The first Alligator Snapping Turtle found in Central or Eastern Oregon was removed from Prineville Reservoir

by: PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE - Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Jason Journey captured this Alligator Snapping Turtle near the Powder House Cove boat ramp at Prineville Reservoir.

People who enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon in front of the television may be familiar with such science fiction classics as “Dinoshark,” “Mega Croc,” and “Sharknad.”

Although these examples of American cinema are fictional and are more entertaining and funny than factual, they nevertheless depict the effects an invasive species can have on an area.

Such an effect was discovered on Friday, Oct. 18, when biologists from The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife captured an Alligator Snapping Turtle near the Powder House Cove boat ramp at Prineville Reservoir. A local resident spotted the creature the day before while fishing, and alerted authorities.

“Without actually seeing someone release the turtle, it’s impossible to tell exactly how it got there” said Rick Boatner, ODFW Invasive Species Coordinator. “But given the close proximity to the boat ramp, someone most likely had it as a pet, and for whatever reason couldn’t care for it anymore, so they turned it loose.”

At this time the authorities believe the public is not in danger, and there is no evidence of other snapping turtles in the area. These animals can be dangerous to people and pets, but will usually only attack if threatened.

“They aren’t going to take your arm off” laughed Boatner. “But they can cause injury. So far there doesn’t seem to be any others in the waterway. If this was a female that had nested, there would be evidence of a nest. Even if this turtle hadn’t been captured the chances would be slim that it would have survived the winter. These animals need a warmer climate to survive and reproduce.”

The United States Department of Agriculture said that most of the non-native, or (invasive) species found throughout Oregon are not a direct threat to the safety of Oregonians, but they can cause severe ecological and economic problems.

The National Invasive Species Center estimated that more than 200 different species of plants and animals considered invasive have invaded the United States. Sometimes this invasion is the result of an accidental transport in shipping from overseas. Other times it is a result of someone deliberately releasing a non-native species into the wild.

Anyone with a passion for fishing likely knows that bull head catfish were not found in Ochoco or Prineville Reservoir until the 1980s, and Crane Prairie Reservoir did not have a population of largemouth bass until around the same time. It is believed that these large populations now found there are due to someone catching fish in another body of water, and deliberately, illegally stocking these waterways.

According to ecologist David Pimental and a team of researchers from Cornell University, the estimated total cost of invasive species to farmers and other industries in the United States amounts to more than $123 billion annually.

In addition to the economic impact, it is estimated that nearly 40 percent of the species listed as endangered species, are at risk primarily due to the invasion of non-native animals.

Consequently, it is illegal in the state of Oregon to possess certain species of wildlife. It is also illegal to release any non-native animal into the wild. It is considered a Class A misdemeanor, and penalties can be stiff. The offender could have to pay $6,250 in fines, and could also spend up to one year in jail.

“We have a team that is constantly researching and looking for people selling illegal species in Oregon,” said Boatner. “If we come across an individual selling an illegal pet they can no longer care for, they are given the option to voluntarily turn over the animal to us, without involving law enforcement. Our goal is not to be heavy handed but to make sure we do everything we can to prevent further damage to our delicate ecosystem by invasive species.”

Although the Alligator Snapping Turtle is not native to the Central and Eastern Oregon area, other types of turtles inhabit the region. The area is home to the common pond turtle, and painted turtles can be found in some areas.

“Sometimes it can be difficult to tell what species you are looking at” said Boatner. “Most of the time all you see is a little bit of the shell or part of the head sticking out of the water.”

ODFW therefore urges people who encounter a turtle, and have any concern about whether it is native, to let them know what they saw.

“If you are unsure what you are looking at, the best thing to do is take a picture and get it to your local ODFW office for identification,” Boatner said.

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