Saving Rinearson Creek, One Turtle at a Time

Dakota and Daniel on the right checking a turtle trap

Daniel Wallace, a senior at Gladstone High School, started his volunteer experience with SOLV through our yearlong service-learning program, Green Team.  The program engages science classes throughout the Portland metro area in stream and wetland enhancement projects.  Each school adopts a different stream, in their own community, connecting them to stream health in their neighborhood.

As a student in Kevin Zerzan’s Environmental Science class, Daniel visited Rinearson Creek in Gladstone twice a month with his classmates and actively participated in various stream restoration activities such as planting native trees and shrubs, testing water quality and learning all about invasive species.  On site Daniel was always one of the hardest working
and most engaged students in his class, motiving his fellow classmates the whole time.

 “I think it’s important to restore natural areas because as our society gets advanced and technological we are kind of ignoring natural things and if we don’t take care of our environment then it won’t be here when we are older,” said Daniel.

When the school year was ending Daniel asked SOLV staff if there was a project he and friend Dakota Braun could take on to continue the restoration efforts at Rinearson Creek over the summer.  We quickly took him up on the offer and connected him with our partner, Conservation Biologist Susan Barnes at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Susan has been coordinating a turtle survey at Rinearson Creek since 2010.  Rinearson Creek is home to Western painted turtles which are classified as “Sensitive-Critical” on Oregon’s Sensitive Species list.  One of the reasons our native Western painted turtles are on the decline has to do with nonnative turtles that people often keep as pets and eventually just release into the wild.  One of these invasive species, the red-eared slider, can be found at Rinearson Creek and they are competing with our native turtles for food sources and taking over their nesting habitat and basking structures.

“With the help of SOLV and local neighbors, 28 sliders were caught and removed from the area in 2010 and eight individual Western painted turtles were identified. But we knew there were more sliders still in the pond and I wanted to see how the native turtle population might respond to removal of their invasive competitors,“ said Susan Barnes.  “When SOLV contacted me about Daniel and Dakota and their interest in helping with the 2011 turtle project I knew it was going to be a “win-win” situation, “ she added.

Daniel and Dakota were leaders in the turtle survey all summer long committing to 64 hours of service, visually surveying for turtle nests and basking turtles, and checking 12 traps daily.  Daniel and Dakota trapped, weighed and marked and released 16 native Western painted turtles and removed two invasive red-eared sliders from the pond.

Not only did Daniel and Dakota gain great insight into potential careers in environmental science, but they also provided a real service to their community.  Data collected from the turtle surveys will inform the Rinearson Creek planning partners on the best stream restoration strategies to protect the population of native turtles.

“Working in the pond was a great time, it was a fantastic senior project for both of us. We learned a lot about turtles and how they can affect the ecosystem. It gave us good insight to the work and commitment that ODF&W and SOLV have put into this project and others like it,” said Daniel.

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