Outdoors: Snapping turtle captured in Harrisburg

Wildlife officials captured a 25-pound snapping turtle found wandering through a Harrisburg pasture on Apr. 28.

The invasive species, which poses a threat to native fish and wildlife habitats, not to mention human hands and feet, was a product of illegal turtle trafficking, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a release.

Snapping turtles have powerful jaws and may aggressively bite when threatened. Their sharp beaks may remove chunks of skin, according to ODFW Assistant District Biologist Marianne Brooks.

Brooks measured the male American snapping turtle found in Harrisburg at 14 inches wide and 20 inches long, and likely more than 30 years old.

“This turtle had a head the size of a baseball, and a neck he could extend at least 10 inches from his shell,” Brooks said,

“You wouldn’t want to run into something like this if you were out fishing. You definitely wouldn’t want your dog to find it.”

It is against the law to purchase, possess, transport or release snapping turtles without a special license in Oregon. Non-native turtles thrive in Oregon waterways and easily out-compete native turtles. They arrive, as this one did, through illegal wildlife trafficking channels.

Turtles are among the most widely trafficked animals across the globe.

Oregon’s native northwestern pond turtle and western painted turtle populations are necessary parts of a healthy ecosystem, according to ODFW. They clean the environment by scavenging dead fish and other wildlife. Their eggs and hatchlings can be a food source for native wildlife. And their longevity means they are productive year after year.

Populations of native northwestern pond turtles and western painted turtles dwindle upon release of non-native species like red-eared sliders and snapping turtles, which compromises native habitats and ecosystems, and compete for basking areas and hideaways.

Releasing invasive species into native wetlands is one method of habitat destruction for which subjects can be criminally cited, according to officials. And the trafficking goes both ways when poachers steal native turtles and sell them online to buyers across the country and across the globe.

Last summer, ODFW biologist Chris Yee, who monitors turtle nesting in Eugene, discovered someone had dug up two northwestern pond turtle nests. The thieves took six hatchlings from one nest and eight from the other.

Yee, who found the empty eggshells scattered in the nest the following day, thinks the quarter-sized hatchlings were trafficked into the pet trade. Wildlife traffickers trade money for the future of the species when they move the shelled reptiles, also known as herps, from pond to pet trade. The crime is considered poaching.

Turtle theft is an ongoing problem in Eugene. In response, Yee fenced off an area for the turtle nesting and posted signs warning the public not to disturb the sites. He even staged cameras to monitor the area. But then someone cut the fence to steal the cameras, causing about $2,000 in damage and loss for the program.

Herps are easy to capture, sell online and then ship. Buyers most likely think their purchase is legal, and sending a hatchling as a gift has become popular in a world in which everything is available online.

A recent case tried in New York revealed smugglers transporting turtles between China and the U.S., where buyers paid hundreds of dollars for turtles as exotic pets or extravagant meals.

Not all illegal turtle trafficking is overtly sinister. In Oregon backyards and bedrooms, turtles live in tanks as pets. But the typical lifespan of a turtle is at least 25 years, and many live for more than 50. Eventually, owners who become disenchanted with their pets may attempt to sell, re-home or release them.

That’s when wildlife and law enforcement officials become involved.

Wildlife trafficking and poaching go hand-in-hand, according to ODFW Stop Poaching campaign coordinator, Yvonne Shaw.

“Wildlife trafficking, whether involving live animals or animal parts, is human behavior that hopefully we can change by raising awareness,” she said, “Fish and wildlife already must contend with climate change and reductions in habitat.”

The Stop Poaching Campaign educates the public on how to recognize and report poaching.

For more information, contact campaign coordinator Yvonne Shaw at [email protected].

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Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport will hold a World Ocean Day celebration Saturday, June 3.

World Ocean Day highlights the importance of the ocean and the life it sustains. The celebration will feature ocean-themed activities for all ages, including interactive guest displays, raffles, ambassador animal presentations, and a shark dissection.

“We all rely on the ocean, and this event is a great way for our coastal communities to come together and celebrate,” said Jeff Harms, Education Manager at OCAq. “We invite new visitors and long-time members to join the fun.”

The event coincides with OCAq’s Member Appreciation Days, taking place June 2-4. In addition to World Ocean Day activities, members can enjoy a 20 percent discount on gift store purchases, extra raffle opportunities, and access to a members-only lounge featuring snacks and beverages, a children’s activity table, and presentations from animal care staff.

Throughout Member Appreciation Days, one extra guest may attend per membership, regardless of membership level, at no extra cost. Visitors are able to participate in Member Appreciation Days immediately upon purchasing or renewing an OCAq membership.

For more information or to purchase tickets in advance, visit aquarium.org or call (541) 867-3474.

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ODFW recently concluded an investigation into a fish kill at Cole Rivers Hatchery in Trail.

The incident led to the loss of steelhead that contribute to fisheries in the Rogue and Coos rivers. The loss was caused by human error at ODFW and compounded by infrastructure issues making it difficult to isolate risk.

Rogue summer steelhead: The 2024 “half-pounder” fishery and the 2025 adult fishery will be affected because all sac fry for Rogue summer steelhead were lost.

Some of the lost fishing opportunities in the Rogue will be abated because 82,000 summer steelhead smolts were held back in 2022 and will be released in April 2024. A portion of these fish will return after a short time in the ocean as “half-pounders” and will contribute to the 2024 fishery.

Catch-and-release for wild summer steelhead half-pounders and adults will continue. Hatchery adults returning from other release years will also provide some opportunities in 2025.

Coos winter steelhead: A significant portion of the Coos winter steelhead fry on hand were lost and the 2025-26 fisheries will be affected. We expect to release about half of production goal (62,500 smolts) in April 2024.

Most of these hatchery steelhead will return in the winter of 2025-2026, depending on ocean survival. A small number of hatchery steelhead from the previous brood year could contribute to that fishery. Anglers can continue to catch and release wild adult steelhead.

Operational response: ODFW is reviewing protocols to prevent future operational errors. ODFW and federal partners are also working closely to address infrastructure issues stressing production capabilities.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers directed additional resources towards the hatchery and Oregon’s congressional delegation, led by Senators Merkley and Wyden have secured funding to fix the power supply and begin work on the water supply.

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Oregon residents can celebrate State Parks Day with free parking and free RV and tent site camping at all Oregon State Parks June 3 as well as special events at selected parks.

Oregon Parks and Recreation Department will waive day-use parking fees at the 25 locations that charge them June 3 and June 4.

OPRD will also waive camping fees for all tent, RV and horse campsites June 3. 

State Parks Day has been a tradition since 1998 as a way to thank Oregonians for their support of the state park system over many decades.

“Oregon has one of the best state parks systems in the country, and it’s because you have invested in parks, cared for them and preserved them for everyone to enjoy. Thank you,” said OPRD Director Lisa Sumption. 

State Parks Day Events

Several free special events and service projects are planned this Saturday, June 3, to celebrate State Parks Day: 

Cove Palisades: Festival of the Land is a free festival that celebrates the diverse history, food and culture of Central Oregon 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The event includes: archeology hikes, kids’ games and activities, petting “zoo,” mini farmers market, pollinator, wildfire and fish displays, fry bread and more.

Smith Rock: Trail Keepers of Oregon will lead a group of volunteers on some trail maintenance projects on trails in the park 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Bring snacks, lunch, water and work gloves. Free. Registration required. 

Valley of the Rogue: Veteran’s Powwow 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 3 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 4. The event includes a powwow ceremony with gourd dancing and vender booths. It is open to all veterans, tribal members or not.

Honeyman: An educational film screening will be held at the Amphitheater located in B loop overnight campground from 1 to 3 p.m. Park at the Sand Dunes Day use parking area and walk to the amphitheater, or find limited parking by the campground registration booth. This event is weather-dependent.

L.L. Stub Stewart: The Friends of Stub Stewart State Park will have booths and tables set up all around the Welcome Center building dedicated to local fire departments, state forestry agencies and volunteer organizations. 

Free snacks and refreshments provided by the friends group, in addition to arts and crafts activities and interpretive displays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Luckiamute: Discover the birds that call Luckiamute Natural Area home by participating in Bird Bingo 9 a.m. to noon. Register online.

Participants who pre-register will receive a bingo card on the day of the event that consists of birds and plants that are common in the park.

The activity begins with a ranger-led casual stroll along the North Luckiamute Trail. The park will supply binoculars to all registered participants. 

Sitka Sedge: Join Park staff for a guided hike at Sitka Sedge State Natural Area to learn about the local plants and wildlife 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Meet at the Sitka Sedge State Natural Area Parking Lot off of Sandlake Road. Dress for the weather, bring water and a snack. The first half mile is flat on packed gravel that is accessible for strollers and wheelchairs.

Free Fishing Weekend

Fishing is also free statewide June 3 and 4, courtesy of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

Learn more at myodfw.com/articles/2023-free-fishing-days-and-events. 

For camping availability, check oregonstateparks.reserveamerica.com or visit first-come-first served sites: stateparks.oregon.gov/index.cfm?do=reserve.first-come