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Turtle advocacy group calling on Haliburton County council to better protect century-old turtle

The wetland where a turtle well over a century old hibernates could be at risk.

Grace is the oldest female breeding snapping turtle that we know of in Cottage Country,” Leora Berman, Founder of turtle advocacy group Turtle Guardians, says. Grace is estimated to be at least 125 years old. Berman says Grace is also blind in one eye.

The wetland that Grace calls home is split by a roadway. “We don’t know if she hibernates on one side of the road or the other side,” Berman says, adding they have spotted her going in one end and coming out the other. 

One of the sides was due to be filled in by the landowner. 

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Grace is often seen in the summer crossing the busy downtown Haliburton roads. That’s why Turtle Guardians has volunteers stationed around town to make sure she, and other turtles, are able to get to where they’re going safely. 

“Grace isn’t taking more risks, she’s following ancient paths and we just happened to put roadways in those paths,” Berman says. 

She adds that snapping turtles like Grace also hibernate in the same spot every year. 

“In Haliburton, we are missing some essential controls in terms of our environmentally protected zoning,” Berman says. 

There are other threatened species living in the wetland, so Berman says the provincial and federal governments stepped in and told the landowner to stop. Both levels of government are currently in the process of reviewing what next steps, if any, need to be taken. 

Berman is calling on the community to reach out to Haliburton County and Dysart et al councils to encourage them to enact better protection for threatened species like Grace. 

“This is not about landowner rights,” Berman says. “These are pre-identified areas that are part of the common good.”

“Turtles are the most unique animals on the planet, I think, because of the way they navigate,” Berman goes on to say. When they’re young, she explains, they have great “brain plasticity” which is the ability to learn and have a good memory. Berman says until the age of four they make mental maps of where they travel. “After the age of four, their brain plasticity drops dramatically,” she says. Berman points out that those first years are critical because they follow the paths they made as hatchlings for the rest of their lives.

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