SALEM, Ore.—In an effort to keep Oregon’s native turtles healthy, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists ask Oregonians to be on the lookout for turtles this summer and to report any sightings.
“Turtles are often seen on land at this time of year,” said Susan Barnes, ODFW wildlife biologist. “They are usually females in search of suitable nesting grounds to lay their eggs. The best thing to do is leave them alone and let them continue on their path.”
Barnes also warns motorists driving along streams and rivers to watch for turtles crossing. “Our native turtles are in decline, so anything we can do this summer to protect them is helpful.”
How to report a turtle sighting
If you see a turtle, please report it via the Internet on the Native Turtles of Oregon website, http://www.oregonzoo.org/Turtles/ If you do not have Internet access, call your local ODFW office.
Oregon has two native turtles: western painted and western pond, both of which are listed on the state sensitive species list and highlighted in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as species in need of help. Both turtles are dark brown or dull olive, but the western painted turtle is brightly decorated with a reddish lower shell and yellow stripes on its neck and legs. As adults, turtles are 4-9 inches long. Population declines are due to habitat loss, degradation of nesting areas by invasive plants, competition from non-native turtles, illegal collecting and disease.
Western pond turtles are found in the Coast Range, East Cascades, Klamath Mountains, West Cascades and Willamette Valley ecoregions. Western painted turtles occur in the Willamette Valley and Blue Mountain ecoregions and along the Columbia River.
It is not legal to hold native turtles in captivity. According to Barnes, if you want native turtles on your property, you have to attract them by providing suitable habitat. “Take the build-it-and-they-will-come approach,” she said.
Unfortunately, there are also two species of non-native turtles in Oregon that out-compete native turtles for nesting areas, basking sites and suitable habitat. They are red-eared sliders and common snapping turtles. Red-eared sliders have red “ears” (markings) on the side of their heads. Snapping turtles are very large with a big head and long jagged tail; they are especially destructive as they consume native fish, plants and wildlife.
It is illegal in the state to buy, sell, possess or release either of these non-native turtles. If you’ve just realized you are in possession of a non-native turtle, contact your local ODFW office.
For more information
For more information about Oregon’s native turtles, visit http://www.willametteturtles.com/
To see photos of native and non-native turtles, visit the ODFW website, http://www.dfw.state.or.us/conservationstrategy/turtles.asp
For more information on The Oregon Conservation Strategy, visit the ODFW website, http://www.dfw.state.or.us/conservationstrategy/
Information on creating turtle-friendly habitat is available in ODFW’s Naturescaping book which can be ordered by calling (503) 947-6000 or on the “Living with Wildlife” section of the website, http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/