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Valley Perspective

Trudging Back in Topanga

March 15, 1998

Despite all we humans do to pave, plow and dominate, nature has a way of springing back in unusual and surprising ways. That's what residents of Topanga Canyon have found. Four years after wildfires swept a path from Calabasas to the ocean, a virtually extinct species of turtle has slowly crept back to the creeks and ponds where once it was quite common.

The western pond turtle, on the state's list of most threatened species, has been popping up along a stretch of Old Topanga Road, prompting residents to pitch in and buy signs warning motorists of the slow-moving creatures. Some speculate the turtles hang out in a Topanga pond, the location of which is kept secret to prevent the curious from messing the place up and hurting the turtles.

Residents suspect the wildfires changed the dynamics of the pond and made it a more friendly place for the turtles to breed and grow. As silt washed down from the barren hillsides, the pond shrank and gave way to sandy banks--just the kind of place the turtles need to lay eggs. Plus, the murky water is filled with debris--perfect for hiding from predators.

No one is ready to announce the rebirth of a species. The numbers remain small and the turtle's situation is as precarious as ever. But the idea that a humble, homely little creature can buck the odds and pull away from the brink reminds us of how complex and curious nature's web is.

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