Anderson County middle and high school students contributed to long-term ecological field studies at the University of Tennessee Arboretum in Oak Ridge on Tuesday, using Boykin Spaniels to help a veterinarian and an education and research program collect information about the state’s reptile, the Eastern Box Turtle.
The Clinch River Environmental Studies Organization, or CRESO, is leading the “turtle hunts” with the students this week, from June 27-30 in Oak Ridge. More than 20 students will participate in the program and experience hands-on field research, a press release said.
Collecting information about box turtles is a priority for CRESO to learn how local human activity is affecting their health and habitat, the press release said.
The Boykin Spaniels involved in the turtle hunt are a dog breed that has an uncanny ability to sniff out turtles. Boykins can swiftly find four to 12 turtles in an hour compared to the human ability of finding one every four hours. The Boykin’s soft mouth and calm, easy temperament ensures the turtles are not harmed.
On Tuesday, each turtle was given a GPS location, weighed, and measured by students, and received a complete health physical by Dr. Matt Allender from Illinois University.
“Their efforts will give researchers valuable data that will help them determine population densities, age structure, and health status of the Eastern Box Turtle, and implement better land management practices,” the press release said.
The educational program was made possible through grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management, or OREM.
It is just one example of how community partnerships are having a real-world impact, enabling Anderson County middle and high school students to participate in and contribute to long-term ecological field studies that focus on the wildlife of East Tennessee, the press release said.
“Our mission at CRESO is to give students opportunities to participate in field research and hands-on education in land management and resource conservation,” said CRESO Director John Byrd. “Partnerships with local organizations like OREM enable us to successfully deliver on our mission. With their support, we are making a difference in the lives and careers of young people, and we are able to conduct research that allows us to learn more about our community’s natural resources and wildlife so we can better protect them.”
The press release said OREM has been providing ongoing support to CRESO since the early 1990s, including efforts to construct and restore wetlands and inventory and monitor populations and activity patterns for select species in Anderson County.
Since 2006, CRESO has used its method to study the response of Box Turtles in areas following timber harvests. Their efforts resulted in proposals for new land management strategies that could potentially reduce stress on Box Turtles. One stress indicator being used by the researchers is elevated white blood cell counts, just like in humans.
“Protecting the environment is a major component of our mission,” said OREM Manager Sue Cange. “So we are very proud to support a local organization that is making a difference in our community by conducting valuable research and instilling students with the values and knowledge to become the next generation of environmental stewards.”
Students who participate in CRESO projects share their project findings and conservation ideas at science fairs, professional meetings, in science journals, on the CRESO website, and through outreach workshops including K-12 classrooms and community groups. Several CRESO students have continued their research after entering college and subsequently published their findings as a senior thesis and/or in peer-reviewed journals.
The Clinch River Environmental Studies Organization (CRESO) is an education/research program with a mission of providing middle, high school, and undergraduate students opportunities for unique field research and extended learning experiences in areas of: research design and protocols, data management and analysis, biology, and resources conservation and management, and promoting community outreach and education through student-driven programs and presentations.
Through CRESO, students learn about wetland monitoring and management and research a range of wildlife including turtles, snakes, amphibians, and birds. For more information, visit http://cresosnake.com/index.html.
OREM’s mission is to remove the environmental legacies resulting from decades of nuclear weapons development and government-sponsored nuclear energy research. OREM works to protect the region’s health and environment, make clean land available for reuse, and enable the U.S. Department of Energy’s other vital missions in science, energy, and national security onsite. For more information, visit http://www.energy.gov/orem/oak-ridge-office-environmental-management.
Copyright 2016 Oak Ridge Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.