Endangered turtles to get home in Columbia Gorge

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PORTLAND — A group of western pond turtles raised at the Oregon Zoo will be released into the Columbia River Gorge next week, according to wildlife and zoo officials.

The release is part of the Western Pond Turtle Recovery Plan, started in 1991 by Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Oregon Zoo joined as a collaborator in 2000.

Next week’s release will place nine of the endangered turtles in the wild, 11 months after they were brought to the Oregon Zoo to be raised in safety. Allowing them to grow before putting them back into the wild improves their chances of survival, according to wildlife officials. Prolonged simulated summer conditions allow the turtles to experience three years’ growth in less than one year.

Young volunteers from the Skamania County Forest Youth Success program, the Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School in Salem, Ore., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Youth Conservation Corps and the Zoo Animal Presenters program from the Oregon Zoo will help release the turtles.

Scientists have estimated a 95 percent survival rate on turtles released through the program, according to the Oregon Zoo.