Story & Photo by Rachel Darvill
The Western Painted Turtle (WPT) is British Columbia’s only native freshwater turtle species and is a species at risk. Turtles seek out warm areas and bask in the sun to elevate their body temperature, which is particularly important in spring and fall when temperatures are low. The lack of woody debris (logs) in the water poses a problem because basking is required for turtles – they need logs so they can easily climb out of the water and warm themselves. Raising the body temperature is required for foraging and mating, it helps turtles digest food, helps provide an essential source of Vitamin D, and helps reduce ectoparasites on the turtle’s body. Basking can occur several times a day, usually for several hours beginning at sunrise (before feeding occurs) and sometimes again in the afternoon and evening.
In 2021-22, the Lake Windermere District Rod & Gun Club became involved in the Columbia Valley Western Painted Turtle Project [a project supported by the Columbia Wetlands Stewardship Partners (CWSP)]. They placed basking logs in ponds where they were lacking or in short supply (determined through 2020 inventory work). The main goals of the basking turtle component of this project are to expand the turtles’ basking opportunities by designing and installing lightweight and natural-looking basking structures.
The Lake Windermere District Rod & Gun members created basking logs from cedar hydro poles donated by BC Hydro. The poles had their ends cut on an angle for turtles to climb onto and the top was flattened slightly for basking. Cement blocks were used for anchoring logs in place, which were donated by Barry Brown-John. The ponds selected in 2021 for basking log deployment were Dorothy Lake, the pond below Canfor Radium Mill (just over the track along Horsethief Forestry Rd), and Armstrong Bay within Columbia Lake. To see if these logs were used and also to what extent, we monitored some of them for their effectiveness in 2021. Additional basking log monitoring will happen in Radium and Columbia Lake again this year. If you are interested in volunteering your time to monitor the use of the logs by turtles (and other species), please email email@example.com. You can monitor frequently or as little as you like. We are working on additional conservation actions for turtles in the region, such as fencing predators out of nesting areas and putting up signage at turtle crossing areas.
CWSP and the Rod & Gun Club want to thank BC Hydro, Barry Brown-John, Richard Halverson for welding the anchor bolts together, Rona, CP Rail and club members who contributed to this basking log project. The project biologist (Rachel Darvill of Goldeneye Ecological Services) with assistance from a naturalist (Verena Shaw) are overseeing the turtle project. The WPT project is part of the larger Kootenay Connect project whose goal is to sustain biodiversity across local landscapes by focusing on habitat connectivity within and between valley bottoms and mountain ranges. Kootenay Connect is funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) through the Canada Nature Fund with equal matching funding from local partners.