Gardnerville woman hopes to save Western Pond Turtle
It was circumstance that brought Gardnerville resident Lorrie Tart together with the Western Pond Turtle, but it is determination that has kept her there.
“A friend was taking care of a baby turtle that was found in the parking lot at Walley’s Hot Springs, and she asked me if I knew of anyone who wanted a turtle,” Tart said. “I thought about the kids at Mount Sierra Christian School, where my children go, and decided to ask my child’s teacher if she’d like to have it as a classroom pet and she said ‘yes.'”
So a baby Western Pond Turtle the size of a silver dollar came into the Tart household and has slowly taken over Lorrie’s conscience as well as her heart.
“I began to learn about this turtle and found out that it is a protected species,” she said. “Walley’s is being developed into timeshares now, so it seems as though someone should look out for these turtles.”
Walley’s Hot Springs is well known to wildlife watchers as one of the top spots in the Valley to find unusual species of birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and what-have-you, due to the year-round warm water.
On the property north of the spa buildings, a large round pond has long been a “secret location,” where birdwatchers could stop to view the dark green Western Pond Turtle basking next to frogs and toads.
Tart has contacted county, state and federal officials to try and gain information about the natural habits and laws governing these turtles. She has also been in touch with Quintas Resorts, the timeshare company that purchased Walley’s in June, renaming it David Walley’s Resort, Hot Springs and Spa.
“I’m concerned that the building there will damage the turtle’s breeding grounds,” Tart said. “One thing I’ve learned from the biologists I’ve talked to is that the most crucial thing we need to find out about is where do the turtles breed and lay eggs.”
n About the little guys. The Western Pond Turtle is a medium-sized turtle. According to Dee Warenycia, a wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game in Sacramento, this species is having problems in California due to development in their fresh water marshes and ponds. In California, the Western Pond Turtle ranges across the whole state.
“Even so, they’re still limited because the fresh water marshes are usually the first to go,’ she said. “In California, the problem is we have lots of places with adults, but the breeding population is a whole other story. The adults, which begin breeding at age 8, need a large area with approximately 4-5 inches of sandy soil to lay their eggs in the spring or early summer. The soil needs to be moist with internal temperatures just right for the eggs to incubate.”
Warenycia said the turtles will wander away from their pond approximately 300 feet to lay eggs.
“Even if the pond is saved, if that breeding area is destroyed, they will be unable to successfully breed and may eventually die out,” she said. “This may be one of our only native fresh water turtle species.”
Western Pond Turtles are generalist feeders, eating algae, plants, crustaceans, isopods, larvae, fish, spiders, and basically anything that swims by. The species has been found in many locations in the Great Basin.
In the Carson River and other rivers, sandy banks may be utilized for egg-laying, especially if the riverbanks are steep, preventing the turtles from exiting, Warenycia said.
“These areas ought to be protected for just what they are,” she added.
After laying three to 11 eggs in the sand, in 73-80 days if all goes well, baby pond turtles hatch. In winter, both juveniles and adults retreat to the pond bottom to hibernate for the duration of the cold weather. Tart wants to quickly resolve the pond situation before hibernation begins.
“Timing is important in the life of this turtle,” she said.
n Quintas responds. Quintas Resorts’ executive director of marketing Linda Gilson is sympathetic to Tart’s turtle plight.
“We certainly want to protect the pond and don’t plan to fill it in or anything,” she said. “We are going to start the first building on Dec. 1, but that will be far from the pond, close to the existing spa buildings. We are five to six years away from actual construction of units near the pond.”
Gilson said that the spa renovation at Walley’s has taken longer than planned, causing all construction, including the timeshare buildings, to be pushed back. She is willing to meet with Tart and any other turtle experts, and feels certain the company will make efforts to preserve them.
“The trees definitely stay, and I’ll be in touch with our construction supervisor,” Gilson said.
Some of the possible suggestions Tart has for the resort include putting up “Turtle Crossing” signs which might include warnings about the dangers of handling small turtles and potentially getting exposed salmonella (a widely accepted caution with most reptiles).
“We now know that fencing the pond off is not the answer,” she said. “This much I’ve learned from talking to the experts.”
Meanwhile, Tart, 36, is busy making calls and following leads regarding the natural history of the Western Pond Turtle and any information about this species specific to the Carson Valley.
n Keep on keepin’ on. As the mother of three young children, Bryan, 9; Jennifer, 6 and Eric, 3, husband to Alan, 37, who is an engineer at Bently Nevada, and student of early childhood development at Western Nevada Community College, it’s not like she has oodles of extra time to devote to this turtle saga, but she’s not about to “crawl into her shell” on this subject.
“But I’m not one of those people who do things halfway,” she said. “I’m not going to stop, and I’m hoping they’ll put their money where their mouth is. I have to believe they will, but even if it doesn’t work out, I will have done my best.”
Tart has secured a post office box for incoming information and inquiries regarding not only Western Pond Turtles, but all turtles in Northern Nevada. The address is: Turtles Need Love, P.O. Box 2463, Gardnerville, 89410.
“I would like to be a resource for people to contact and share information,” she said. “In Southern Nevada, there are people looking out for the Desert Tortoise, and developers have had to pay attention. Since we don’t have Desert Tortoises here, I want to look out for the turtles we do have.”
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