Beautiful Turtle is a Symbol of River’s Success

Credit: Screenshot/Crime Pays But Botany Doesn't.

The giant snapping turtle found in the North Branch of the Chicago River last week has captured the imagination of the region. Every major news station covered it, so did the daily papers, and countless online publications. Social media could not get enough of her. The snapping turtle herself seemed to have hardly noticed the attention and the video shot by Joey Santore of the Crime Pays But Botany Doesn't podcast. Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) scientist Chris Anchor attributed her size to the likely fact she is a female carrying eggs.

While some people likely see this marvelous snapping turtle as a monster from the deep or even just someone with an enormous appetite, at Friends we view her presence as a symbol of success for all of the work that has gone into transforming the Chicago-Calumet river system and adjacent lands into a place where wildlife can thrive.

For the last week we have all been asked repeatedly, were you surprised that the snapping turtle was here and we all answered again and again, not at all. 

Friends and our partners including the FPCC have worked tirelessly to improve habitat and water quality, which are key factors in turtle success. Friends has planted thousands of native water willow and lizard’s tail plants in the Little Calumet and the North Shore Channel which grow through rhizomes into vast habitat stands, first through a Chi-Cal Rivers Fund grant with Illinois Department of natural Resources and more recently with the Shedd Aquarium. Through private philanthropy, we have restored hundreds of acres of river-edge forest preserves specifically to increase turtle nesting success and at our sites hatchling rates went from zero percent to 60%. It is an amazing success rate which started the first year after restoration occurred which is a stunning outcome in wildlife recovery time. Moreover, through the support of our dedicated members, we secured new water quality standards for aquatic life with our Water Quality Task Force, which includes Openlands and the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter. Because of all this, turtles continue to thrive.

Like the Chicago Riverwalk, which opened so many people’s eyes to the true health of the river, this beautiful common snapping turtle is doing the same and we are grateful. We hope that this spring and summer you will come out with us on a paddling trip or for a walk in the woods. And perhaps we will be as lucky as Joey was catching a glimpse of great majesty.