DNR-manages DOC inmate crews to aid restoration of native turtle habitat in Columbia River Gorge

Before and after: DNR-managed inmate crews (top) thin undergrowth in Klickitat County in a project to restore habitat (bottom) for the Pacific pond turtle. DNR Photo.

DNR-managed inmate work crews from the state Department of Corrections, Larch Corrections Center, Mountain Correctional Facility are playing a major role in important habitat restoration work that will aid the return of the native western Pacific pond turtle to more areas of the Columbia River Gorge. The effort aims to establish self-sustaining populations of western Pacific pond turtles in four locations in Skamania and Klickitat counties. A recent phase of the project (completed in February 2012) that relied on the DNR crews was primarily funded by the Bonneville Power Administration in cooperation with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Western pond turtle
Loss of native habitat has caused the numbers of Pacific pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) to decline in Washington State. Photo: Terry Spivey, US Forest Service, Bugwood.org

The largest naturally occurring populations of western Pacific pond turtles is in Klickitat County in an area known as the Sondino site, which is part of the WDFW-managed Klickitat Wildlife Area. The project also includes the only other naturally occurring population in the Columbia River Gorge: an area of mixed private and public ownerships in Skamania County known as the Bergen site. Additional project sites are the federally owned Pierce National Wildlife Refuge and Beacon Rock, owned by the State Parks and Recreation Commission. The restoration work will also include releasing dozens of hatchling turtles raised in captivity by Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and Oregon Zoo in Portland.

Members of the Department of Corrections crew, who are also trained by DNR as wildland firefighters, removed invasive plants, mowed, and completed other activities to improve the habitat. Other organizations working on the project include the Skamania County Forest Youth Success Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, WDFW, Skamania County Weed Control, and Beacon Rock State Park staff.