Wednesday, December 20, 2006


On Saturday, riders on four ATVs followed the Santee Cooper power lines and crossed neighboring property to get bogged down in the sanctuary at FBF. The sound of engines roaring brought the staff out of the building to investigate. Although the group departed after being notified that they were trespassing, the damage had already been done.

Although Santee Cooper has a right-of-way for their power lines as they cross the sanctuary, they do not own the land beneath the lines. It may appear to the casual observer that the land below the power lines is unproductive and therefore an intrusion would go unchallenged. No harm, no foul. Unfortunately, the situation is not as simple as it may appear.

During her three years of studying Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata), Dr. Jacqueline Litzgus discovered that the power line right-of-way was crucial to the community of FBF turtles. Not only did all turtles use the open area to bask, but gravid females spent additional time in the plentiful sun. Something that is a premium beneath the dense canopy of the old-growth forest.

Gravid female Spotted Turtles
spent a considerable amount of time on or at
the edge of a powerline right-of-way during
April, May, and June (Spring and Nesting subseasons;
Tables 3, 4). In addition, females nested
on the edge of the powerline and in relatively
recent clearcuts (~5 years old) peripheral
to the Beidler Forest boundaries.
(from Copeia, 2004)

Spotted Turtle populations are diminishing throughout their range, mainly due to habitat loss. In fact, Dr. Litzgus chose the Francis Beidler Forest as her southern study site because populations farther south in Georgia and Florida were no longer viable. The Francis Beidler Forest has a healthy Spotted Turtle population. Unfortunately, the ATV riders chose the exact area under the power lines where Dr. Litzgus noted the frequent basking of the Spotted Turtles. Although the turtles are not in the area at this time of year, the sediment churned into the water certainly affected the organisms that were present. Additionally, the habitat to which the turtles will return in the spring has been negatively altered by the tracks of the ATVs and the soil-slinging manner in which those vehicles were driven.

Someone owns the land. If it is not you, you need to ask permission before entering because the situation is not always as simple as it may appear.

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