Unique partnership between Minnesota Zoo and MnDOT aims to benefit wildlife, drivers

Updated: October 18, 2019 06:52 PM

Drivers may have noticed new fencing on the sides of some Minnesota highways.

It's all part of a unique partnership between the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Zoo to better protect drivers and wildlife.

"Turtles have a very tough time crossing the road," said Tricia Markle, Minnesota Zoo Wildlife Conservation Specialist.

MnDOT and the Minnesota Zoo have been keeping track of many small animals, especially turtles, that have been hit by vehicles at about 30 different sites.

"In that first year, we have roughly 700 dead turtles and these are in very small areas, so if you scale it up we're probably talking about tens of thousands of turtles every year statewide that are killed on our roadways," Markle said.

"We're trying to figure out ways to keep them off the road to keep them safe but also keep the drivers safe," said Chris Smith, MnDOT Wildlife Ecologist.

Now for the small animals, including turtles, that want to migrate from one body of water across the street to another, they're going to run into a fence so they'll be redirected to a culvert or a bridge where they can cross safely. Smith said so far the added fencing for this MnDOT funded research is focused on four roadways in Eagan, Scandia and Waconia.

"They're going to bump into this fence, this fence is actually buried in the ground about 10-12 inches so they can't dig underneath it," Smith said.

Markle said the project is crucial because there are two threatened species of turtles in Minnesota.

"They need to cross in order to lay eggs, to find mates," Markle said.

MnDOT and the Minnesota Zoo agree this is a project that will benefit everyone.

"They help to clean up our lakes, help them stay clean and healthy, so if we didn't have turtles we're not going to have clean water in this state," Markle said.

The research will continue until 2021. Officials with MnDOT and the Minnesota Zoo will study the data to determine where this fencing could be used on a more long-term basis.

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Brett Hoffland

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