked turtles. He is incredibly intelligent, knowledgeable and passionate about his work. Bryan agreed to speak in Bedford because of the opportunity to educate and advocate for the protection of turtles and their environment. Be assured that his focus is on conservation and not some ulterior motive, as suggested above. I am frankly appalled that someone claiming to be a friend would question Bryan’s integrity and motives—and that The Bedford Citizen would publish such propaganda without having the courtesy to even contact Bryan or ZNE.

Tanya Gailus
Tanya Gailus
1 day ago

Had this commentator been present at Dr. Bryan’s Windmiller’s talk in Concord in April this year, he would have marveled at Dr. Windmiller’s objectivity as a scientist, and the care he takes to keep any personal preferences separate from scientific information. I urge the Bedford Citizen not to publish comments that slander the professionalism and reputation of an impeccable scientist.

Tanya Gailus
Tanya Gailus
1 day ago
Reply to  Tanya Gailus

My comment below was in response to Terry Gleason. Not a free standing comment on the article itself

Nancy Wolk
Nancy Wolk
2 days ago

I reached out to the state about the endangered species protection. They reported that the construction in Bedford does not come into the Blanding’s Turtle habitat in Bedford.

Instead of trying to stop the project, I would rather see education on how to use the trail safely co-existing with the turtles. There should be signs in the sections where turtles are known to cross the path on how to bike safely and not injure the turtles. The weeks when turtles are more likely to cross the path should have even more educational signs for bikers to use extra caution.

This path will be used for bikes regardless of the project moving forward. Shouldn’t this education be out there now?

Terry Gleason
Terry Gleason
3 days ago

Brian (Windmiller) is a friend – I’ve worked under him on a couple of his endangered species projects – Vinebrook Bridle Shiner survey, and in his backyard potting native wildflower seeds. He is passionate about his work and I admire him for the time and energy he puts into the school programs. I believe he respects my environmental work including my bicycle advocacy.

Brian lives a block from the rail trail in Concord and enjoys walking his dog there. When we first met 10 years ago, he complained about the mtn bikers who went by too fast when he or his wife were on the path with the dog. I agreed – nobody, including me and my wife, likes the rude bikers, or the rude dog walkers who don’t pick up after their pets. I probably also pointed out that I’m irritated and frightened when a motorist goes by too fast, too close when I’m bicycling on the roads.

I just accepted that Brian was not unusual in being a dog walker who preferred no bikers ‘in his backyard’. But I’m disappointed a biologist would use his professional credentials to speak against the Bedford rail trail that will offer safe and comfortable recreational and transportation options for people living or working in the area.

I plan to write a longer letter with additional information and references. When the threats to land turtles are listed, climate change (e.g., extreme weather events) and motor vehicles (road kill) are included as top threats. Bicycles never show up, and other biologists are surprised (to put it mildly) to hear it suggested.

A couple days after Brian explained to me why he would be speaking in Bedford, I had an errand in Concord. On the side of the road that day, I saw and photographed 4 turtles dead by road kill. Two of them were within a mile of Great Meadows and Brian’s neighborhood where he does turtle research. Needless to say, there were no dead turtles on the bike path when I returned.

Yes, there are rude trail and road users of all kinds out there, but let’s not discriminate against those who are significantly reducing their environmental impact by bicycling instead of driving.

Angela Winter
Angela Winter
1 day ago
Reply to  Terry Gleason

Blandings turtles have been spotted along Bonnievale and as far as Davis Road. Paving the Bedford portion of the trail will definitely impact their habitat. And as far as bicycling vs. driving, why does the paving project include so many parking spaces along the trail? If one has to drive to the trail to use it, what are we saving?

Terry Gleason
Terry Gleason
20 hours ago
Reply to  Angela Winter

Yes, absolutely! Any one who lives near the wetlands along the Concord River needs to be very careful. Let’s ask Bryan to talk about turtle migration, when to call him, the dangers of: lawn mowing, backing out of the driveway, and the family pet chewing on hatchlings.

There are no Blandings nesting or foraging on our side of Concord Rd because cars and trucks have sadly decimated them. On the Great Meadows side of the road, Bryan radio tracks breeding females to their nest, protects the nest from lawn mowers, tractors, cars, and predators, and then hand raises the hatchlings with a wonderful collaboration with school kids. I applaud him for that.

Anne Wagner
Anne Wagner
1 day ago
Reply to  Terry Gleason

If the Reformatory Branch trail were paved thereby making greater bike speeds possible, wouldn’t that increase the likelihood of turtle kills on the trail? Right now the trail’s undulating, unpaved condition, with its criss-crossing raised tree roots, acts as a deterrent to high speeds. If people were to use it as a commuter path, wouldn’t that increase the likelihood of their going faster to get to work on time? I fear that paving the trail is not only unlikely to have a statistically significant impact on road kills, it is likely to increase the number of dead turtles on the trail.

Ellen Quackenbush
Ellen Quackenbush
1 day ago
Reply to  Terry Gleason

It is too bad that you missed Dr. Windmiller’s excellent talk on the impact of the increased volume or speed of traffic along the Concord section of the Reformatory Branch Trail to the Blanding’s Turtle population. Bryan has spent twenty years working with the National Wildlife Refuge staff, citizen scientists, and students to restore this population. His efforts are beginning to show results, and I, for one, applaud his collaborative approach and the rigorous approach that characterizes all his work.

You seem to dismiss the impact of bikes on Reformatory Branch Trail by saying that you have only seem dead turtles on the roads. Bryan’s research and data is a much better guide to potential impact.

Blanding’s Turtles, sadly, are hardwired to cross over Reformatory Branch twice in their breeding cycles. Females cross from the Wildlife Refuge in June, mostly in the evening, to lay their eggs. There are fewer cyclist then and the females are easier to spot and avoid. The real problem come when the baby turtles–black and the size of half-dollars—cross back to return to the Refuge. This return path occurs over 6-8 weeks during the day. Even the most conscientious, conservation-aware cyclist would have a hard time seeing and avoiding these little critters. Add bicycle numbers, increased speed, and less attention to what is on the trail surface, and this 20-year collaborative effort is potentially at risk.

Dr. Windmiller is a nationally-recognized on the impact of human actions, especially human infrastructure and development projects, on wild animal species, especially amphibians and reptiles.

Please listen to the experts in this discussion. We need to protect the health and diversity of places like Great Meadows to preserve our ecosystem.

John McClain
John McClain
5 days ago

Opponents of the project assert both that it isn’t useful because it “dead ends” at Concord Rd. and that it will increase traffic past this dead end on the Reformatory Branch in Concord. They assert the current unpaved path in Bedford is good because it keeps speeds down, but I see here, they are worried that the same (or worse) path condition in Concord will not keep speeds down.

What everyone seems to agree on is the project does not directly encroach on the habit of the Blanding’s turtle. Independent of what happens (or doesn’t happen) with the Reformatory Branch trail in Concord, we should go forward with a project that will connect Bedford together. Let my neighbor bike to Chip-n-farm, give kids on South Road a safe route to school, and give West Bedford a safe, accessible walking and bike route to the rest of town. Protecting the Blanding’s turtle can (and should) be a separate issue.

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