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Why did the turtle cross the road?

Scientists are asking people to be on the lookout for turtles crossing roads, bike paths and trails.

The turtles haven’t gotten lost from their aquatic homes. Instead, female turtles are searching for suitable nesting grounds to lay their eggs from May through July, according to Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife biologists.

“It’s not uncommon to see female turtles on land at this time of year as they leave the water to lay their eggs,” said Susan Barnes, ODFW biologist for northwest Oregon. “If you see a turtle on land, the best thing to do is let it continue on its path. Don’t try to return it to water.”

If it’s safe to do so, you can move a turtle off a road or trail to save it from being hit. Put it on the other side, pointed in the same direction it was headed, biologists said.

“Our native turtles are in decline, so anything we can do to help makes a difference,” said Barnes, who co-chairs the Oregon Native Turtle Working Group, which works to conserve Oregon turtles year-round.

The public can also aid turtles by reporting sightings on the Oregon Native Turtle Working Group website at oregonturtles.com.

The website will ask you to list information like the location, number of turtles spotted and species. You can even upload a photo and describe any action you took to help a turtle in distress.

The website includes a species guide to help you recognize whether the turtle you saw was a Western painted turtle or a Western pond turtle — two species native to Oregon — or an invasive red-eared slider or invasive common snapping turtle.

Turtle sightings can also be reported via the mobile apps iNaturalist and HerpMapper.

“This helps us identify the locations of our native turtles as well as invasive turtles that we may try and remove,” Barnes said.

Turtle sightings also help ODFW and their native turtle conservation partners decide where to conduct visual surveys for turtles to collect more information at a particular location.

The Western painted turtle and Western pond turtle are Oregon’s only native turtles. Both are protected by state law. It is illegal to take them from the wild and to keep them as pets, ODFW said.

Found mainly in Northern Oregon, the Western painted turtle has green or yellow lines marking its head and legs.

Western pond turtles have dark brown to olive legs, heads and shells. They’re found in the Rogue, Umpqua, Klamath and Willamette river drainages.

Oregon’s native turtles have declined due to habitat loss, degradation of nesting areas by invasive plants, illegal collection, disease and competition from non-native turtles, biologists said.

It is illegal to buy, sell, possess or release non-native turtles in Oregon.

If you are in possession of a non-native turtle in Jackson County, call ODFW’s Central Point office at 541-826-8774 for guidance.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

People can help native Oregon turtles, like this Western pond turtle, which are on the move this time of year.{ } Photo courtesy Oregon Zoo