The Lake Jackson Ecopassage

Providing a Safe Path for Wildlife

 

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The Lake Jackson Ecopassage is now complete! The last bit of construction equipment left the site on Friday August 27th, 2010. After a decade of sustained effort by the Lake Jackson Ecopassage Alliance, under the direction of Dr. Matthew Aresco, the dream has been realized. It's been a tumultuous ride over the past 10 years, exacerbated by the negative publicity garnered in the 11th hour by the misinformation that was distributed by those against stimulus funds. Despite all of the hurdles, the Lake Jackson Ecopassage Alliance and its 13.4 million supporters have prevailed. We wish to offer a hearty thanks to the Florida Department of Transportation, the Capital Regional Transportation Planning Agency, the Leon County Commission, and the countless other government agencies, conservation groups, and concerned citizens that helped us design, fund, and complete the ecopassage. We especially want to thank the many supporters for the letters they wrote and the financial donations they provided that allowed us to transform the world's deadliest turtle highway into the world's safest wildlife crossing.

 

 

 


 

 

1. The Problem: Highest rate of road-killed turtles in the world!

2. Temporary Solution:  Fences to direct turtles through a culvert under the road

3. The Solution: A permanent ecopassage

Remains of 90 dead turtles collected in a single afternon. Click to see a much larger version     Turtles being directed by temporary fence. Click to see a much larger version   Proposed solution - guidewall and culvert system. Click to see a larger version
Remains of 90 road-killed turtles found along a  1/3 mile stretch of US Highway 27 at Lake Jackson in one day in February 2000, prior to construction of temporary fence. Turtles being diverted by the temporary fence into a culvert under the road. This fence design effectively prevented thousands of turtles and other wildlife from death on the highway in the last few years. A permanent guidewall and culvert system similar to this - recently constructed at Paynes Prairie on US Highway 441 south of Gainesville, Florida is now completed on U.S. 27 at Lake Jackson, Florida. Lake Jackson Ecopassage Conceptual Drawing

Lake Jackson Aquatic Preserve Roadkill Fact Sheet

Summary:

Lake Jackson is a 4000-acre sinkhole lake in northwestern Florida located 7 miles north of Tallahassee, FL in the Ochlockonee River basin.  Lake Jackson is considered one of Leon County's most precious natural resources and is designated as an Aquatic Preserve by the State of Florida.  The water level of Lake Jackson fluctuates widely and is controlled naturally by rainfall (variation in surface water run-off into the lake) and by two primary sinkholes (Porter Hole and Lime Sink).  During drought conditions, a lowering of the water table causes leakage into the groundwater through the sinkholes and most of the lake bottom dries, an event that has occurred at least 12 times in the last 168 years (1840, 1907, 1909, 1932, 1935, 1936, 1957, 1982, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2006), drying on average every 9 years. In fact, native Americans referred to Lake Jackson as Lake Okeeheepkee "Disappearing Waters". We recently discovered an article from 1842 commenting on the lake drydown.  

US Highway 27 is a four-lane highway that was built directly across a 3/4-mile portion of northwest Lake Jackson, isolating part of the lake to the west now known as Little Lake Jackson.  US Highway 27 is a virtually impassable barrier to turtles and other wildlife with 23,500 vehicles traveling along it each day.

***The road mortality and attempted crossings, especially of turtles, is higher than has been documented anywhere else in the world!.***

We have documented over 11,270 (as of 16 April 2008) animals of 61 different species (not including birds) attempting to cross the half-mile section of US Highway 27 at Lake Jackson in the last 8 years.  Clearly, a permanent solution to this significant wildlife mortality problem is needed.

 

Map of Lake Jackson and Little Lake Jackson. Click to see much larger version Lake Jackson Water Levels. Click to see much larger version

Graph courtesy of Northwest Florida Water Management District

Map of Lake Jackson and Little Lake Jackson bisected by US Highway 27 showing location of proposed culverts and barrier walls. Map of study area. Map showing temporary fences. Click the image above for high resolution map.

Fluctuations in water levels of Lake Jackson over time.  Because the lake level fluctuates widely, migration of turtles between Lake Jackson and Little Lake Jackson occurs continually.

Current level of Lake Jackson    Daily precipitation    1999-present

During the recent drought in North Florida, Lake Jackson dried completely causing a mass exodus of thousands of animals that attempted to migrate to Little Lake Jackson directly across US Highway 27.  Between February and April 2000, the highway was monitored every 1-2 days for dead and live turtles.  439 turtles were killed on US Highway 27 during the 40 days prior to fence construction. 

 

This Florida softshell was killed after climbing over the low temporary fence on June 24th 2002. Unfortunately the fence offers little resistance to climbing turtles such as this.

This yellow-bellied slider was killed trying to cross US Highway 27 in September 2002. Most turtles are killed as soon as they cross the white line on the shoulder of the road.

This snapping turtle was killed trying to cross US Highway 27 on Sunday September 15th, 2002. Most turtles are killed as soon as they cross the white line on the shoulder of the road.

In order to prevent massive road mortality of the entire population of migrating turtles, we constructed a temporary fence using silt fence material that directs turtles into a culvert under the road.  A 3,600 foot fence along US Highway 27 North was completed on 3 April 2000 and has been monitored 2-4 times per day since construction. A 2,600 foot fence was then constructed along US Highway 27 South to intercept turtles that attempted to migrate across the road when Lake Jackson refilled.  Turtles were hand-collected as they moved along the fences, measured, transported by hand across the highway, and released into the water.  Over 8,800 turtles and hundreds of other reptiles and amphibians were saved from death on the highway by these fences. For a historical account of the events that have occurred, please visit our Latest Developments page.

Is this turtle movement a freak anomaly based upon a one-time drought event?

 

No! Although the peak migration occurred as Lake Jackson dried, migration of turtles and other wildlife between Lake Jackson and Little Lake Jackson has continued since the lake refilled, so this is not a one-time problem.  Every spring hundreds of nesting female turtles emerge on to land to lay eggs and the fence protects them. Without the fence, many females would be killed on the highway while searching for appropriate nesting habitat. Because many turtles take from 10 to 15 years to mature, losing thousands of turtles every 12.5 years (the average period between lake drying events) would have tragic consequences for the population.  As the vehicle traffic of US Highway 27 has increased over time, so has the devastating effect of road mortality during both drought and non-drought years.

Does the temporary fence stop all wildlife from entering the roadway?

 

No. Species such as frogs, snapping turtles, large softshell turtles, alligators, snakes, and most mammals can climb over this low fence. The fence only covers 2000' - 3000' of the "killing zone". Areas where roads enter the highway are also dangerous avenues for turtles to travel on to the highway.

Is the temporary fence a long-term solution?

 

No. Despite the 8,800 turtles that have been saved, the fence we constructed is only a temporary short-term solution to this wildlife mortality problem. It is degrading rapidly to the point where it will soon be ineffective.  The temporary fence must be maintained daily to ensure its effectiveness. The fence is often compromised by animals chewing it, small mammals that dig under it, highway maintenance equipment that cuts into it, trees that fall on to it, erosion, and vandals that destroy it. Thus a permanent ecopassage (guide wall and culvert system) is needed to replace the temporary fence so that this continuing wildlife mortality problem can be stopped..
 

Frogs, toads, and turtles killed in one day. Click to see a much larger version

These leopard frogs, toads, and hatchling turtles were killed in one day in March 2002 on US Highway 27 after crossing over the fence after a heavy rainstorm.

River Otter killed by vehicle. Click to see a much larger version

This river otter was killed immediately as she entered the roadway, after jumping over the temporary fence. Other mammals killed include beavers, foxes, squirrels, rabbits, armadillos, opossums, and raccoons.

This Florida softshell turtle climbed over the temporary fence and was hit on the road. Luckily we were able to take her off the road before she was completely crushed and she survived her injuries. 

Why should we care if thousands of turtles and other wildlife from Lake Jackson are killed by vehicles each year?

 

Turtles are an important part of the lake ecosystem. Most turtles feed on dead and decaying matter in the lake. So, turtles essentially "clean" the lake. Our research has shown that turtles also eat many aquatic plants. Most notably, turtles feed heavily on the introduced aquatic menace, Hydrilla. By cleaning the water and eating the vegetation that "chokes out" the lake, turtles provide necessary habitat for fish (especially bass) and increase recreational opportunities for people. Without turtles the general ecosystem functioning would falter.  Turtles and other wildlife are an integral part of Lake Jackson's ecosystem and should be protected in standing with Lake Jackson's designation as Florida's only lake Aquatic Preserve. This ecosystem was designated in 1974 as the Lake Jackson Aquatic Preserve "for the primary purpose of preserving and maintaining the biological resources in their essentially natural condition."

 

Why should motorists care that wildlife is kept off the highway?

 

Wildlife trespass on to the highway represents a major threat to motorist safety. Many adult turtles weigh at least 5 to 10 pounds and are essentially "rocks in the roadway".  When turtles are hit they can act as dangerous projectiles, causing serious damage to vehicles and injury to occupants.  A recent auto accident in Indian River County, Florida, involved a large turtle that was hit by a car and then crashed through another car's windshield.  We have witnessed many near-misses where vehicles have stopped to help turtles or have attempted to veer around turtles in the roadway. On one occasion we observed a 3-car crash when a vehicle stopped to move a softshell turtle.  Peak migration days can result in hundreds of turtles trespassing on to the highway. At night, a time when visibility is at its poorest, alligators often travel on to the roadway. We have documented an accident where a vehicle collided with a 7 foot alligator that was moving across the highway.  Without a proper guidewall to keep turtles and other wildlife off of the highway, there is serious potential for vehicle accidents on a stretch of highway with 23,500 vehicles per day.

Lake Jackson Aquatic Preserve Roadkill Fact Sheet


 

Please contact our office for further information turtles@lakejacksonturtles.org.

The Lake Jackson Ecopassage Alliance, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax deductible organization and registered Florida charity, registration # CH-15726, under the Solicitation of Contributions Act (Florida Statute 496). A copy of the official registration, financial information, governing documents, and state and federal tax return documents may be obtained: (1) from the Division of Consumer Services by calling the toll-free number at 1-800-HELPFLA (1-800-435-7352); (2) from the Internal Revenue Service; or (3) from the Lake Jackson Ecopassage Alliance, Inc. office. Registration does not imply endorsement, approval, or recommendation by the State of Florida. 100% of each contribution is retained by The Lake Jackson Ecopassage Alliance, Inc. Donations to the Lake Jackson Ecopassage Alliance are used primarily to construct and maintain the temporary fences along US Highway 27. The Lake Jackson Ecopassage Alliance does not pay salaries to officers or other personnel and is completely staffed by volunteers.


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  Past Events

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  Supporters -The following organizations and companies supported the building of the Lake Jackson Ecopassage. If your organization or company would like to help support the Lake Jackson Ecopassage, please send the Lake Jackson Ecopassage Alliance your letter. Total supporters of the Lake Jackson Ecopassage, when including the membership of all supporting organizations, is now in excess of 13.4 million people. We thank all of you for your support!

 

1000 Friends of Florida

Alachua Audubon Society

American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

American Tortoise Rescue

Annie's Homegrown Organic Pasta

Apalachee Ecological Conservancy, Inc

Apalachee Land Conservancy

Auburn Herpetological Society

Betton Hills Neighborhood Association

California Turtle and Tortoise Club

Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network

The Canoe Shop

Center for North American Herpetology

Coastal Plains Institute

Conservation Services Southeast

Cornerstone Learning Community

Dallas-Fort Worth Herpetological Society

Defenders of Wildlife

Ecology and Evolution Research Discussion Group, Florida State University

Environmental Services Program, Florida State University

Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Florida Lake Management Society

Florida Natural Areas Inventory

Florida Public Interest Research Group

Florida Turtle Conservation Trust

Florida Wildlife Federation

Friends of Lake Jackson

Gainesville Herpetological Society

Gopher Tortoise Council

Gulf Specimen Marine Lab

Heart of the Earth

Herpetologists' League

Humane Society of the United States

Jacksonville Herpetological Society

Lake Jackson Ecopassage Alliance, Inc.

Leon County

Mid Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society

Minnesota Herpetological Society

National Audubon Society

National Wildlife Federation

Native Nurseries

New York Turtle and Tortoise Society

Northwest Florida Water Management District

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC)

Paynes Prairie Wildlife Coalition

Saint Francis Wildlife Association

Saint Louis / Midwest Turtle & Tortoise Society

Savannah River Ecology Laboratory

Sierra Club

Tortoise Trust

Turtle and Tortoise Club of Florida

United States Geological Survey

University of Georgia Herpetological Society

West End Animal Hospital

World Chelonian Trust

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  Links - Find out what web sites around the world have linked to the Lake Jackson Ecopassage web site. There are currently over 50 sites linked to our site. If you know of others or find a broken link, please let us know. Use our bumper sticker design as an icon on your web page  


 

Recognition (Awards) the Lake Jackson Ecopassage project has received:

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Species Rescued by the Fence or found Dead on the Road

(#s updated 16 April 2008)

The two most abundant turtle species:

Yellow-bellied slider. Click to see a much larger version

Florida cooter. Click to see a much larger version

4,249 Yellow-bellied sliders
(Trachemys scripta)
3,806 Florida cooters
(Pseudemys floridana)

Other turtle & tortoise species:

Musk turtle. Click to see a larger version

873 Musk turtles 

(Sternotherus odoratus)

Florida softshell turtle. Click to see a much larger version

313 Florida softshells 

(Apalone ferox)

Eastern mud turtle. Click to see a larger version

102 Eastern mud turtles

(Kinosternon subrubrum)

Common snapping turtle. Click to see a larger version

  18 common snapping turtles

(Chelydra serpentina)

Chicken turtle. Click to see a much larger version

6 chicken turtles 

(Deirochelys reticularia)

Suwannee cooter. Click to see a much larger version

3 Suwannee cooters 

(Pseudemys concinna)

Box turtle. Click to see a much larger version

59 Box turtles 

(Terrapene carolina)

In addition to the aquatic turtles rescued by this temporary fence, two species of terrestrial turtles were found at the fence.

All the species of turtles have been found dead on the road. 

Gopher tortoise. Click to see a much larger version

13 Gopher tortoises 

(Gopherus polyphemus)


Other reptile and amphibian species rescued by the fence or found dead on the road (indicated with asterisk): (click here for photos of these species)

 

Mud snake. Click to see a much larger version

Mud snake

 

Snakes (16 species)

Lizards (6 species)

 

Eastern glass lizard. Click to see a much larger version

Eastern glass lizard

 

Crocodilian (1 species)

 

 

* Found dead on road

Salamanders (2 species)

 

Pig frog. Click to see a much larger version

Pig frog

 

Frogs & Toads (9 species)

 

Mammals and birds observed at the fence or found dead on the road (indicated with asterisk):

Mammals (17 species)

  • Beaver, Castor canadensis*

  • Bobcat, Lynx rufus*

  • Cotton rat, Sigmodon hispidus

  • Coyote, Canis latrans*

  • Eastern woodrat, Neotoma floridana*

  • Gray fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus*

  • Gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis*

  • Marsh rabbit, Sylvilagus palustris*

  • Marsh rice rat,  Oryzomys palustris*

  • Nine-banded armadillo, Dasypus novemcinctus*

  • Oldfield mouse, Peromyscus polionotus*

  • Opossum , Didelphis virginiana*

  • Raccoon, Procyon lotor*

  • Red fox, Vulpes vulpes*

  • River otter, Lutra canadensis*

  • White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus*

  • Wild boar, Sus scrofa

 

* Found dead on road

Birds (27 species)

  • American Coot, Fulica americana*

  • American Robin, Turdus migratorius*
  • Anhinga, Anhinga anhinga*

  • Barn Owl, Tyto alba*

  • Barred Owl, Strix varia*

  • Brown Thrasher, Toxostoma rufum*

  • Carolina Wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus*

  • Catbird, Dumetella carolinensis*

  • Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula*

  • Common Nighthawk, Chordeiles minor*

  • Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas*

  • Cooper's Hawk, Accipiter cooperii*

  • Eastern Kingbird, Tyrannus tyrannus*

  • Eastern Screech Owl, Otus asio*

  • Eastern Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus*
  • Fish Crow, Corvus ossifragus*

  • Green Heron, Butorides virescens*

  • Mourning Dove, Zenaida aurita*

  • Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis*

  • Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos*
  • Purple Gallinule, Porphyrula martinica*

  • Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis*

  • Swainson's Thrush, Catharus ustulatus*

  • Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana*

  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Coccyzus americanus*

  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius*

  • Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dendroica coronata*

●●74 birds of the 27 species have been found dead on the highway

 

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Media Coverage of the Lake Jackson Ecopassage Project

This wildlife rescue fence has received attention from local, state, national, and international media sources.  Click on the following links to read more:

[NOTE: This article was picked up by the Florida Associated Press and appeared in many Florida newspapers including the Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel, St. Augustine Record, Naples Daily News, Gainesville Sun, Walton Sun, Bradenton Herald, Stuart News, Lakeland Ledger, Polk Online, Florida Times-Union, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and Palm Beach Post on Dec 22nd and 23rd; nationally it appeared in the Washington Times, the Evansville Courier & Press, Arkansas Morning News, and many other papers across the United States]


Other articles written by lead biologist Dr. Matthew J. Aresco:

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  FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ECOPASSAGES AND OTHER TRANSPORTATION-RELATED WILDLIFE PROGRAMS, PLEASE VISIT www.ecopassage.org


  FUNDING

The Lake Jackson Ecopassage Project has been funded by the following:

   

    

      

 

 

 

 


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Lake Jackson Ecopassage Alliance, Inc.

P.O. Box 935

Freeport, Florida  32439 USA

 

email: turtles@lakejacksonturtles.org

 

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