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The woodland box turtle population is declining in West Virginia and the state Division of Natural Resources is launching a citizen science project to better understand where these lovable reptiles are located.

Many of us consider Memorial Day to be the unofficial start of summer. After winter and a very wet spring, the thoughts of the summer sun and lazy days full of warmth might be just the cure for what ails you.

And after our recent stay-at-home situation, which included watching way too much TV and couch time for many of us, stretching our legs out in the summer sun sounds delightful.

From planting a garden, having a picnic, going fishing, spending an afternoon on the lake, eating a watermelon, taking a hike — it all sounds simply wonderful. But we have all been reminded in many ways and with different messages — we all should be safe during this pandemic with all of our activities.

As your friendly outdoor writer and someone who understands the healing nature of all things free and wild, I feel a sense of responsibility to assist in any way possible during these unsettling times.

In the spirit of just that, I may have stumbled upon a simple solution that checks all the boxes — it is free, an outdoor activity, educational, perfect for social distancing, and some much-needed physical activity. (I’m not saying that any of us have gained the dreaded quarantine-15 pounds. Nope, I’m not. But if you have, your secret is safe with me.)

I am suggesting a simple activity that is fun for the entire family: a turtle hunt. Hear me out on this. Our WVDNR is asking us to record any observations of woodland (formerly eastern) box turtles to better understand the distribution and threats to this species of conservation interest. The woodland box turtle population is declining in West Virginia and the state Division of Natural Resources is launching a citizen science project to better understand where these lovable reptiles are located.

The woodland box turtle has been the target of illegal collection, as well as threats from disease and road mortality causing population declines throughout the species’ range. Your assistance will aid WVDNR biologists in establishing the range of the woodland box turtle in West Virginia and aid in identifying hot spots for road mortality and other threats.

How to participate:

n The WVDNR is interested in all observations of woodland box turtles in West Virginia, including live and dead box turtles, and carapaces (shells) of deceased animals. Please be sure to upload a picture, if available, so that identification can be confirmed. The survey is available online at tinyurl.com/wvboxturtle.

n Submit a new record for each woodland box turtle you observed (in other words, if you see two turtles in the same location, please submit two surveys).

n Woodland box turtle observations being reported should only have occurred since Jan. 1, 2020. Do not submit historical sightings.

n Only report observations within West Virginia.

n Additional comments, questions and pictures can be sent to Kevin Oxenrider (kevin.j.oxenrider@wv.gov) or by contacting your WVDNR district office.

The information gained from this project will allow the WVDNR to better manage box turtle populations and focus conservation and outreach efforts. Your contact information and locations of box turtles will not be shared publicly to protect your privacy and box turtles around the state.

A nature hike with the sun’s rays on your face in the solitude of nature might just be a fun way to spend an afternoon. And as active participants in wildlife conservation, you can feel a sense of accomplishment when you report all the box turtles that cross your path.

Besides, haven’t you binge-watched enough TV?

Chris Ellis is a veteran of the outdoor industry. He is a lifelong outdoorsman who has pursued his passion all over the world; however, he prefers to hunt on his hillside farm in West Virginia. Contact him at chris@elliscom.net.