colour photograph of the Wood Turtle.

The Wood Turtle is a medium­-sized turtle that can grow to 23 cm in carapace (top shell) length. In Canada, Wood Turtles can be found in southern and central Ontario, southern Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The Ontario population accounts for 8 per cent of the global distribution and can be found in three main areas: southern Ontario, eastern Ontario and north of Lake Huron. Significant threats to the Wood Turtle include habitat loss, road mortality and collection for the pet trade.

Protecting and recovering species at risk in Ontario

Species at risk recovery is a key part of protecting Ontario’s biodiversity. Biodiversity – the variety of living organisms on Earth – provides us with clean air and water, food, fibre, medicine and other resources that we need to survive.

The Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) is the Government of Ontario’s legislative commitment to protecting and recovering species at risk and their habitats. As soon as a species is listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened under the ESA, it is automatically protected from harm or harassment. Also, immediately upon listing, the habitats of endangered and threatened species are protected from damage or destruction.

Under the ESA, the Ministry of Natural Resources (the Ministry) must ensure that a recovery strategy is prepared for each species that is listed as endangered or threatened. A recovery strategy provides science­based advice to government on what is required to achieve recovery of a species.

Government response statements

Within nine months after a recovery strategy is prepared, the ESA requires the Ministry to publish a statement summarizing the government’s intended actions and priorities in response to the recovery strategy. The recovery strategy for Wood Turtle was completed on February 18, 2010.

The response statement is the government’s policy response to the scientific advice provided in the recovery strategy. In addition to the strategy, the response statement is based on input from stakeholders, other jurisdictions, Aboriginal communities and members of the public. It reflects the best available traditional, local and scientific knowledge at this time and may be adapted if new information becomes available. In implementing the actions in the response statement, the ESA allows the Ministry to determine what is feasible, taking into account social and economic factors.

Moving forward to protect and recover wood turtle

The Wood Turtle is listed as an endangered species under the ESA which protects both the turtle and its habitat. The Government of Ontario has demonstrated its commitment to protecting the Wood Turtle by prescribing its specific habitat in regulation. The Act prohibits any damage or destruction of that habitat without authorization. Such authorization would require that conditions established by the Ministry of Natural Resources be met.

The government’s goal for the recovery of the Wood Turtle is to halt the decline of the species in Ontario and to restore and maintain viable self­sustaining populations throughout their current provincial distribution.

Protecting and recovering species at risk is a shared responsibility. No single agency or organization has the knowledge, authority, or financial resources to protect and recover all of Ontario’s species at risk. Successful recovery requires inter­governmental co­operation and the involvement of many individuals, organizations and communities.

In developing the government response statement, the Ministry considered what actions are feasible for the government to lead directly, and what actions are feasible for the government to support its conservation partners to undertake.

Government led actions

To help protect and recover the Wood Turtle, the government will directly undertake the following actions:

  • Ensure appropriate timing windows for undertaking activities in and around Wood Turtle habitat are considered in the application of the ESA.
  • Educate other agencies and planning authorities on the requirement to consider the protection of the Wood Turtle and its habitat in planning activities and environmental assessment processes.
  • Encourage the submission of Wood Turtle data to the Ministry of Natural Resources' central data repository at the Natural Heritage Information Centre and ensure data sensitivity guidelines are put in place to improve information sharing as appropriate.
  • Undertake communications and outreach to increase public awareness of species at risk in Ontario.
  • Protect the Wood Turtle through the ESA and enforce the regulation protecting the specific habitat of the species.
  • Support conservation, agency, municipal and industry partners to undertake activities to protect and recover the Wood Turtle. Support will be provided through funding, agreements, permits (including conditions) and advisory services.
  • Establish and communicate annual priority actions for government support in order to encourage collaboration and reduce duplication of efforts.

Government supported actions

The government endorses the following actions as being necessary for the protection and recovery of the Wood Turtle. Actions which are noted as high will be given priority consideration for funding or for authorizations under the ESA. The government will focus its support on these high priority actions over the next five years.

Focus area: Threat Management

Objective: Reduce Wood Turtle mortality, illegal collection and other human­related threats to the species.


  1. (High) Evaluate the threat of activities that may negatively impact Wood Turtles and their habitat as well as potential mitigation approaches to address these threats.
  2. (High) Evaluate the effectiveness of current Wood Turtle management activities (e.g., head­starting, nest protection, nest site enhancement), and update the protocols if necessary to increase their effectiveness. Continue to implement these actions, where appropriate.
  3. (High) Evaluate the success of current and potential new approaches to mitigate traffic mortality and at priority sites, apply those techniques that have been found to be most effective.
  4. Develop best management practices for activities that may occur in or around Wood Turtle habitat.

Focus area: Monitoring and Protection

Objective: Identify and protect existing Wood Turtle populations and their habitat throughout their current provincial distribution.


  1. (High) Finalize and implement a standardized Wood Turtle survey protocol in areas with known occurrences or highly probable occurrences to help determine the number of existing populations and their spatial extent.
  2. Develop and implement a long­term Wood Turtle population monitoring program at representative sites to determine population trends and demographics.
  3. As opportunities arise, support the securement of habitat for Wood Turtles through existing land securement and stewardship programs.

Focus area: Awareness

Objective: Increase awareness of Wood Turtles in Ontario.


  1. Produce and distribute educational materials, specifically regarding illegal trade in turtles.
  2. Maintain communications and build partnerships among government agencies, academia and non­government organizations regarding Wood Turtle protection and recovery efforts.

Implementing actions

Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program, or Community Fisheries and Wildlife Involvement Program. Conservation partners are encouraged to discuss project proposals related to the actions in this response statement with the Ministry of Natural Resources. The Ministry can also advise whether any authorizations under the ESA or other legislation may be required for undertaking the project.

Implementation of the actions may be subject to changing priorities across the multitude of species at risk, available resources and the capacity of partners to undertake recovery activities. Where appropriate, the implementation of actions for multiple species will be co­ordinated across government response statements.

Reviewing progress

The ESA requires the Ministry to conduct a review of progress towards protecting and recovering a species not later than five years from the publication of this response statement. The review will help identify whether adjustments are needed to achieve the protection and recovery of the Wood Turtle.


We would like to thank everyone who participated in the development of the "Recovery Strategy for the Wood Turtle in Ontario" for their dedication to protecting and recovering species at risk.