Response for project 200102700: Western Pond Turtle Recovery

Comment on proposed FY 2006 budget

The proposed budget of $ 89,000 for the western pond turtle project is consistent with previous Bonneville funding levels for this project. WDFW requests continued funding of this project as it meets minimum level of finances needed to maintain efforts for recovery of the western pond turtle in the Columbia River Gorge. This funding is a critical part of a multi-organizational program whose goals are to delist the western pond turtle form the Washington State endangered species list. Although the proposed budget meets previous funding levels, additional funding is requested to fulfill work plan objectives. Beginning in July of 2005, Washington State employees will receive a three percent pay increase. This increase in salary and benefit obligations will reduce contract funding used directly for western pond turtle recovery. We request $ 2500 to cover these expenses. In addition, WDFW would like to provide $ 5000 each of contract money for both the Oregon and Woodland Park Zoos. Both Zoos provide over $ 20,000 in support of the western pond turtle project through staff time and facilities for rearing turtles. Our financial goals are to contribute $ 5000 to each institution as a contribution towards their efforts. In previous years our contract has only had money for one zoo. In 2005, money was provided to the Oregon Zoo. Both zoos provide equal staff and facilities for their efforts in the western pond turtle program. We request and additional $ 5000 to contribute to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Total budget request for 2006: $ 96,000

Accomplishments since the last review

# of features2001-2004 Constructed and placed 10 basking platforms in wetlands.Enhanced a total of 41 acres of nesting habitat by removing Scot's broom and blackberrys. Enhanced water source for Klickitat wetland by removing unwanted vegetation.
Remove or Relocate Predaceous Animals2001-2004 - Non-native fish and bullfrogs were removed from western pond turtle habitat in the Gorge(96 bullfrogs and 50 eggs masses). A total of 90 gallons of non-native fish and bullfrog tadpoles were removed from Pierce NWR.
Manage/Maintain Database2004 - Developed an enhanced ACCESS database for all western pond turtle captures since the beginning of the project in the mid 1980's. Data base was completed in the spring of 2005.

Over the past four years WDFW has continued its efforts to increase the population of western pond turtles in the Columbia River Gorge. WDFW has accomplished the goals and objectives as outlined in the annual scope of work/contracts initiated in 2001. Maintain “Head Start” Program 2001 – 30 female western pond turtles were monitored producing 26 nests. A total of 119 juvenile hatchlings were reared for release in 2002. 2002 – 31 female western pond turtles were monitored producing 23 nests. A total of 67 juvenile hatchlings were reared for release in2003. 2003 - 30 female western pond turtles were monitored producing 33 nests. A total of 136 juvenile hatchlings were reared for release in 2004. 2004 – 32 female western pond turtles were monitored producing 21 nests. A total of 78 juvenile hatchlings are currently being reared for release in the Gorge next month. Establish New Populations Prior to 2001, there were two populations of western pond turtles in the Columbia River Gorge. Recovery goals for the western pond turtle in Washington require three stable populations for downlisting and a fourth for delisting, each supporting a minimum of 250 individuals. In 2001 WDFW and the USFWS signed a MOU to establish a reintroduced population of western pond turtles on Pierce National Wildlife Refuge. To date a total of 250 juvenile turtles have been successfully released at the refuge. Currently WDFW is monitoring this population through a mark/recapture program. Survival of released monitored turtles has been very high to date. Plans are underway for establishing a fourth population in the Gorge as soon as 2006.

FY 2006 goals and anticipated accomplishments

# of featuresUpand vegetation will be managed to improve habitat conditions for nesting female western pond turtles at select sites in the Columbia River Gorge.
Remove or Relocate Predaceous AnimalsControl of bullfrogs will be continued as part of an annual effort to reduce predation to juvenile western pond turtles. Bullfrogs will be removed by lethal kill of adults and removal of egg masses.

Goals Spring 2006 - A mark-recapture program will be conducted (ongoing since 1996) at each known pond turtle site to determine estimates of current population size. Data will be summarized and sent to the WDFW wildlife data system. Individual turtle information will be recorded and used in a statistical model to estimate population numbers. All of 2006 - Maintain “head start” program for wild hatchling western pond turtles, and evaluate their survival and growth using mark-recapture techniques. Spring 2006 - Female western pond turtles will be captured and transmitter–equipped in order for biologists to locate nests and remove juveniles for the “head-start” program. Fall 2005 – Spring 2006 - Following incubation in the ground, hatchling turtles will be removed from their nests in mid-September to early October. Turtles will be transferred to the Woodland Park and Oregon Zoos until release in the spring. Summer 2006 - Following their care at the zoos (October to July), juvenile western pond turtles will be released to supplement existing populations in the Columbia River Gorge. All turtles will be monitored for survival through mark recapture trapping efforts. All of 2006 - Field information will be managed via the recently developed ACCESS data management program.

Subbasin planning

How is this project consistent with subbasin plans?

Consistency The project is consistent with the objectives and strategies of the Columbia Gorge Mainstem Subbasin Plan (05/28/04). Section 5.2.5 (page 92) identifies three primary strategies: continue the “head start” program to augment populations; improve nesting and foraging habitat through habitat development and reduce predation by introduced species (ie. bullfrogs). Project objectives for 2006 funding include work tasks for each of these strategies and therefore is consistent with the Columbia River Mainstem Subbasin Plan. In the Wind River Subbasin Plan the western pond turtle is a focal wildlife species identified in section 3.3.5 (page J-39). Section 5.11.5 (page J-178) outlines strategies that are consistent with the current 2006 proposal including habitat improvement and predator control. In the Big White Salmon River Subbasin Plan the western pond turtle is identified as a focal species, section 4.4.3 (page 23). The current funding request for 2006 is consistent with the Plan’s objectives to manage the species in accordance with the Washington State Recovery Plan for the Western Pond Turtle.

How do goals match subbasin plan priorities?

Priorities This project accomplishes priorities identified primarily in the Columbia Gorge Mainstem Subbasin Plan (05/8/04). In section 1.2.2 (page 15), Biological Objectives and Strategies, continuation of the “head start” program is considered an “urgent need”. Improvement of nesting and foraging habitat through pond and meadow development are considered a “high priority need”. Finally, the reduction of predators, such as the bullfrog, is considered a “high priority need”. Each of these three objectives is currently a part of the 2006 proposal and is consistent with the Columbia Gorge Mainstem Subbasin Plan. In the Wind River Subbasin Plan limiting factors for western pond turtles are identified in section 5.11.5 (page J-178). Non native vegetation displacement of riparian habitat will be address in the proposal through enhancement efforts to create optimal habitat for western pond turtles. Predation by non-native species will be a part of activities in 2006 with the planned control of bullfrogs at select wetland sites.

Other comments

The success of this program has been enhanced since 2001 through funding by the Bonneville Power Administration. WDFW has released 192 western pond turtles at two historic locations augmenting the existing populations. A third “reintroduced” population has been established at Pierce National Wildlife Refuge, in Skamania County. A total of 250 western pond turtles have been released at the refuge. These accomplishments have followed the guidelines of the Washington State Recovery Plan for the Western Pond Turtle and have meet the objectives of this projects scope of work. Since 2001, two Memorandum of Understandings have been formally signed between the WDFW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (USFS) for the conservation and management of the western pond turtle. Both agreements ensure a commitment by all three organizations to continue working towards recovery of the western pond turtle. In addition, both the Oregon and Washington Park Zoos have expressed a desire to continue with their efforts towards the “head start” conservation program. Both zoos are currently working with their education and outreach departments to involve the public with the turtle project in the Columbia River Gorge. Zoo volunteers from Portland and Seattle are currently assisting biologists with field activities. The WDFW will continue to provide oversight, field staff time, equipment and supplies towards the overall success of the project. The continued funding for this effort by the Bonneville Power Administration will ensure that sufficient funding is available to accomplish the objectives of this this multi-organizational project.