Wanted: turtle, frog fans for cold-blooded conservation

December 11, 2013 - 1:08pm

ODFW to lead first comprehensive survey of turtles, amphibians in Clackamas County

Portland-area residents with a soft spot for turtles and amphibians can assist conservation efforts this winter by wading local wetlands.

With support from the Oregon Zoo, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is organizing the first comprehensive survey of turtles and amphibians in Clackamas County — Oregon's third largest — to help land users better protect and account for wildlife during planning.

"Our amphibians and reptiles are in trouble, and this is a way for Oregonians to help."

—Susan Barnes, ODFW conservation biologist

"Turtles and amphibians need healthy habitat, but they can thrive even in urbanized areas," said Susan Barnes, ODFW conservation biologist. "Our goal is to survey a variety of wetlands in the county and identify which ones currently support amphibians and turtles and which ones could be improved. To do that, we need volunteers."

Clackamas County wetlands targeted for surveys are home to five species of native pond-breeding frogs and salamanders and both species of native Northwest turtles, including the western pond turtle, which is considered endangered in Washington and "state sensitive" in Oregon. The amphibian survey will begin in February and the turtle survey in March.

Volunteers will search roughly 50 sites, from pristine remnant wetlands to stormwater ponds found behind big-box stores. Surveyors will be trained in how to look for egg masses and how to identify what kind of amphibian they belong to. They will also document potential threats to native wildlife — habitat degradation and aquatic invaders like bullfrogs and red-eared slider turtles.

According to Barnes, data obtained from surveys in other local counties has resulted in more wildlife-friendly land use — informing schedules for mowing public park lawns and helping determine where new development takes place.

"Pulling on waders and getting into wetlands is an exciting form of citizen science," Barnes said. "Our amphibians and reptiles are in trouble, and this is a way for Oregonians to help."

This ODFW project was made possible with funding from Oregon Wildlife, the Oregon Zoo Foundation's Future for Wildlife program and support from Clean Water Services, North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District and Clackamas Water and Environment Services.

Portland-area residents interested in joining the amphibian and turtle survey should own their own waders and binoculars and be in good physical condition. Volunteers will be expected to devote about two hours on the day of their survey. To learn more, contact Susan Barnes at susan.p.barnes@state.or.us.

"The Future for Wildlife program is designed to help protect threatened and endangered species and the ecosystems in which they live," said Nadja Wielebnowski, the zoo's conservation and research manager. "For the past 15 years, the Oregon Zoo has been providing grants to help save animals as small as butterflies and as big as elephants. A portion of these funds is dedicated to helping species in our own backyard here in the Pacific Northwest."

To learn more about the Future for Wildlife program and how to apply for grants, contact nadja.wielebnowski@oregonzoo.org or david.shepherdson@oregonzoo.org.