Gorgeous Wildlife Webinar: Western Pond Turtle

Thursday, May 28, 2020

6:30 p.m.

In May, Friends of the Columbia Gorge is hosting a series of Gorgeous Wildlife webinars led by local specialists in their respective fields.

The final webinar of the three-part series, on May 28, details the wonders of the last freshwater turtle remaining on the West coast—the western pond turtle. In celebration of World Turtle Day, Friends’ Land Trust Stewardship Coordinator Sara Woods and the Oregon Zoo’s Senior keeper of Herptiles, Fish, and Insects, Shelly Pettit, will share how this endangered turtle found a safe home in the Gorge and the successful restoration project between Friends, The Oregon Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service that is saving its Gorge population.

In this webinar, Woods and Pettit explore the native western pond turtle, their habitat in the Gorge and the collaboration between Friends, the Oregon Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service that is restoring populations. The end of the webinar will include time for Q&A for participants.


As prehistoric reptiles, turtles may be slow to win a race but their committed stamina to outlast others’ extinctions proves their resiliency. Western pond turtles are unique in that they mainly live in fresh water and prefer slow-moving streams, rivers and ponds, but nest on land and prefer to stay there during the winter.

When hatched, western pond turtles are only about the size of your thumb, making them vulnerable to predators such as opossums and bullfrogs that can easily pick them up for a snack. But if they survive those first few years of life to grow large enough, they can live up to 70 years and act as filters for our rivers and streams as they manage aquatic vegetation and scavenge on animal and plant waste.

Currently listed as endangered in Washington state and in review for being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, the seven known populations of western pond turtles remaining are fighting against habitat loss, unavoidable highways and road intersections, and an invasive predator that reproduces 10,000 eggs at a time—bullfrogs. With many odds against them, partners are collaborating across states to help them win.

Join us live, Thursday, May 28, at 6:30 p.m. PDT. Register at the Zoom link below.
The webinar will be recorded and uploaded to Friends' YouTube page within a few days of the recording.

Featured speaker

Shelly Pettit is the Senior Keeper of Herptiles, Fish, and Insects at the Oregon Zoo. Shelly has also been leading the Western Pond Turtle Project at the zoo for the last five years. Her formal training as an aquarist led her to work with sea turtle rehabilitation which created a lifelong passion for working with turtles. Shelly has a Master’s Degree in Fisheries Biology from Texas A&M and has been working in animal husbandry since 2001.

Hosts and moderators

As stewardship coordinator, Sara Woods takes a lead role on stewardship and restoration of Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust properties. Sara has been working in the natural resource field for over a decade and has a diverse background in researching birds, fish, butterflies, plants, and forest carnivores, butterflies. Sara studied at Paul Smith's College and Plattsburgh State University (New York State), respectively completing an A.S. in Ecology and a B.S. in Environmental Science. After settling in the Gorge in 2003, she completed a Master’s degree in Environmental Management at Portland State University.

Natasha Stone is Friends’ community engagement specialist. Natasha manages Friends’ outdoor youth education efforts and works to build a diverse and inclusive network of community partners to help protect, preserve, and steward the Columbia Gorge. Before joining Friends, Natasha worked at Oregon Public Broadcasting as a production assistant for the Think Out Loud radio program. A graduate of Oregon State University with a Bachelor of Science in Ethnic Studies, Natasha is passionate about working with underrepresented communities and has seen firsthand how outdoor recreation and education can be empowering tools for communities while working for Portland’s Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization. 

Photos of young western pond turtles at turtle release event in the Gorge, Sept. 2019: Vince Ready, Lasting Light Photography