Rare Turtles Documented At Brasstown Valley

  • Friday, August 12, 2016
Brasstown Valley Resort & Spa has woven into its identity the legend of a giant turtle that saved Native Americans. The logo of the Young Harris resort features a turtle. A hefty concrete version marks the entrance. The golf course even sports turtle-shaped tee markers.
Yet Brasstown Valley can add another celebrated, if much smaller, turtle to its story.
Rare bog turtles have been found at the 503-acre resort. That makes Brasstown Valley, state-owned and privately managed, the only Georgia Department of Natural Resources property that has North America’s smallest turtles, a species listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Following up on a chance sighting by a citizen, wildlife biologist Thomas Floyd of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section documented bog turtles at Brasstown Valley two summers ago.
Floyd has since caught and tracked nine turtles there, in an area that is not being made public to protect the animals.
The find has boosted the spirits of scientists studying the species and bumped to 10 the number of known bog turtle sites in Georgia. Half are thought to contain populations considered viable long-term. Three were found within the last three years. Sites are searched out using historical data, computer modeling, aerial photos and fieldwork.
“The more populations we know of, the better we can conserve the species and manage sites,” Mr. Floyd said.
Brasstown Valley general manager Charles Burton welcomes news of the turtles.
“This is a wonderful discovery and not surprising given that Brasstown was designed by Georgia's DNR as the environmental model of how to design a facility that protects, preserves and co-exists with the environment,” said Mr. Burton, who works for Coral Hospitality, the company managing the resort.
Even if they weren’t rare, bog turtles would be easy to miss because of their size, habitat and lifestyle. They grow only about 4½ inches long, live in mountain bogs – one of the Southern Appalachians’ most endangered habitats – and spend much of their lives buried in muck that can reach knee-deep.
Bog turtles are found in a highly fragmented range from western Massachusetts to northeastern Georgia. The most pressing threat the species faces is habitat loss, although illegal pet trade is also an issue.
DNR monitors populations each summer through trap, PIT-tag and release efforts, often using radio-tracked turtles to better understand the species and their habitats. The Nongame Conservation Section also works with partners including through the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, a network of gardens, agencies, businesses and organizations, to monitor and restore mountain bogs.
Mr. Floyd views the Brasstown Valley discovery as promising because DNR can manage the site and it’s uncharacteristic for the species, meaning there may be bog turtles in places scientists haven’t checked.
“It does give you some hope that bog turtles are doing better than we know,” he said.
The great turtle legend has different versions. In the one featured on Brasstown Valley menus, Cherokees survive a flood by riding a massive turtle to safety at Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest natural point and only a few miles from the resort.
Bog turtles are best at maneuvering through mud and moss, and they won’t be carrying anything heavier than a tiny radio transmitter on their back. But their presence at Brasstown Valley points to a more hopeful future for conserving this storied turtle.
DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, part of the Wildlife Resources Division, works to conserve Georgia’s endangered and other wildlife not legally fished for or hunted, as well as rare plants and natural habitats. The agency depends primarily on fundraisers, grants and contributions for this work.
Public support is vital. Help conserve native wildlife such as bog turtles by:
-  Buying or renewing a DNR eagle or hummingbird license plate. Most money from sales and renewals is dedicated to nongame conservation. Upgrade to a “wild” tag for $25.
-  Contributing to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund when filing state income taxes – line 26 on Form 500 or line 10 on Form 500EZ. Giving is easy and any amount helps.
-  Donating directly to the agency. Details at www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/support.
Learn more about nongame in Georgia:  www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/annualreport.
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