Wood turtle recovery in La Mauricie National Park of Canada

Parks Canada crosses park boundaries to help ensure future of unique population of Wood turtles near Shawinigan River, Quebec

One of Canada's largest known populations of the Wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) inhabits an area near the Shawinigan River at the southern edge of La Mauricie National Park of Canada, in Quebec. Among Wood turtle populations in Quebec, the genetic diversity of the Shawinigan River population is unique. Yet, human activity and natural predators–the same factors that led to designating the Wood turtle as vulnerable in Canada–threaten the Shawinigan River population.

Committed to ensuring the future of this fragile population, biologists at La Mauricie National Park surveyed the Shawinigan River Wood turtles in collaboration with the ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec, a local environmental group, and graduate students from nearby universities. The survey, which included tracking adult turtles through radio telemetry, discovered that 40% of the females use a single nesting site close to the park's boundary. Should anything happen to this site, the pressure on the population would be extreme.

The nesting site has been protected since 1996. Park biologists and volunteers locate and protect the nests, laying down wire netting to keep out predators. Over one three-year period, such efforts allowed more than 700 hatchlings to safely reach the Shawinigan River, compared to less than 100 before the project began. The nesting site land was purchased by the Fondation de la faune du Québec in 2000. Protection continues under the Saint-Lawrence Valley Natural History Society, which manages the area.

Warden weighing a turtle
Wood turtle on a rock
© Parks Canada / J. Pleau / 2003

A well-targeted public education program was established to protect the turtles and their habitat through stewardship. Riverside property owners were educated about the importance of this rare population. Groups organizing outdoor activities in the area were instructed on how to minimize disturbances to the turtles and their habitat. Where logging activities occur on public lands, forestry practices have been adapted to maintain quality habitat.

Using demographic, genetic and habitat-use data, biologists at La Mauricie National Park plan the release of juvenile turtles within the park. By increasing the number of turtles on protected land while continuing to maintain their habitat outside the park, Parks Canada and its partners hope to maintain steady population growth. The future of the La Mauricie Wood turtle population looks bright.