Local Girl Scout Claire Stewart has been awarded the highest honor the GSA can bestow.
According to proud mom and local schoolteacher Leisa Stewart, this talented, young lady has just earned the Gold Award for her project to generate awareness of the Eastern box turtle. Miss Stewart was recently joined by North Carolina State Park Ranger Amanda Lasley for a presentation on this important yet oft-overlooked animal that is a bellwether species in our age of overdevelopment and manmade climate change.
Miss Stewart gave turtle-related materials to the South Mountains State Park and to local elementary schools. She will be given her Gold Award pin at a ceremony scheduled for this coming spring, as Mrs. Stewart informed.
“Thanks to Ranger Lasley for her knowledge and guidance,” she added.
More about the Gold Award and turtles
The Girl Scouts of America Gold Award is a very prestigious honor.
Each year, it is awarded to fewer than six percent of the nation’s Girl Scouts. Each Gold Award Girl Scout spends between one and two years working on her project. About a million Girl Scouts have earned the Gold Award since Juliette Gordon Low of Savannah founded the GSA in 1916.
As for the Eastern box turtle, its existence is threatened. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, this species of turtle is classed in the “vulnerable” status. Several environmental factors, such as climate change, have helped cause its decline by nearly 33 percent in recent years.
Though not tortoises, they are actually land-dwelling for the most part. Like all such terrapin species, these remnants of the dinosaurs are very long-lived. The painted turtle––an unthreatened, mostly water-dwelling cousin of the Eastern box turtle and commonly seen in the shallow areas of the Carolinas’ lakes and indeed all over the wide expanse between Canada and Mexico––may live up to 55 years in the wild.
But Eastern box turtles, according to Northeastern Naturalist, produce few young on an annual basis. And as they crawl very slowly, they have a sad tendency toward manmade mortality from collisions with automobiles and farm equipment. Habitat loss, thanks to the East Coast’s rampant, reckless and unchecked urban and suburban development, is also a factor in the decline of this species.
See a turtle attempting to cross a road? Gently pick it up by its carapace and place it well down along the road’s opposite shoulder in the direction it was crawling. That’s very important, as turtles in such circumstances are invariably crawling in the direction of water, and there is probably a creek nearby. Eastern box turtles are known to bathe in shallow water.
You’ll want to wash your hands as soon as possible after carefully picking up such a turtle. These animals are generally surprisingly clean, but it’s not impossible that the carapace may carry some disease. And in helping such a wee beastie to cross the road, you’ll have the real satisfaction of having saved a life, no matter how small.
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