An endangered western pond turtle awaits its release back into the wild Thursday at a refuge area in Lakewood, Pierce County.

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An endangered western pond turtle awaits its release back into the wild Thursday at a refuge area in Lakewood, Pierce County.

It was one of 26 of the 10-month-old reptiles released there and at an area in Mason County by the Woodland Park Zoo and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Under the multistate Western Pond Turtle Recovery Project, the turtles were collected as tiny hatchlings and brought up at the zoo until they weighed about 2 ounces each.

Once common from Mexico to Puget Sound, western pond turtles were nearly wiped out by habitat loss, disease and nonnative predators such as bass and bullfrogs.

In 1990, there were only 150 of the turtles in Washington. So far, the recovery project has helped increase the population in Washington to about 1,400.