For Unity College’s Dr. Matt Chatfield and student researcher Greg LeClair, there is nothing slow-moving about wood turtle research. That includes raising the funds necessary for the next phase of study.

The Unity College Wood Turtle Research Project, started in 2015, will continue into 2018, thanks to generous grants from the William P. Wharton Trust and the Davis Conservation Foundation, in addition to a number of donations given as part of the national #GivingTuesday campaign.

The grants and gifts, which total more than $25,000, will allow students and Associate Professor Dr. Chatfield the opportunity to continue important research into these elusive, endangered vertebrates. In a partnership with Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W), Dr. Chatfield and Unity College students initiated a mark-recapture study and a radio-telemetry and habitat mapping project on a nearby wood turtle population.

Taking the study to the next level, the William P. Wharton Trust grant ($15,000) and the Davis Conservation Foundation grant ($10,000) will provide funding to initiate a nesting beach camera survey that would substantially expand upon the existing habitat mapping study. Among turtles, the wood turtle is especially at risk due to widespread decline throughout much of its range. The wood turtle is listed as a species of special concern, vulnerable, threatened or endangered in 14 of the 17 states and provinces in which it occurs. In Maine, the species is currently listed as a species of special concern, and as a Priority 1 species of greatest conservation need in Maine’s Wildlife Action Plan (MDIF&W 2015).

“Mentoring on critical research projects is essential training for the next generation of wildlife biologists and environmental problem-solvers,” said Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, President of Unity College. “This project helps fulfill the ambitious mission of the College: to provide an environmental science education undergirded by the liberal arts, while empowering students through invaluable experiences on a local, yet globally-relevant conservation project. We are grateful that the William P. Wharton Trust,the Davis Conservation Foundation, and others support our efforts.”

“We believe this project has a high likelihood of success,” says Dr. Chatfield, who points out that early successes in marking and capturing wood turtles has given them the opportunity to locate a significant number of nesting turtles to observe. Continued partnership with the MDIF&W is also a key contributing factor. “Our partnership has grown stronger during our collaboration over the past two years, and we are grateful for the opportunity our students have to work with field biologists. They are learning basic wildlife biology techniques and related techniques that may reach far beyond the internship, work study, volunteer, or even thesis experience that they achieve here. My hope is that some of them will end up working with MDIF&W, continue studying the wood turtles, or maybe continue this research in a Master’s or Ph.D. program.”

For now, at least one Unity College student, Gregory LeClair ‘18, has already chosen to do so. He has elected to do his senior thesis using the wood turtle project.