Fences to keep the nature out? Good fences!
Terrapins are thriving in Meadows thanks to HRI and Turnpike Authority
By Hugh M. Carola
It is a simple solution for a tough problem. How do you keep thousands of pregnant turtles, just back from their spring migration from the Chesapeake Bay, from doing what comes naturally—heading for high ground to lay their eggs, which entails crossing the New Jersey Turnpike?
The solution is not only simple, but cheap and effective! Snow fencing installed at key spots along the NJ Turnpike has produced impressive results: No diamondback terrapins—turtles that thrive in the brackish waters of coastal salt marshes—were killed on the Turnpike in 2003.
This positive outcome results from cooperation between the Maintenance Department of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and Hackensack Riverkeeper, which has monitored the Diamondback Terrapin Mortality Reduction Project for several years. Since 2001, Hackensack Riverkeeper has worked closely with the Authority’s Environmental Coordinator Tim Doolen to make sure that the project’s safeguards remain effective.
Each year, we make field inspections to check the condition of snow fencing along the Kingsland and Sawmill Creeks. Next time you’re traveling the Turnpike between Exits 15W and 16W, look for the fences where the roadway crosses over the creeks.
“Last winter took a major toll on the fences and during our first inspection in April we noted a lot of damage,” Tim recalled. “And that damage could easily have allowed the females onto the road.” It was critical to get the fences fixed before the terrapins arrived in the Meadowlands after their long trip from Chesapeake Bay.
The Turnpike Authority’s Maintenance Department was up to the challenge. After they received our report, they repaired the damage –in some cases, replacing whole sections of fencing – and they did it on time.
The project has been so successful that the use of snow fencing in the Meadowlands has been expanded to include other areas where diamondback terrapins might find themselves in a losing situation. You can now see fencing up along the Turnpike’s Eastern Spur adjacent to the Mill Creek Marsh and along Route 3 approaching the North Bergen Viaduct. The fences provide an invaluable service to one of the ecosystem’s most important species. As Tim says, “It’s cheap and it works!”
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