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Q&A: Why your help is needed when sea turtles wash ashore on Pacific NW beaches

By Laura Todd
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist based in Newport, Oregon.

A sea turtle washed up on an Oregon beach late last month and many of you responded to our Facebook plea for help to find the turtle. Almost 10,000 of you shared our post and asked others to help find the hypothermic turtle that was returned to the ocean by good-intentioned passers-by. Thank you for helping search for this turtle.

The turtle has not been found, and we can only hope for the best.


This sea turtle, which washed ashore on an Oregon beach, was likely suffering from hypothermia. Photo provided by USFWS.

However, many excellent questions came up through our social media posts. Here are some of the questions and answers.

Question: Why did this happen if the turtle is a warm-water turtle? Did it take a wrong turn?

Answer: Many species of sea turtles occur throughout the Pacific Ocean, including the relatively cold waters of Oregon and Washington coasts. Some sea turtles even occur in Alaska!  Our coastal waters are highly productive and provide excellent food resources.  However, sea

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Multilingual Monday: Listening to the Birds on Labor Day

imagePhoto: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Credit: George Gentry/USFWS


Ahh, Labor Day, when many of us get the opportunity to relax and celebrate what makes our country great. Diversity is certainly something America can be proud of and in our many languages and cultures, animals and their behaviors are often romanticized and then passed down through song and poetry. Take this children’s song about a little bird which can be represented by the Yellow-rumped Warbler. The birds’ diminutive size (4.7-5.5 inches) betrays their long migration from their wintering lands in Mexico to their summer lands in Canada thus, giving way to their story being told in many tongues. Read this story in Spanish on our new Tumblr page and go listen to some birds! 

For more information on migratory birds, check out our website:

Bull trout: Apex predator fights for future in cold, clean Western waterways

Bull trout are the apex predator in the cold, clear waters of the western United States. They’re legendary with anglers and hold great importance to many Native American tribes.

There was a time when bull trout were wildly abundant in the six western states of Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho and Montana.

Unfortunately, that is not the case today.


Once found in about 60 percent of the Columbia River Basin, today bull trout occur in less than half of their historic range, with scattered populations remaining in portions of Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho and Montana. In the Klamath River Basin, bull trout occur in an even lower percent of their historic range. They no longer exist in California. The Service listed them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999.

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Cold-blooded reptile smugglers feel the heat: Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Agents break up international animal trafficking ring

Nathaniel Swanson thought that he had it all figured out. His Everett, Washington reptile store provided the perfect cover. His contacts in China were trustworthy and reliable. His customers were discreet. He had a system, a ring of effective black market animal traffickers that brought him hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal profit. But one moment of laziness on the part of his Hong Kong partners, one alert delivery service package handler, and timely intervention by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s special agents brought his ring down. His illegal wildlife trafficking activities cost him a year of time in prison and tens of thousands of dollars in fines and penalties.  

Wood turtles, threatened in the United States, were among the reptiles sent to China by Swanson’s smuggling ring. Credit: Colin Osborn/USFWS

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More than removing fences: Friends of Nevada Wilderness


A friend holding up some recently removed barbed wire fencing at Sheldon NWR. Photo credit: Aaron Collins/USFWS

Since 2003, the Friends of Nevada Wilderness removed nearly 200 miles of barbed wire from Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. The fence was abandoned livestock fence that was never removed, though livestock are no longer allowed on the refuge. They’ve also removed several tons of abandoned water trough and other refuse!

The Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge protects more than half a million acres of high desert habitat for large wintering herds of pronghorn antelope, scattered bands of bighorn sheep, and a rich assortment of other wildlife.


Mule deer are one of the many species, including pronghorn antelope and greater sage grouse, that depend on Sheldon NWR. Photo credit: Megan Nagel/USFWS

The landscape is vast, rugged, and punctuated with waterfalls, narrow gorges, and lush springs among rolling hills and expansive tablelands of sagebrush and mountain mahogany. Elevations on the refuge range from 4,100 to 7,200 feet. Annual precipitation rarely amounts to more than a dozen inches, creating a harsh environment where a wide variety of wildlife manages to thrive.


A friend coiling up barbed wire fencing left behind, before this land became a refuge. Photo credit: Aaron Collins/USFWS

The Friends are a vital part of the refuge and protecting this special place. They have assisted the Service in making noticeable and important strides toward restoring, protecting, and preserving wilderness values in one of the largest intact areas of native sagebrush habitat in the Great Basin.

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Summer School for Teachers

Aren’t teachers supposed to have the summer off?  Well, that is not the case for Dr. Healani Chang, a faculty member of the University of Hawaiʻi, Mänoa Campus, who spent her summer reaching out to teens and working hand in hand with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   Dr. Chang was awarded one of the Service’s Faculty Fellowships, partnering with the National Wildlife Refuge System and the local Hawaiʻian community to engage, teach and practice “Hana Kupono” or Hawaiian etiquette. 


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Where in the World is the Deputy Regional Director?

Deputy Regional Director for the Pacific Region Richard Hannan spent five days at work in the wilds of Saskatchewan, Canada, banding migratory waterfowl traveling south along the Central and Mississippi Flyway. Working with the Canadian Wildlife Service, other partners, and volunteers, they banded birds with a strip of plastic or metal placed around a leg. The information collected from these banded bird will be used to inform and coordinate conservation and waterfowl management in the flyway. The Central and Mississippi Flyways are two of four (including the Pacific and Atlantic) that extends south from Alaska and Canada all the way across the North American continent, including Mexico. Many species fly all the way to South America! Working with our international partners is an important part of the Service’s work to conserve migratory birds.

Deputy Regional Director Hannan kept a daily journal of his experiences while in Canada. The work of banding birds isn’t glamorous – mud, insects, heat and waterlogged boots are just some of the hazards involved. But those hazards don’t stop Service employees and volunteers from getting this important work done for bird species.

Read on for Deputy Regional Director Hannan’s daily account of what he calls his “dream assignment.”


Deputy Regional Director Richard Hannan, decked out in hip waders to trap and band ducks in Canada, calls this field work opportunity a “dream assignment.” In his hands is a blue-winged teal. Credit: USFWS

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Clean boating made easier in Pasco

New pump-out service at the Columbia Marine Center protects people, water, wildlife

Boating just got cleaner and easier for the growing fleet of fishermen, duck hunters, and pleasure boaters on  the Columbia, Snake and Yakima Rivers in Eastern Washington. With grants provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Washington is improving water quality at the Columbia Marine Center by installing its first-ever pump-out station in Pasco’s Slagel Park to remove sewage from onboard holding tanks for proper treatment and disposal.image

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A Dam Crack’d: How the Fractured Wanapum Spillway Brought Us Together

By: Stephen Lewis, Hydropower and Energy Coordinator/USFWS

Fall Chinook are one of the five species of salmon in the water system impacted by the Wanapum Dam. Photo credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

I’ve seen many interesting things during my nearly 15 year career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but as I travelled back from visiting Wanapum Dam for an assessment of a cracked spillway pier, I thought to myself, “How does a crack in such a large dam go undetected for so many years; and how could this happen, since Wanapum consists of so many thousands of yards of concrete?”  Did somebody forget to carry the one, when calculating how much concrete was needed during the original construction of this dam?

On February 28, 2014 Grant Public Utility District personnel, the owner and operator of the Priest Rapids Hydroelectric Project (including Wanapum Dam),  discovered a 75-foot long, 2-inch wide crack in one of the spillway piers at Wanapum Dam (Figure 1).  I know what you’re thinking!  Could the dam breach in this scenario??  Well, the answer is no, since Grant PUD took immediate action and vastly reduced the water pressure behind the dam by lowing the water elevation in the reservoir.  Reducing the water pressure actually closed the crack significantly.  This type of drastic action is not good for hydroelectric production at Wanapum Dam, especially if you want your lights to come on at your home. 

As a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who works on passing fish upstream through hydroelectric projects, my attention turned quickly to assessing whether or not fish can still pass upstream through this maize of concrete infrastructure at Wanapum Dam to the next upstream hydroelectric facility.  It turns out that reducing the water elevation in the reservoir behind Wanapum Dam leaves the fishway exits for adult migrating fish high and dry.    This means fish could enter the downstream side of the fishway, but would encounter a precipitous drop into the Wanapum Reservoir (Figure 2).  The solution became very complex, especially when record numbers of salmon on their way to their natal tributaries above Wanapum Dam are quickly approaching.   You would think that the Grant Public Utility District could simply fix the crack in a short amount of time and raise the reservoir elevation back to its original level, right?  Not so!  The Grant Public Utility District, in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other resource agencies, and associated tribes needed to think of a clever solution in a short amount of time.

Figure 1.  Location of Wanapum Dam crack at spillway 4 shown at normal water elevation.  Photo credit:  Grant County PUD

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“Play, Learn, Serve, Work”: Lessons in Dedication and Dissection From a Young Volunteer

After two years of participation as a Youth Fisheries Academy camper, Lydia Lawrence expressed interest in volunteering for this U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service educational program (description at the conclusion).  We were impressed by her motivation, commitment and enthusiasm, so we signed Lydia on (with parental consent) to serve as an instructor’s aid for the Fish Anatomy & Physiology learning station.  Her role was to assist the educational instructor with station set-up, instruction and break-down.  Lydia did a great job and love getting hands wet (and slimy) with the coho salmon dissection demonstrations as well as assisting campers with their individual dissections of rainbow trout (all hatchery specimens).  Lydia’s experience is a perfect example of the Department of Interior’s “Play, Learn, Serve, Work” youth initiative in action.  Perhaps she will become a Service employee one day….  The following is her story.


Photo: Lydia concentrates as she removes and inspects a lens from a fish eye. Credit: Loretta Brown

This summer I was a volunteer for the Youth Fisheries Academy camp. The day before camp I went in to the lab to practice dissection. I met one of the people I would be working with, Alex, and he showed me what he was working on: seeing what fish ate. Then I started the dissection. At first we talked about what is on the outside of the fish slime, scales, fins and what they do and are called.   Then we cut open the fish and dissected the fish. We talked about the parts inside the fish and let me tell you something: It was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!! 


The next day was fun too. I helped setup the stuff for dissection (above photo), geo-cashing, and such.  We then met the campers and dissected the first fish.  There was this annoying little wasp flying around and it bothered me and the campers, so we all stood away from the table.  A few minutes later the wasp flew in my direction so I speed walked to the other side and doing so said “meh” and we all laughed. Then it was lunch time and my hands smelled really bad. We ate and worked out a new plan. We then had a new group and the new group laughed when Alex did his weird dance (demonstrating how fish use their fins to steer themselves). Then when he was describing the slime he said, “Booger like stuff” I laughed and so did the campers. Then that was the end of that day, one day down two to go. 

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