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Mohawks’ Environment Division conducts study on snapping turtles

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MASSENA — The St. Regis Mohawk tribe is studying snapping turtle eggs in the St. Lawrence River to determine how industrial pollutants may not only harm the species but also impair use of the river.

Program manager Jessica L. Jock said the tribal Environment Division is working with contractor Riveredge Associates LLC to study snapping turtle hatching success in a 15-mile stretch from the Moses-Saunders Power Dam to Lake St. Francis.

“Snapping turtles are known to accumulate chemicals at a high concentration, and there are high rates of hatching deformities,” Ms. Jock said. Eggs are sent to a laboratory where chemical analysis can be performed and any abnormalities observed, she said.

The study will provide a comparison of contaminants in eggs taken from inside the monitoring area with those found in nests in neighboring communities.

The Environment Division has reached out to residents of Massena, Louisville and Brasher as well as the reservation for help in reporting nests.

Landowners are asked to “place a marker and protection barrier such as a 5-gallon bucket or garbage can over the nest with a heavy object on top of it to keep predators from digging up the nest,” as directed by the tribe’s website. They then are directed to contact the Environment Division, and a trained field biologist will report to the location within 24 hours.

“The community helps identify snapping turtles. It is labor intensive. People get excited about finding turtles,” Ms. Jock said. “It’s a good way to get the community involved. The people that called in appreciate the opportunity, too.”

“When you approach the turtles, the fresh (nests) are better. You take a digging trowel, start digging,” she said.

At each sampling location, the Environment Division is aiming to get five eggs from each of the nests: 25 total nests inside the area of concern and 25 from outside the area of concern. Even though turtle nesting is not at a high point, the division still will be able to conduct its study with a certain portion of the sample number.

“We’re on the down slope with turtle nesting. They won’t hatch until August or September,” Ms. Jock said. “It depends on when the original nest was laid. We propose to collect so many for statistical power. However, whenever doing field work, you get what you get. There’s also some leeway when a rule of thumb is acquiring 80 percent of that sample number. Right now we are nearing that 80 percent.”

The tribe asks anyone who finds a female snapping turtle nesting to call the Environment Division at 518-358-5937 and give his or her name, phone number and location of the nest observed.

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