Rose Jepson
ES Internship
December 9, 2005


Introduction of Painted Turtles into Lakum Duckum

My internship this semester was working on a project to research the feasibility of introducing Western Painted Turtles onto campus and specifically into Lakum Duckum. My mentor was Amy Molitor of the Environmental Studies department here at Whitman College.

I met with Amy at the beginning of the semester to determine goals, objectives and logistics. We decided that the direction of the internship would be to mostly research what turtles need as far as habitat goes and whether or not Lakum Duckum would or, with improvements, could support this. This main objective was boiled down into a few questions that I would try to answer. These included:

• What turtle species are native to the Walla Walla region?
• Are there already some turtles in Walla Walla?
• What do people think about the introduction of turtles into Lakum Duckum (LD)?
• What kind of habitat, riparian zone do these turtle species need?
• How do these conditions compare to those existing in and around LD presently?
• Can LD be improved to accommodate these turtles in a healthy natural environment?
• How would one go about implementing an introduction plan?

The plan was to spend 4 hours minimum each week working on the internship, and to check in with Amy at any point where I felt I had made great progress or if I came up against a dead-end.

Amy also provided me with the names of some people that would be useful to contact. These people included Jeanne Fromm, who had been involved in the initial idea for the project. She will be here for at least a year and has worked on Blanding’s Turtle introductions in Ohio, so her work directly ties to what I am doing. Also, Judy Johnson’s name came up as someone who is the head of the Backyard Stream Team. They work to educate homeowners about how to create buffer zones around the streams in their backyards to allow fish to pass through safely. She would be helpful in determining if we could educate homeowners to also allow for turtle habitat.

I decided to dedicate time to the internship in two chunks each week and this rounded out to about 4 hours. For this first part of the internship, most of my research has been on the internet looking up information. This often presented challenges as I came across many unhelpful sites, and sites that were just not credible. It took time to weed through and find the useful ones. After I had compiled a list of these good sites, I read through them all and gathered information. From this information, one of my goals is to make a Western Painted Turtle fact sheet so that future internships can use the information and not have to research things that I already have done. Also, I have taken the website list and created a working document on my computer with the title, address and a brief description of what is on the site which is useful for me as a reference, but would also aid future internships.

Out of this research, I was able to answer the question that Western Painted Turtles were native to Washington, and that they would be good candidates for introduction in this part of the state. Also, they have been spotted in Walla Walla. There are reports of these turtles at the Whitman Mission and one has been spotted along the Mill Creek multipurpose path. More information about sightings in Walla Walla will come later in the project.

The main question that I focused my energy on was whether or not Lakum Duckum could support the turtles. After quite a lot of research I decided that no, Lakum Duckum could not support these turtles. The two biggest reasons were that the habitat provided no space for nesting, and that these mobile creatures sometimes walk for miles to find food and this nesting space. The habitat which is surrounded by campus, roads, and residential areas is not large enough to support the roaming. The habitat itself in Lackum Duckum also does not provide the diversity that these animals need.

Apart from the research aspect, I also spent one of my afternoons with Jeanne Fromm. She shared a powerpoint about her work with the Blandings Turtle with Joel Carlin, from the biology department, and I. It was interesting and related nicely to my project. Unfortunately, I knew that I would not have the time to do the things that Jeanne had been doing in Ohio. I could not take on a tracking project this late in the semester. It is a long process involving traps, collections and recording in a variety of areas in order to get accurate results about where the turtles are and what habitats they are using. I am disappointed in this regard that I will not be around to see this project to completion. I would love to go out into the field and get this hands-on experience with the turtles.

This experience has been valuable for me because I have learned how to organize a project on my own. I have to make the time because it is not scheduled for me, no one will know if I do not show up at the time that I set aside for myself to work or if I am late. I think that it would have been easy for me to put less effort in because of these reasons. In fact, I have felt more responsible and because I am so interested in the project I have made sure to stick to my time schedules as closely as possible. It has taken discipline which is a good skill to develop. Also, I have had to network with people and will have to do more of that in the next part of the semester. In previous jobs and activities, I have always had a supervisor or another group member who called various people or set me up with meetings, but this time I have to do it for myself. It is valuable to learn how to do this and to use other people’s knowledge as a resource. I am glad that I have come to this realization because the information that I have learned from Jeanne has been so interesting and helpful.

There were some difficulties with the internship. Since Lakum Duckum would not work well, I had to figure out where I should go next with the internship so I contacted Amy. We met and decided that my next steps would be to contact Judy Johnson and find out if her Backyard Stream Team knew of the presence of turtles in their demonstration stream section of Garrison Creek near Fort Walla Walla. I contacted her and she had no information on turtles but she pointed me in the direction of 2 scientists who could help. I had trouble contacting them and so that ended up as a dead-end. I recommend the next intern to try again. The Park Service in Walla Walla also had no information. I also tried to get together with Jeanne to determine if areas in Walla Walla showed signs of turtles, or if there were areas that could be improved to allow for turtles. This also, did not materialize and I was not able to schedule time to include this trip.

In the future I would recommend that the next step be to create a homeowner education and add to community knowledge of turtles in the area. This could be done with the help of the Backyard Stream Team. Another possibility would be to create an introduction plan for another area in Walla Walla. I could not find information, but studies about previous introductions, of other turtles would be interesting to find out if Western Painted Turtles are adaptable to urban situations. There is the possibility, however small, that Lakum Duckum may be an okay habitat despite the size limits and location if the species is adaptable? More studies would have to be conducted.

There is a lot more to be done in another internship. Despite my frustrations, I have covered the basic ground work and information so that I new intern can take over and begin taking action and making progress. The next internship will be much more hands-on and less research intensive. It should be exciting!