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Effort to protect rare wood turtle in Minnesota

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Minnesota’s threatened wood turtle is getting a boost from conservationists — and your lottery tickets.

MINNEAPOLIS — In an undisclosed location south of the Twin Cities, Minnesota Zoo conservation biologist Tricia Markle is hunting for wood turtles.

Even with an antenna tracking the turtle’s movement, she’s having a hard time finding this rare and evasive turtle.

“It’s not always perfect,” says Markle. “This one has been a little tricky. Got to be super close here somewhere.”

After 20 minutes, she finds it. A 2-year-old that Markle helped raise the year prior, equipped with a radio transmitter glued to its shell.

“He looks really good. Hopefully we will be able to track him for a number of years to come,” said Markle.

It’s positive news for a threatened species in real trouble.

The wood turtle is one of nine freshwater turtles found in Minnesota — the state’s most terrestrial species.

Unlike the populous painted and snapping turtles, wood turtle numbers have dropped off significantly over the decades, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Flooding, nest predation and climate change are to blame, but legal trapping and illegal poaching are also culpable, according to the DNR.

“We have to be really secretive. People really do take them, and they can sell for pretty good money on the black-market pet trade, especially overseas. Addressing those larger threats is going to take time. So if we can kind of head start this population, bring back eggs and raise those young turtles while they are really vulnerable, we can help sustain those populations, at least in the short term,” said Markle.

She refers to turtles as the “janitors of the wetlands.” They play an integral role in eating dead plants and animals, improving water quality and creating habitat for other animals.

The efforts to restore wood turtle populations are funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which comes from scratch-off lottery tickets.

Her team’s work starts at night in June, amid mosquito-laden woods where hundreds of hours are patiently spent tracking nesting wood turtles in search for their eggs. 

Each fertile female will lay between eight and 15 eggs, and Markle’s team will collect as many as they can.

The eggs are brought to the Minnesota Zoo where they can hatch, free of predators.

Half are immediately released back to the nest. The other half enter the zoo’s turtle nursey — complete with turtle artwork from Markle’s human, home nursery. 

“All the turtles are color coded. They are divided by their nesting parents. Whoever has the same mother has the same color, and it’s just nail polish that we put on them,” she said.

The turtles will eat, play, fight and eat some more over the next year until the head start is over, and life in the wild begins.

In July, the toddler turtles from the year prior are brought back to the area their eggs were laid. 

For this trip, Markle is releasing eight turtles — five with transmitters for follow-up data.

“Their biggest threat in the next few years, those small mammalian predators like raccoons and foxes and skunks and otters,” said Markle.

It’s a bittersweet moment, as just one of these turtles will likely make it to adulthood. 

Those odds hindered — but now helped — by humans.

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Dog attack leaves 7-year-old with visual injuries

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A dog attack has left a 7-year-old girl with scrapes on her legs and back and cuts on her lips.

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. — A 7-year-old who was hurt in a dog attack Tuesday is still processing what happened.

“I was just walking and then it pushed me and started attacking me,” said Yamah Yekeku.

She went to drop off a package at her neighbor’s home. Then the dog ran toward her.

“It’s is third time chasing somebody,” Yekeku said.

Her mother Mary Innis pointed out the scrapes on her legs and back, and the little cuts on her lips.

The dog who attacked her is a part of 13-year-old Yazmina Warsame’s family.

“She was really sweet, she was very playful,” she said.

Warsame said her dog’s name was Diamond, a 1-year-old Pitbull.

“Diamond didn’t mean to hurt nobody, she just wanted to play and they killed her for it,” she said.

Brooklyn Park Police and shot killed the dog because they said it went after another child.

“The animal actually ran into a playground area, a park area in an apartment complex and there were two young children that were in the park. The dog took off after one of the children and was trying to bite that child,” said Brooklyn Park Police Precinct Inspector and Public Information Officer Elliot Faust.

Faust said a cadet lifted the child up to his shoulder to protect him.

“The dog was jumping up actively trying to bite the child and that’s when one of our officers shot him,” Faust said.

He said the 7-year-old was treated for her injuries at the scene. Innis said she took her daughter to the doctor’s office on Wednesday to get a rabies shot as a precaution.

Tuesday’s incident was the second dog attack to happen within Brooklyn Park. A 3-year-old was attacked by two Pitbulls, last Friday. Faust said the child’s injuries were extensive, and he’s still recovering in the hospital. He said that attack was the worst dog attack he has ever seen.

“These are not common, they don’t happen frequently, so it is kind of strange that we’re talking about two in one week,” Faust said.

Faust want community members to be more aware of their surroundings and to understand their dog. He said they’ve had more dangerous dog designations so far this year than all of last year.

“As a dog owner it is your responsibility to take control of the animal,” Faust said. One mistake that happens can have tragic consequences.”

Warsame said her dog was just hyper. Diamond also had long nails, Warsame said they were planning to cut.

She’s heartbroken her dog is gone and doesn’t understand why police had to kill her. She wants people to know her dog wasn’t mean.

“People take advantage of the way a big dog looks, they don’t know her personality, so people might have called her mean and I don’t people to think Diamond is mean, and I feel like it’s important to share. She wasn’t a mean dog, she was never a mean dog,” Warsame said.



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MN church group stranded for days in New Orleans

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The group was originally supposed to be home this past Saturday.

MINNEAPOLIS — A Twin Cities church group is on its way home tonight, after spending the last few days stranded in New Orleans.

“We are really sick of the airport,” Leisha Tays, supervising the trip, said in a FaceTime call from the airport.

That trip, to the Evangelical Lutherans in America Youth Gathering, was supposed to end this past Saturday.

“Every once in awhile, it would just get bumped back farther and farther and farther,” she said.

That group from Our Saviours’ Lutheran Church in East Bethel consists of 14, mostly made up of kids. Tays says it’s been a challenge to figure out their next steps with a group so big.

“It is frustrating, but I also know it’s nothing I can control,” Tays said. “That’s what I keep telling my kids that I’m here with, is that you can only control yourself.”

“Doing our best, what else do you do, right?” she added.

To keep themselves busy, they’ve spent time exploring New Orleans, a vacation that they were initially alright with extending. They quickly realized there were challenges that came with that, including working through Delta’s vouchers, which covered not nearly enough for a group their size.

“We have been given three $12 meal vouchers per person, which doesn’t really cover much,” Tays said. “Especially in four days.”

They made it through thanks to donations from their church members back home, donating to keep the crew fed.

“A lot of details, and everything went great until it didn’t,” Lisa Rykken Kastler, Director of Congregational Ministries for the church, said.

“There wasn’t even an ask, the situation was such that, ok, you’re gonna need money,” Rykken Kastler added.

At the time of this article’s writing, Tays tells KARE11 that they’re finally taxiing, ready to take off and come home – a vacation they can’t wait to end.

“We’re just exhausted, you know?” she said. “There’s the emotional and the physical exhaustion that’s going on, and we’re ready.”



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Met Council asks cities to sign-off on Blue Line Extension plans

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The Met Council is asking several cities to sign off on the preliminary design for the Blue Light Extension.

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. — The communities along the proposed METRO Blue Line Extension are getting a chance to review and discuss the proposed plans with the public. 

The METRO Blue Line Extension is anticipated to be 13.4 miles between Target Field and Brooklyn Park, and would also run through Crystal and Robbinsdale. The Met Council hopes to start service in 2030, and estimate total ridership would be nearly 30,000 daily trips. 

Now, community leaders will be asked to consent to major project elements like where stations are located and where tracks will go. According to the Met Council, many project details haven’t been determined and the plans leave a lot of room for future design choices.

“This process gives people an opportunity to participate in the line through their elected officials,” said Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle in a press release. “This is a big investment that will serve our region for the next 100 years.”

Each of the municipalities will hold a public meeting and then vote before October 10, the Met Council said. 

“No matter how well we design a project, we need each city to let us know how it will fit into their neighborhoods and serve their communities,” said Zelle. “We’ve held weekly meetings for the past four years to ensure our designs are on the mark. But it’s up to each city council to approve preliminary design plans or recommend changes.”

The proposed plans can be viewed by clicking here.



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