May 06, 2014 | 01:35 PMBLOOMFIELD — Stopping on a highway to lead turtles to safety is nothing unusual for Jennifer Tschida.
“We used to live in Como, actually, before we moved here,” said the Pell Lake woman, who is also the village’s utility clerk. “There were large snapping turtles there that would cross the road, near the Flats.”
Tschida said she once tried to lure a turtle across Highway H while half-barefoot. “I tried to get him to bite one of my sandals.” The turtle took a bite out of it, but Tschida successfully dragged him across the highway — despite people driving about 55 mph.
“I kept that sandal for a very long time. I said, ‘One of these times, I’m going to get killed saving a turtle,’ but that’s all right, because then I’d feel like I’ve done my good deed for the day.”
The deed she’s doing now may keep her — and her slower, four-legged friends — safer.
Tschida and her husband, Daniel, created turtle crossing stencils that can be used to paint on road surfaces. And the state’s Department of Natural Resources has taken notice.
Andrew Badje, DNR conservation biologist, said in an April 30 email that the stencil will go to the state’s Department of Transportation.
“Our intentions for this road stencil by Jennifer Tschida is that it spurs interest in creating a statewide turtle road crossing stencil that can be used and distributed throughout the entire state,” said Badje.
Jennifer and Village President Ken Monroe said the crossings will be painted on North Lakeshore Drive, where there already are two turtle crossing signs.
Jennifer said she went to Madison to get those signs — twice, because one of them was stolen. Monroe and Bloomfield Police Chief Steve Cole received numerous complaints when the sign was stolen.
“I told Ken Monroe those were important to me,” said Tschida, about the signs. “Lakeshore Drive is considered a hot spot because the turtles are crossing from the swamp to the lake.”
Monroe said he favored Tschida’s stencil idea. “I think it will attract people more. We always get sign requests, but a sign gets to be like a tree. After a while, you don’t notice it anymore.”
Nevertheless, he said the turtle crossing signs will remain where the stencils are painted, which will be done once warmer temperatures arrive.
But is it worth the effort?
Badje thinks so.
“Road stencils, when used in the right places, are probably the most bang for your buck for public education and awareness (of) turtle conservation to date. Road crossing signs are often one, expensive, two, stolen by the public or used as target practice, and three, require maintenance over the years, which is why there is this new transitional thinking. Road maintenance crews, with little budgeting, are more strongly attracted to stencils than paying for signs that they have to constantly replace.”
Monroe, Badje and Tschida were unable to provide cost estimates for the stenciling. However, Tschida said to crate the 8-by-6-foot stencil and to spray paint the crossing in her driveway, the cost was about $35.
According to Badje, there are 11 turtle species in Wisconsin. One is endangered, another threatened and three are “of special concern due to rarity and declining trends.”
“Countless turtles are being crushed along their annual migrations over roads throughout Wisconsin, and any further awareness that we can distribute to motorists about turtle crossing whereabouts will most definitely help decrease the number (of turtles) that are hit along roads in Wisconsin.”
There would appear to be a renewed sensitivity toward wildlife. Last week, the village of Waterford even closed a heavily-trafficked road for one day to protect migrating frogs.
It is also almost one year since a female snapping turtle died after it suffered wounds that may have been inflicted intentionally by someone wielding a blunt object on a golf course near Delavan.
That story still brings tears to Tschida’s eyes.
“It broke my heart, actually. I’ve never heard of anything like that before.”
The attention that case drew, however, may have created more general interest in turtle conservation.
“As far as all the other species I’ve worked with, people are definitely the most passionate about turtles, which is why I’m fairly optimistic,” said Badje, about whether the case has generated more turtle kindness. “I think turtle conservation is on an upward trend here in Wisconsin, and I’d like to keep it going that way. If turtle futures are to keep getting brighter, we definitely need more citizen conservationists to become involved. People like Jennifer Tschida do make a great deal of difference.”
Originally from Cottage Grove, Minn., Tschida went to college in San Diego. There, she had a professor who went to South America to watch baby sea turtles hatch, and then turned them around to ensure they made it into the ocean.
“I probably relate to turtles because I’ve always been very slow,” she joked.
Another word to describe her is “conservationist.”
“Here, when I walk our dog, I always take a garbage bag with us. I’m always cleaning up garbage around Pell Lake.”
It’s on those walks that Tschida has noticed turtles in other areas of the village of Bloomfield. She said she would like to see more turtle crossing areas painted in places such as Litchfield and Clover roads, places where she has also helped turtles cross safely.