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Wildlife officials survey for snapping turtles, bullfrogs

by JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
Daily Inter Lake | March 2, 2022 1:00 AM

State invasive species specialists will take a second official look-see this summer for nonnative snapping turtles and other herptiles in the Flathead.

Fish Wildlife and Parks, and the Montana Conservation Corps partnered in late 2020 to begin tackling reports of snapping turtles and on-going concerns with bullfrogs in western Montana, according to a recent report on subsequent survey and remediation efforts.

The partnership formed a five-person crew in 2021 with grant funding to survey and map FWP’s Regions 1 and 2 for the animals, including another turtle type — the pond slider.

Dubbed the “MCC Herptile Crew,” the group also executed control measures in key wetlands and so-called dispersal pinch-points for the species, according to the report.

Overall, the group captured nearly a dozen snappers and destroyed one nesting site in about 40 waterbodies from May through September last year in both regions.

Nine of the turtles were removed from Region 1 — mostly comprising Flathead, Lake, Sanders and Lincoln counties. Just south, in Region 2, the crew removed just one snapping turtle and destroyed the lone turtle nest, according to the report.

“We feel confident there is not a well-established breeding population in [Region 2], though some breeding is occurring,” the report noted.

The effort will return this summer to the Flathead Valley and surrounding area.

Efforts then will focus on bullfrogs near the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge in partnership with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and focus on snapping turtles near Kalispell, according to FWP.

Wildlife officials ask that snappers be caught, when possible, or otherwise reported to wildlife officials.

A nonnative species of concern to Northwest Montana, they are large and can be aggressive if provoked.

Snappers remain largely aquatic, preferring sandy- or muddy-bottomed water bodies, but are known to venture distances overland, according to the Montana Field Guide.

The turtles are considered native to eastern Montana and a permanent resident throughout the Midwest, eastern U.S. and Central America.

Snappers were previously found regionally as few or fewer than five years ago, according to the Montana Field Guide.

As of late January, the guide indicated that snappers had been officially observed six or fewer times in parts of Flathead, Lake, Missoula, Sanders and Lincoln counties.

Meanwhile, wildlife officials are also after the American bullfrog, a nonnative aquatic invasive species on the rise in western Montana.

The frogs are voracious eaters implicated in a number of exterpations of native Montana frog and turtle species, according to the state field guide.

And with lack of management, according to the state guide, bullfrogs have “virtually wiped out” native amphibians from low valley ponds and wetlands in the Bitterroot Valley.

Last summer, the herptile crew killed 118 of the frogs during 11 nights of gigging at seven wetland areas, according to the recent survey and remediation report.

An evidenced lack of widespread pond slider infestations did not warrant the crew’s attention, according to the report.

Reporter John McLaughlin can be reached at 758-4439 or jmclaughlin@dailyinterlake.com