Second Year Goats and Sheep Help Control Invasive Species in Sensitive Bog Turtle Habitat
(June 3, 2010) – Amid the restlessness of students counting the precious days to the end of the school year, a quiet consensus took place at two Hampstead elementary schools. What will be the names of the goats and sheep that help keep the threatened Bog Turtles safe at a quiet bog along the Hampstead Bypass? The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) enlisted the help of 75 elementary students from Hampstead and Sandymount Elementary schools to select the names for 40 goats and sheep, as well as the name of the overall plant-eating herd used to control vegetation along MD 30 (Hampstead Bypass) in Carroll County.
“Students in fourth and fifth grade explore environmental issues that relate to local water quality and habitats. We are thrilled to be able to take advantage of the partnership with SHA and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR),” said Cynthia Eckenrode, elementary education supervisor for the Carroll County School System. “This unique opportunity allows students at two schools to see how delicate, real-life problems are solved through teamwork.”
One fourth grade class from Sandymount Elementary School and the fifth grade classes from Hampstead Elementary School debated and decided names for each of the goats and sheep. The students also chose the name of the herd – The Bypass Babies. The students from the schools will take a field trip to learn from SHA and DNR biologists how the Bog Turtle survives and learn ways to help conserve the threatened animal.
“SHA had remarkable success using the animals to manage invasive species last year and we are excited that the herd is back on the job,” said Neil J. Pedersen, SHA Administrator. “SHA is committed to the environment and is pleased with the partnership with the Carroll County School System so that we can share this knowledge with the next generation of conservationists.”
SHA is in the second of a two-year, $10,000 pilot, which proved extremely successful during the inaugural year. The cost of the goats includes delivery to and from the project, supplemental feed and routine veterinary care. The goats will graze the fields from early May until the beginning of September, which is the end of the mowing season and the Bog Turtles will then begin hibernating for winter.
On May 1, SHA once again opened the gates to another year of emissions-free lawn mowing using the herd of goats and sheep in the Bog Turtle habitat along the Hampstead Bypass. Traditional mowing methods could have led to a major disruption of the bog turtle habitat and may have injured or killed the turtles. Goats are lighter weight animals and pose no significant hazard to the four-inch Bog Turtle or their habitat. Additionally, SHA installed special Bog Turtle fencing near the northern end of the bypass to deter the turtles from crossing the roadway.
In sync with the natural environment, reducing traditional mowing supports Governor Martin O’Malley’s Smart, Green and Growing initiative. Introduced by Governor Martin O’Malley in October 2008, Maryland’s Smart, Green & Growing initiative was created to strengthen the state’s leadership role in fostering smarter, more sustainable growth and inspire action among all Marylanders to achieve a more sustainable future. The Initiative brings together state agencies, local governments, businesses and citizens to create more livable communities, improve transportation options, reduce the state’s carbon footprint, support resource based industry, invest in green technologies, preserve valuable resource lands and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Bog Turtles can live up to 30 years, have dark bodies with bright yellow, orange or red blotches on their heads and live in calcium-rich wetlands, wet meadows and bogs. Bog Turtles are listed as threatened by the Federal Endangered Species Act. The Hampstead Bypass is also home to a nearly three acre plot of land where a partnership with the American Chestnut Foundation Maryland chapter is re-establishing the mighty American chestnut tree. The American chestnut tree was nearly wiped out due to blight (the destruction of plant tissues due to disease) in the mid-1950s. The American chestnut tree is highly susceptible to this disease.
In another section of the bypass, SHA is cultivating a field of White Turtlehead plants, a Maryland native species. The plants are the main habitat for survival of the official state insect, the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly. The Baltimore Checkerspot has been diminishing in recent years due to loss of natural habitat. SHA is using the area to support an increase of the butterfly’s population.