This Wednesday will mark a very important day in the lives of two creatures inhabiting KLO Middle School grounds—the students and the turtles.
Next week, a group of students from the school will make a pitch to school trustees to see a plan they’ve drafted to replace the wetland along Fascieux Creek—currently culverted with a sidewalk between their playing fields and the back of the school—be restored to save the painted turtles which inhabit it.
Painted turtles are blue listed as a species of concern in this province.
So on Friday morning, the students were out building two fenced off areas around areas where the turtles’ nests have been found as a stop gap measure.
“Yesterday, we found another nest and three of the turtles were dead,” said Sam Conway, a Grade 8 student who will act as one of the spokespeople at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
This recent find revealed one “mutilated” turtle, which is missing a limb, egg shells, several live turtles and a small handful dead ones.
Ironically, it appears the school’s Terry Fox run might have been the damaging factor. The entire school’s worth of kids trampled the area where the most recent nest was found, directly beside the school, without realizing it was there.
Painted turtles, so named for their red underbelly, lay their eggs in the fall anywhere up to 150 metres from the waterway where they live. The nest over-winters to hatch in the spring, said Tanya Seebacher, a biologist from Golder and Associates, who is volunteering on the project.
Seebacher has drafted a complicated landscaping scheme for the riparian restoration and is working with the B.C. Ministry of Environment and City of Kelowna to get it approved.
At this point, the Central Okanagan School District appears to be the biggest hurdle.
“They’re concerned about future expansion of the school,” she said, standing beside the latest nest site. “…But really, once the turtles were discovered, they couldn’t expand here anyway.”
While the cramped middle school has several portables, Seebacher says the habitat trumps any building plans under provincial regulation, leaving the students in a good position to bargain.
Backed by her friends Teaghan Atkins and Jennie Evans, in Grade 8 and 9 respectively, Conway says she’s ready to take the little turtle bodies in to show trustees exactly what is being lost if they decide to hold up the project.
The group have already secured funds from the United Way and are applying for every grant going to see the project completed. A target of summer 2012 has been set to get it all done.