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Environmental organization collects seeds to help threatened turtle species

NEAR KELLOGG, Minn. (FOX 47) -- The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Minnesota has been working hard the past several months to help a threatened turtle species.

All this summer, members of the conservancy have been harvesting native prairie seeds near Kellogg that will be spread over a newly retired cornfield.

Seed collectors with TNC have been hand-harvesting, sorting and drying more than 100 species of native prairie plants at the Weaver Dunes Preserve, all in an effort to restore a cornfield to sand prairie.

"The seed collection has been going on this all summer, so starting in May and then we're ongoing with that until about early November," TNC southeast Minnesota Site Steward Autumn Jensen said.

The reason for the restoration is to help local wildlife and pollinators, but more specifically, to create additional nesting habitat for Blanding's turtles.

"Having that combination of sand prairie right next to wetland is really key for the turtles because they need both habitats," TNC Conservation Project Manager David Ruff said. "They spend a bunch of time in the water but they need to be able to come up and get to the sand prairie pretty quickly."

A turtle species TNC says is important to keep around.

"What in a lot of ways inspired The Nature Conservancy to work on protecting land out here all the way back in the 80s is Blanding's turtles," Ruff said. "Which is a species listed as being threatened in the state of Minnesota. The population of Blanding's turtles that live out here is one of the most significant populations historically for that species."

Right now, a road runs between Weaver Dunes Preserve and wetlands at the McCarthy Lake Wildlife Management Area, which makes these turtles very vulnerable.

"They're facing dangers from cars, potentially from poachers, that's where they are most exposed to predictors," Ruff said. "So any way that we can give them some area to do good nesting in nice sand like this, where they don't have to cross that road is going to make that journey so much safer."

The 57 acres of cropland was acquired last year and is set to be spread with prairie plant seeds later this fall.

"So in a couple years it will look like a short grass prairie with forbs, grass, and sedges that will bloom and flower throughout the season, so starting in spring and ending in the fall," Jensen said.

TNC hopes the turtles will start nesting in the restored land right away, but say it could take some time before they do, as the turtles need to recognize the land as a safe and suitable location for them.

Sarah Gannon

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