Watch for Turtles on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike

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Signs have been placed on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike warning drivers of wildlife crossing. Stephen J. Kotz photo.
Signs have been placed on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike warning drivers of wildlife crossing. Stephen J. Kotz photo.
Signs have been placed on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike warning drivers of wildlife crossing. Stephen J. Kotz photo.

In just a few weeks, the female box, painted and snapping turtles that make their homes in the Long Pond Green Belt will begin their annual migration to find safe places to lay their eggs. And if this is like every other year, no small number of them will meet their demise when they try to cross the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.

But now, they — and the salamanders, snakes, raccoons, opossums, deer, and other wildlife — that cross that road are getting a helping hand. The Friends of the Long Pond Green Belt have erected a half dozen signs along the road, urging motorists to be on the lookout for wildlife.

“We are hoping that people will at least slow down when they see the signs,” said Dai Dayton, the organization’s president.

Ms. Dayton said Slate Pond, on the west side of the road across from the South Fork Natural History Museum, is prime habitat for both endangered tiger salamanders and turtles. They have encountered increased difficulty crossing the road ever since Suffolk County installed sidewalks, curbs and storm drains along the turnpike, she said. Although the county retrofitted some sections of curbs to provide them with a sloped surface, Ms. Dayton said they remain too steep for many turtles to climb. “I wish the county could undo what they have done,” she said.

Frank Quevedo, the executive director of SOFO, said he too hoped the signs would spare some lives. “June is when most turtles look to lay their eggs,” he said.

If you see a painted and box turtle crossing the road and want to move it from harm’s way, you should always carry it across the road in the direction it was traveling, he said. If you see a snapping turtle, it is probably safer to play crossing guard and stop traffic, he added, because snapping turtles have long necks that can reach around their shell and incredibly powerful jaws that can crush a finger. And if you grab them by the back of their shell, they have sharp claws on their rear feet that can also cause injuries.

Box turtles, once ubiquitous on eastern Long Island, are now a New York State species “of greatest concern,” Mr. Quevedo said. That means that unless a management plan is put in place that protects habitat, they will probably be on the list of endangered species within a decade.

Tiger salamanders, which are on the state’s endangered species, also cross the road, in either late winter or early spring to lay their eggs. They are also on the move later in the season, when the vernal ponds they live near dry up in the heat of summer.

– Reporting by Stephen J. Kotz

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