Many County residents are in mourning after the remains of Grace, a 125-year-old snapping turtle who regularly frequented the Haliburton village area, were found at Koshlong Lake.
Leora Berman, founder of The Land Between conservation group and Turtle Guardians charity, confirmed July 29 a skeleton found near the dam on Koshlong belonged to Grace.
“We received an email with a picture of the remains in mid-July… I suspected it could be her because the ocular bones were a conspicuous match,” Berman told The Highlander. She requested the remains be brought to the Turtle Guardians home on Gelert Road for further testing.
“At first, they looked too small, so we checked measurements against our records and, compared to other skeletons of elders we had, it was clear this turtle was huge, despite the meager appearance of the bones remaining,” she added. “Grace also had deformed bumpy scutes at the back of her carapace, which were a match. Then, we had no doubt.”
Grace had been missing for well over a year, last spotted emerging from hibernation from a wetland near Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS) in spring 2021. Berman said she had been displaced when that wetland, located on private property, was filled by the owner in January 2022.
Many predicted Grace had been buried alive, leading to Turtle Guardians hosting an unofficial funeral service at HHSS in September 2022. That her remains were located in a different watershed approximately 15 kilometres away raises more questions for Berman.
“From decades of research, it is virtually unheard of for snapping turtles to travel those distances. Although they may adjust their territories [they would never do so] in one year. Territories are like their languages, and changing territorial boundaries means learning a new language, which tends to take time. Therefore, the only logical explanation is that she was moved to that location,” she said.
Being translocated to an unfamiliar area, Berman said, was a death sentence.
“When turtles are displaced, it is like being in a foreign country. They would not know where to find suitable hibernation sites. She was found in an open lake that is not a known choice for snapping turtles to overwinter in – the conditions in the lake may not have allowed her to survive the winter,” Berman said, noting it is “highly doubtful” Grace was killed by a predator, or suddenly died of old age.
“The exact cause is a mystery, but biologically and behaviourally, her passing relates to her being displaced,” she added.
Critical of Dysart et al
While saying she’s grateful Grace’s remains have been found, Berman said she feels no sense of closure. She criticized Dysart et al council for failing to implement what she describes as “a simple bylaw” that would go a long way towards protecting wetland sites, and species that inhabit them, in the future.
The township has been working on a new site alteration bylaw for several months. Karl Korpela, Dysart’s chief building official, tabled a draft document in May he said would work in tandem with the County’s tree preservation bylaw to establish clear restrictions on what property owners can and cannot do on land fronting water and in environmentally protected (EP) areas.
At a July 25 meeting, council discussed the bylaw, which mayor Murray Fearrey says should focus more on education than punishment. He proposed approving the bylaw in time for implementation Jan. 1, 2024. The item will be discussed again at the next scheduled council meeting on Aug. 22.
“This council keeps deferring their basic responsibilities,” Berman said. “I feel sad and shocked because, after one-and-a-half years, no change has ensued with our leaders… the municipality is the first line of defence for our disappearing wildlife and their habitats. If Dysart continues to deflect or drop the ball, it will be hard to reverse losses and it will cost this community, if not soon [then] in the long run.”
A memorial walk for Grace will be held in Haliburton Sept. 29. Berman said the turtle’s remains will stay with the Guardians likely until next year, when a burial ceremony can be held, led by Indigenous elders of the Turtle Clan.
To learn more about the Guardians’ efforts, visit turtleguardians.com/in-the-name-ofgrace.