Archive for the ‘Michael Paccassi’ Category

by Michael Paccassi

western pond turtle on log in Lake Lagunitas

Western pond turtle in Lake Lagunitas (Photo courtesy of Sami Kreling)

As California’s only native freshwater turtle, the western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) isn’t really getting all the attention it deserves. This unique and charismatic creature is listed as a vulnerable species in California, making it only one step away from joining the far-too-massive list of endangered species. Although the western pond turtle’s native habitat extends from northwestern Washington down to northern Baja California, habitat fragmentation, human catch, pollution and non-native turtle introduction are increasingly causing them to disappear.

In case you were unaware, many western pond turtles also call MMWD’s Mt. Tamalpais Watershed their home. In fact, each spring you can go out to one of a few specific locations on the reservoirs and witness dozens of turtles basking in the sun. Aided with a pair of trusty binoculars, one might notice a plethora of exotic turtles as well, including sliders, cooters and others. These non-native species are not merely living harmoniously with the western pond turtles, but rather outcompeting and, according to data, now greatly outnumbering them on our watershed. How did the non-native turtles get here in the first place you ask? Pet release, of course! Free Speedy and never look back.

For years MMWD has been training volunteer turtle observers to help educate the public and monitor the status of the western pond turtle on the watershed. The goal is to utilize volunteers as citizen-scientists in helping us keep an inventory of the turtle populations on the watershed, and to educate the public on the dangers of exotic species release. This year I trained 60 new turtle observers in turtle biology, species identification and observation skills. Forty-five of these volunteers actively participated throughout the duration of the program along with three returnees. Needless to say, the turtles were shown a lot of love from volunteers this year.

Unfortunately, the results of this year’s program paint a concerning picture about the status of non-native turtles on the watershed (see graph below). While it seems that western pond turtle (AM) populations are relatively stable (excluding 2012, which had low volunteer participation and high “unknown” turtle observations), non-native (NN) turtle populations seem to have sky-rocketed. The 2013 data also show that non-native turtle populations are nearly twice the size of western pond turtle populations on the watershed. A consistently growing non-native turtle population can only mean less food, shelter and habitat for the native western pond turtle.

Turtle native and non-native species count

(Click on graph to view full size)

non-native and western pond turtle

Non-native and western pond turtle (Photo courtesy of Sami Kreling)

It seems obvious that we have a problem on our hands, but what can we do about it? First of all, we need volunteers like you to help us continue monitoring and educating the public for years to come. Were it not for the benevolence of hard-working volunteers wanting to make a difference, we might not even know just how urgent the need for action is. Furthermore, turtle trapping (which was not done in 2013 and only cursorily done in 2012) should be, and hopefully will be, continued if we wish to keep non-native populations in check.

Stay tuned for the full 2013 Turtle Observer Report which will be available to read online. Also, be on the lookout for information about the next turtle observer training happening sometime next spring! TURTLE POWER!

Read Full Post »

by Michael Paccassi and Ariana Chiapella

San Geronimo Salmon Habitat Enhancement Project flyer

Click the image above to view the event flier

As AmeriCorps members with the Watershed Stewards Project, we have had the unique opportunity to work with MMWD biologists in helping to protect, monitor and educate the public about the importance of salmonids like the coho salmon and steelhead trout. Though we aren’t all given the opportunity to work so closely with these beautiful and unique fish, as members of the community and stewards of the land we all share the responsibility of ensuring the survival and well-being of these endangered and threatened species.

Guess what? You’re in luck, because we’ve organized an event that will provide the community of Marin with the opportunity to do just that!

MMWD and the Watershed Stewards Project want to welcome you to a special riparian habitat enhancement project happening along the San Geronimo Creek. Come out and join us this Saturday, June 29, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. to show your support for the salmon you all know and love!

To encourage habitat recovery and reduce stream bank erosion, we will be removing non-native and invasive plant species along a section of the San Geronimo Creek. We also will be replanting with native California plant species and using tree shelters to encourage the growth of larger trees to provide shade and habitat for our finned friends in the creek.

We will meet a little before 9:00 a.m. across from the Two Bird Cafe at 625 San Geronimo Valley in San Geronimo. All ages are welcome, so please bring the whole family. Tools, water, snacks and lunch will be provided. All you need to bring is a pair of sturdy boots, some sun protection, a reusable water bottle and your enthusiastic, hard-working self.

To pre-register or for more information about this unique opportunity, contact us at volunteerprogram@marinwater.org or (415) 945-1188.

We look forward to seeing you out there!

Read Full Post »