Snapping up young waterfowl
Posted August 26, 2007
Jim Lee column: Snapping up young waterfowl
Turtles may be feasting on goslings, ducklings
JUNCTION CITY — What does a snapping turtle eat? "Anything it wants," would be the smart-aleck response.
Unfortunately, that reply is pretty accurate and therein may lie a problem for some state-managed waterfowl properties.
Tom Meier believes snapping turtles are a significant predator on duckling broods at Mead Wildlife Area, a 30,000-acre state-owned property along the Marathon-Portage-Wood county lines.
"We feel the turtle population here may be excessive," said Meier, a Department of Natural Resources biologist and the manager of Mead. "We know ducklings are lost to snapping turtle predation every year.
"We've even lost trumpeter swans (goslings) to snapping turtles. There's no doubt about it."
The extent of that waterfowl loss is unknown. Meier is hoping to study the issue through a graduate student's research at Mead but has yet to secure that resource.
Flowages, ponds and potholes were created in the wildlife area specifically for waterfowl and other wetland species. The shallow, muddy, weedy conditions, however, also furnish ideal habitat for turtles.
Dikes, constructed of dirt and rotten granite to impound water, also flourish as turtle nesting grounds.
"We have to patch trails on the dikes at least every other day during the turtle nesting period starting in June," Meier said. "They climb up on the dikes to dig a hole for a nest. Every time we return, there's evidence of 30-40 new nests. The dikes are ideal for turtle nesting. They're high, dry and easy to dig into."
To curb the snapping turtle population, Meier enlisted a team of four experienced turtle trappers, headed by John Bangart of Mosinee. A year ago, they netted a dozen snapping turtles in three days of trapping.
"They all had feathers in them," Bangart said.
This year, the trappers returned in late July to take several more. Under state law, the turtle harvest season opens July 15, a date that Meier contends is too late to protect waterfowl broods.
"Most duck broods emerge in late May and early June," he said. "They are most vulnerable when they are small and unable to fly. By mid-to late-July, most ducklings are flighted.
"With drought conditions following year after year, the area where broods can be raised keeps getting smaller and smaller," a situation that potentially concentrates ducklings and opportunistic snapping turtles.
"I don't want to eliminate snapping turtles, not by a long shot," Meier said. "They are an integral part of the natural system, but they are interfering with the focused management we are trying to do.
"If studies show turtles are affecting ducks and goose broods adversely, then maybe we need to modify existing rules to allow changes in the turtle trapping framework and allow trapping here during the time broods are vulnerable."
State law allows the taking of snapping turtles with shells 12-16 inches wide. All others must be released. The possession limit is three.
Bangart said his group has taken snappers up to 37 pounds but released larger ones that approached 50 pounds.
"You handle any snapping turtle carefully," he said.
"If they get hold of your finger, they'll snap it right off."
On the other hand, Bangart's group makes certain to get in the last bite.
"We usually make soup out of turtle meat," he said, "but it's also really good deep-fried. To me, it tastes like chicken."
Green Bay Press-Gazette - Jim Lee column: Snapping up young waterfowl