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Ventura County Based Turtle Rehabilitation Facility Helps Population Devastated By Drought, Fire

(USGS Photo)
Southwestern Pond Turtle

A tiny, scarce type of turtle almost wiped out of a Southern California lake by a combination of the drought and fire is getting a second chance thanks to researchers and turtle rehabilitation facilities in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.

U.S. Geological Survey scientist John Lovich, who specializes in turtle research, says the Southwestern Pond Turtles are only about five to six inches in size. He says Elizabeth Lake, in the Angeles National Forest, had one of the region’s most robust turtle populations until recently.

The drought shrunk the lake, increasing its salinity, and that combined with ash from a brush fire decimated the food supply for the turtles.

Lovich says when they first started investigating the issue in 2014, they found most of the turtles were dead or seriously ill. Necropsies showed they were literally starving to death.

The researcher says they turned to a little known turtle research facility in Ventura County for help. The Turtle Conservancy, near Ojai, is dedicated to protection efforts, and operates captive breeding programs to try to save endangered species from extinction. More than 30 turtles were sent there. Other sick turtles from Elizabeth Lake were taken to a turtle research facility at UCLA for rehabilitation.

There have been efforts to get federal government protections for the turtles, but that hasn’t happened. The state lists them as a California Species of Special Concern. Some that have recovered have been taken to other, nearby lakes in the Angeles National Forest, but testing hasn’t been done yet to see if rain has restored Elizabeth Lake enough to once again be home for southwestern pond turtles.

Lovich is hoping to do a followup study with the Elizabeth Lake turtles, to see if some which weren’t discovered by rescuers survived, or perhaps others migrated from another lake about a mile away.

The USGS study about the Southwestern Pond Turtles was published in the latest edition of Knowledge and Management of Aquatic Ecosystems.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral. 
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