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Home arrow Opinion arrow Turtles: Humans’ good intentions can harm the cute creatures

Turtles: Humans’ good intentions can harm the cute creatures

The western painted turtle is our native turtle species. They've always been present on Ladd Marsh, but the ODFW has augmented their numbers many times in years past.  Last year, about 50 were brought over and released on the marsh. - Photo/JIM WARD
The western painted turtle is our native turtle species. They've always been present on Ladd Marsh, but the ODFW has augmented their numbers many times in years past. Last year, about 50 were brought over and released on the marsh. - Photo/JIM WARD
Well-meaning people are clouding the outlook for the western painted turtle.

Many female western painted turtles are being spotted crawling out of ponds and mud flats at Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area and other nearby places. The turtles are searching for dry areas where they can lay eggs.

Big-hearted people finding these turtles far from water are bringing them back to ponds and marshy areas.

Other people are bringing the turtles home and putting them in backyard ponds.

The good Samaritans are actually hurting the turtles, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Cathy Nowak.

She explained that the turtles, after being placed in a watery area, will leave to search for dry areas to lay their eggs. This places the turtles at greater risk since they will again have to cross dangerous areas such as roads and be exposed to predators.

Female turtles will also face additional stress while making a second nesting trek, a factor that could help prevent them from successfully laying eggs.

Western painted turtles usually travel about 200 yards in search of a place to lay their eggs. But sometimes they may crawl at least a mile.

“They are really quite athletic little guys,’’ Nowak said.

She said people often think of turtles as slow and not capable of doing much, “but they are much more athletic than people give them credit for.’’

The western painted turtle is well known for a design on the bottom of its shell that looks like it has been painted. - ODFW/CATHY NOWAK
The western painted turtle is well known for a design on the bottom of its shell that looks like it has been painted. - ODFW/CATHY NOWAK
The turtle is likely named for its shell. The beautiful design looks as if it has been painted. People may be tempted to take such striking creatures home. But they should resist, not only because it will harm the turtle but also because it is against the law.

Taking wildlife home is illegal in Oregon.

The western painted turtle is one of the only turtles native to the Grande Ronde Valley. The highest concentration in the valley is at Ladd Marsh. The turtles will be seen crawling through dry areas in search of nest sites for the next several weeks, Nowak said.

People who move or take western painted turtles home are weakening the reptile’s already shaky status in Oregon. The turtle is close to being listed as threatened in the state because of declining numbers.

The turtle is on the Oregon Natural Heritage watch list of species that will likely be listed as threatened or endangered unless effective conservation steps are taken, Nowak said.

The western painted turtle is one of four subspecies of the painted turtle. The other subspecies are the eastern, southern and midland painted turtles. The painted turtle is found throughout the United States, southern Canada and northern Mexico.

 
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