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Turtle tracker set to go in Silver Beach: Finding and safeguarding the reptiles 

After chasing “bad guys” on horseback for the Nassau County Police Department and rounding up turtles with her dog for conservation purposes, Lee Behrens is bringing her skills and experience to Shelter Island.

Ms. Behrens, who now lives in Southampton, will be conducting a pilot project in Silver Beach on May 7 to find and temporarily remove box turtles during “brush hogging” — clearing brush from preservation sites such as the bird sanctuary on that part of the Island. Following the clearing, the turtles are to be returned to the sites.

Silver Beach Association Vice President Doug Sherrod spoke to scientists at Stony Brook and other universities to gather advice on the best way to remove the turtles and safely return them.

Mr. Sherrod discussed his ideas with the Association Board and won enthusiastic approval for the pilot program, Julia Weisenberg said. She is the association’s corresponding secretary and a member of the town’s Deer and Tick Committee. She’s also one of three organizers of “Babes and Bucks,” a group of women hunters and anglers, and it was through that organization that she met Ms. Behrens.

Ms. Behrens retired from the Nassau County Police Department in 2002 after 33 years. She rose through the ranks to become a sergeant with the detective squad. At the time of her retirement, she was deputy commanding officer of the Nassau County Police Mounted Unit.

Concurrent with many of her years with the police, Ms. Behrens has been a licensed volunteer with Deer Search, now under the auspices of United Blood Trackers, a national organization. What brought her to the field came from experiences growing up hunting with family members.

“Bow hunting is more difficult” than using guns, she said. Observing others who were shooting deer but found themselves unable to recover wounded animals until crows moved in, she wanted to become involved in helping the animals. She’d been selected as a member of a committee that would evaluate police officers applying to be K9 officers.

She met a number of people involved in tracking wounded deer on Long Island and credits the late Clinton County resident John Jeanneney, considered an authority on using leashed tracking dogs, as well as Sag Harbor hunters Barb and Fred Schmidt, with helping her to develop her skills.

“I’ve owned and trained bird dogs and  have had hounds my whole life,” Ms. Behrens said. “I like working with an animal partner,” she said, noting she spent 15 years with an equine partner in the Mounted Unit.

She continues to volunteer tracking wounded white-tailed deer and bears, but as a “snow bird” spending cold months in Florida, she learned about turtles from a neighbor.

A friend who also tracks deer and has tracked turtles in Maine shared methods with Ms. Behrens.

“Scent work with dogs is basically all a similar  type of training,” she said. “You convey to the dog what you want them to find and let their noses and body language alert you.”  

She has two dogs, Petit Basset Griffon Vendeens, a very old breed from the Bordeaux area of France. In Europe and Scandinavia, they are used to hunt rabbits, birds, deer and hogs in hedge rows between vineyards. Like Beagles with wire hair to protect them from the brush, they are effective though not as popular in the United States.

Those who reach out for assistance in tracking deer and bears typically are individual hunters, though some come to Ms. Behrens through the New York State Department of Conservation, a website or word of mouth. Deer Search also has a dispatch system.

The dog she will be using in Silver Beach is Paris, and is from Bordeaux where Ms. Behrens went to adopt her.    

“I like helping wildlife and love working with my dogs,” she said.

Locating box turtles will be a new endeavor for Ms. Behrens and her hounds. But she’s spent a lot of time in the woods and fields training and tracking and has come across turtles to which the dogs seem to be naturally attracted, she said.

If the pilot project is as successful as hoped, it’s possible it will be used in other areas of the Island, Ms. Weisenberg said.