Easton’s other housing crisis: wildlife

Easton Courier: By Jane Paley, Special to The Easton Courier on October 5, 2016:

Humans aren’t alone; some of our wildlife species could be losing their habitats. This may give pause to those who moved to Easton for its rural character and commitment to preserving the town’s woods, wetlands, waters, and open spaces.

The Eastern box turtle, wood turtle and sharp-shinned hawk are three examples. Each lives along and in the Mill River in the vicinity of the South Park property where various development proposals are being considered by the Board of Selectmen/woman.

The National Wildlife Federation describes the Eastern box turtle as five to six inches long with a domed shell. The turtles come in various shades of brown, frequently with yellow markings. They have a curved mouth and eat “just about anything they can catch and fit in their mouths.”

In their current Mill River home, they can find cool shelter from the sun and a plentiful diet of insects, berries and roots.

According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, this turtle “gets its name from its ability to completely withdraw into its shell, closing itself in with a hinged plastron. Box turtles are the only Connecticut turtle with this ability.”

The DEEP fact sheet offers concerns about this species: “Because of the population decline in Connecticut, the box turtle was added to the state’s List of Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Species when it was revised in 1998. It is currently listed as a species of special concern.

“… Loss of habitat is probably the greatest threat to turtles. Some turtles may be killed directly by construction activities, but many more are lost when important habitat areas for shelter, feeding, hibernation, or nesting are destroyed.”

The wood turtle is five to nine inches in length and has an elaborate shell. Those found in New England often have orange markings. According to the DEEP fact sheet, their habitat is ”usually within 1,000 feet of a suitable stream or rivers, where they hibernate in the winter.” This species is also of special concern to DEEP.

“The wood turtle is imperiled throughout a large portion of its range and was placed under international regulatory trade protection through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1992. Wood turtles have also been included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as a vulnerable species in 1996. … They are protected by the Connecticut Endangered Species Act.”

The DEEP placed the sharp-shinned hawk on Connecticut’s Endangered Species list. “It is the smallest North American accipiter. … Many were lost as a result of pesticides in the 1970s. Although pesticides no longer play as large a role in the decline of sharp-shinned populations today, the species is still affected by other factors, like the loss of habitat.

“Collisions with plate glass doors and picture windows are responsible for the deaths of many sharp-shinned hawks annually. The glass reflects the surrounding woods and cannot be readily distinguished by a hawk chasing prey or seeking cover.”

Advice from DEEP is both implicit and explicit: Protect these vulnerable species.

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