Outdoors: Snapping turtle captured in Harrisburg

Wildlife officials captured a 25-pound snapping turtle found wandering through a Harrisburg pasture on Apr. 28.

The invasive species, which poses a threat to native fish and wildlife habitats, not to mention human hands and feet, was a product of illegal turtle trafficking, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a release.

Snapping turtles have powerful jaws and may aggressively bite when threatened. Their sharp beaks may remove chunks of skin, according to ODFW Assistant District Biologist Marianne Brooks.

Brooks measured the male American snapping turtle found in Harrisburg at 14 inches wide and 20 inches long, and likely more than 30 years old.

“This turtle had a head the size of a baseball, and a neck he could extend at least 10 inches from his shell,” Brooks said,

“You wouldn’t want to run into something like this if you were out fishing. You definitely wouldn’t want your dog to find it.”

It is against the law to purchase, possess, transport or release snapping turtles without a special license in Oregon. Non-native turtles thrive in Oregon waterways and easily out-compete native turtles. They arrive, as this one did, through illegal wildlife trafficking channels.

Turtles are among the most widely trafficked animals across the globe.


Oregon’s native northwestern pond turtle and western painted turtle populations are necessary parts of a healthy ecosystem, according to ODFW. They clean the environment by scavenging dead fish and other wildlife. Their eggs and hatchlings can be a food source for native wildlife. And their longevity means they are productive year after year.

Populations of native northwestern pond turtles and western painted turtles dwindle upon release of non-native species like red-eared sliders and snapping turtles, which compromises native habitats and ecosystems, and compete for basking areas and hideaways.

Releasing invasive species into native wetlands is one method of habitat destruction for which subjects can be criminally cited, according to officials. And the trafficking goes both ways when poachers steal native turtles and sell them online to buyers across the country and across the globe.

Last summer, ODFW biologist Chris Yee, who monitors turtle nesting in Eugene, discovered someone had dug up two northwestern pond turtle nests. The thieves took six hatchlings from one nest and eight from the other.

This 25-pound snapping turtle was found in a field in Harrisburg in April.

Yee, who found the empty eggshells scattered in the nest the following day, thinks the quarter-sized hatchlings were trafficked into the pet trade. Wildlife traffickers trade money for the future of the species when they move the shelled reptiles, also known as herps, from pond to pet trade. The crime is considered poaching.

Turtle theft is an ongoing problem in Eugene. In response, Yee fenced off an area for the turtle nesting and posted signs warning the public not to disturb the sites. He even staged cameras to monitor the area. But then someone cut the fence to steal the cameras, causing about $2,000 in damage and loss for the program.

Herps are easy to capture, sell online and then ship. Buyers most likely think their purchase is legal, and sending a hatchling as a gift has become popular in a world in which everything is available online.

A recent case tried in New York revealed smugglers transporting turtles between China and the U.S., where buyers paid hundreds of dollars for turtles as exotic pets or extravagant meals.

Not all illegal turtle trafficking is overtly sinister. In Oregon backyards and bedrooms, turtles live in tanks as pets. But the typical lifespan of a turtle is at least 25 years, and many live for more than 50. Eventually, owners who become disenchanted with their pets may attempt to sell, re-home or release them.

That’s when wildlife and law enforcement officials become involved.

Wildlife trafficking and poaching go hand-in-hand, according to ODFW Stop Poaching campaign coordinator, Yvonne Shaw.

“Wildlife trafficking, whether involving live animals or animal parts, is human behavior that hopefully we can change by raising awareness,” she said, “Fish and wildlife already must contend with climate change and reductions in habitat.”

The Stop Poaching Campaign educates the public on how to recognize and report poaching.

For more information, contact campaign coordinator Yvonne Shaw at [email protected].

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ODFW recently concluded an investigation into a fish kill at Cole Rivers Hatchery in Trail.

The incident led to the loss of steelhead that contribute to fisheries in the Rogue and Coos rivers. The loss was caused by human error at ODFW and compounded by infrastructure issues making it difficult to isolate risk.

Rogue summer steelhead: The 2024 “half-pounder” fishery and the 2025 adult fishery will be affected because all sac fry for Rogue summer steelhead were lost.

Some of the lost fishing opportunities in the Rogue will be abated because 82,000 summer steelhead smolts were held back in 2022 and will be released in April 2024. A portion of these fish will return after a short time in the ocean as “half-pounders” and will contribute to the 2024 fishery.

Catch-and-release for wild summer steelhead half-pounders and adults will continue. Hatchery adults returning from other release years will also provide some opportunities in 2025.

Coos winter steelhead: A significant portion of the Coos winter steelhead fry on hand were lost and the 2025-26 fisheries will be affected. We expect to release about half of production goal (62,500 smolts) in April 2024.

Most of these hatchery steelhead will return in the winter of 2025-2026, depending on ocean survival. A small number of hatchery steelhead from the previous brood year could contribute to that fishery. Anglers can continue to catch and release wild adult steelhead.

Operational response: ODFW is reviewing protocols to prevent future operational errors. ODFW and federal partners are also working closely to address infrastructure issues stressing production capabilities.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers directed additional resources towards the hatchery and Oregon’s congressional delegation, led by Senators Merkley and Wyden have secured funding to fix the power supply and begin work on the water supply.

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