A new cooperative effort between the state and the New Jersey Audubon is under way to save the bog turtle, the state's official reptile.

New Jersey Audubon-South Stewardship Director Kristen Meistrell says historically, the turtle was able to migrate to another bog when they lost a previous habitat. But development and paving roads has been a threat.

"They have very specific habitat needs," she said. "They really like freshwater wetlands that are clean. Clean water that has mucky soils, so no standing water necessarily. We're talking about real kind of gross muck. And then they also need a lot of sunlight because they are reptiles."

Meistrell said the turtle's habitat is always changing. So as one wetland may start to grow up into trees and shrubs, another wetland in the same watershed would open up from a storm or maybe from beaver activity, and the Bog turtles could just move from one wetland to the next.

"Now that we have so many roads and a lot of development, they're not able to do that anymore," she said.

With funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Foundation, they're trying to reconnect 50 acres of South Jersey wetland turtle habitat.

"We have been working in Salem County for several years now restoring a bug turtle population in the headwater areas of the upper Salem River," she said.

"Even though the turtles are not able to move from one area to the next as freely as they used to be able to, it's actually easy enough to be able to do habitat management in the areas that they're occupying now. So this could be things like selectively cutting trees and shrubs to open up the wetland. We could also remove non-native invasive plants ."

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