Turtle watch program seeks participants in Loyalhanna Watershed
Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to turtle watching, too.
The Loyalhanna Watershed Association is hoping that the patient work of a coterie of newly-trained turtle monitors will overcome a lack of good data on turtle numbers in the region.
“I think people see turtles more often than they realize, but there’s no way to keep track of that. People see them and don’t think anything of it,” Executive Director Susan Huba said.
On Wednesday, LWA held a workshop for aspiring turtle watchers — people who want to help the association get a better handle on the turtle population within the 300-square-mile watershed.
“Turtle populations are declining. This is to get a baseline estimate of what species people commonly see and what time of year they see them,” Huba said.
The Loyalhanna Creek Watershed encompasses a large portion of eastern Westmoreland County from Donegal to Saltsburg, where Loyalhanna Creek and the Conemaugh River join to form the Kiskiminetas River.
An estimated 30 people attended the kickoff workshop, led by Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission conservation officer Matt Kauffman and Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife diversity biologist Tammy Colt.
Aspiring “citizen scientists” learned about the monitoring project, practiced using the iNaturalist mobile app for tracking turtles and received “turtle watch swag.”
The app gives monitors a way to upload pictures of turtles they have seen and post information that can be used by LWA to more accurately assess the turtle population in the watershed.
“We have such a diverse watershed, with different habitats and pollution issues, that we’re anxious to see what people are finding in different parts of the watershed,” Huba said.
Although one of the oldest living reptiles, turtles are among the most threatened group of vertebrates, she said, noting that about 50% of turtle species are threatened.
“The main problems for turtles are loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation due to development and roadways,” she said. “Mainly in this area it’s habitat degradation.”
The most common species in the Loyalhanna Creek Watershed are the Eastern box turtle and the wood turtle, she said.
“Those are the two that we’re really anxious to see if people see them. Before they get to the point of being threatened, is there anything we can do?” Huba said.
To be a turtle watcher means simply to be observant and to keep records when a turtle, even a dead one, is spotted.
“A lot of this is educating people about what to do when they see a turtle,” she said. “Anybody who sees a turtle, we want to know where it was.”
On Tuesday, residents of Lawrenceville spotted a large snapping turtle near the intersection of Butler and 47th streets. They reported the sighting to police officers, who notified Animal Care & Control.
For more information about the LWA turtle watch program, contact Huba by calling 724-238-7560 or by emailing [email protected].
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .