Want a pet turtle? Call city of Sacramento

Red-Eared Slider turtles sun themselves in the water beside a duck at McKinley Park in Sacramento on Friday, March 19, 2010.
Red-Eared Slider turtles sun themselves in the water beside a duck at McKinley Park in Sacramento on Friday, March 19, 2010. RBenton@sacbee.com

Anyone thinking about getting a pet turtle will soon have a new place to go – the city of Sacramento.

As part of pond renovations beginning in July, red-eared slider turtles living in McKinley Park Pond and Boat Lake Pond in William Land Park will have to be removed. Because the turtles are not native to California, it’s illegal for the city to return them to the water. After some residents raised concerns about their fate, City Council members assured the public on Tuesday that the turtles would not be euthanized.

So starting in July, “we’re in the business of adopt-a-turtle,” Councilman Jeff Harris said. “If you want a red-eared slider, we can probably fix you up.” People interested in a turtle can call the city at 311.

The council on Tuesday boosted the funding for the pond renovation projects and authorized staff to move forward with contractors.

Construction won’t begin until July, however, because the waterfowl in the lake need to complete their nesting cycles. The ponds are home to wood ducks, mallards and Canada geese.

“We’re not going to just set a date and do it,” Harris said. “We’re going to pay attention to the fledglings and make sure that anybody who needs to learn how to fly will be OK.”

The turtles require a different approach. Hillary White, a wildlife ecologist with H.T. Harvey & Associates, said the company is working on identifying rehabilitators, educators, rescue groups and aspiring pet owners to find homes for the turtles who ended up in the ponds either as abandoned pets or the offspring of abandoned pets.

“It’s a common problem throughout the Western United States that people get rid of their pets because they traditionally live very long,” she said. “It’s hard for people to keep a pet for very long.”

Red-eared sliders live about 30 years in the wild. White said they’re prolific animals as well, so once a few are introduced the population grows steadily. She estimated there are about 47 in McKinley Park pond and a smaller number in the Boat Lake pond.

Harris said the city will work with turtle rescue groups like the Sacramento Turtle and Tortoise Club to help find the turtles homes.

Judy McClaver, who serves on the city’s Pond Advisory Committee, said by her count, there are about 90 turtles in the pond at McKinley Park. She said she’s glad the city is going to do some work on the pond, but she remains worried about the disrupted life cycles of the animals who live there.

Councilman Steve Hansen said he began the renovation process with Harris’ predecessor Steve Cohn several years ago. The city first commissioned an assessment of the ponds in 2013. In July 2014, the council approved funding and created the Pond Advisory Committee, which had to include a wildlife biologist. Between the establishment of the committee in August 2014 and September 2015, the city hired Pacific Aquascape to design and reconstruct the ponds and H.T. Harvey Associates as experts in biological systems.

“It’s been a lot more work than I think we anticipated,” Hansen said. “While we’re talking about turtles at the moment and depths and other things, it really is a massive project.”

Pacific Aquascape will need to drain the ponds, dredge out sludge caused primarily by waterfowl droppings, and deepen the bottoms. A staff report estimates construction will take three to five months.

Cory Severson, president of Pacific Aquascape, said McKinley pond will be deepened from a little more than 3 feet to 9 feet and the proposal for Boat Lake Pond is similar. Deepening the ponds will help prevent algae and bacteria build-up from the waterfowl droppings. Both ponds will include a ledge 18 inches below the surface around the edge to ensure the safety of children playing around on the banks.

Combined, the projects will cost $971,537. A portion of the money will come from Measure U Park Improvement funds.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison