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Each spring, a fresh bid to save wildlife

It's a time when some protected species are returned to the wild. Not all efforts have the same success.

A red-bellied cooter sits on a rock, apparently unwilling to take the plunge into Assawompset Pond. "Hey, what's the matter, kid?" prods biologist Richard Turner of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Retrieved from the wild last summer as a hatchling, the turtle - listed as an endangered species - spent the winter in a predator-free, food-stocked institutional environment.

It's the 20th spring such "headstarted" turtles have been released - part of a government effort to save them from extinction - and just one of many wildlife restoration projects across the country entering its toughest stage: survival in the wild.

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The red-bellied cooter program, carried out in forested coastal pond habitats that the turtles require, has increased the adult population from 350 in 1984 to about 2,000 today.

At the other end of Massachusetts, a culvert under a road is being retrofitted so that Atlantic salmon, dusky salamanders, and other wildlife that travel up and down Tower Brook can pass through. The brook feeds into the Connecticut, New England's largest river.

A coalition of government and nonprofit groups has been working with the hydroelectric industry to restore the river. Atlantic salmon were wiped out on the Connecticut at the turn of the 19th century, primarily by dam construction.

Critics cite the small return on the millions spent since the project began in 1960. A paltry number - 158 so far this year - of the 5 million to 7 million salmon fry released in the Connecticut's tributaries each spring return to spawn. Proponents emphasize the overall nature of the program - that by ensuring passage for salmon upstream, the path is cleared for other wildlife as well.

As for Mr. Turner's turtle, it finally entered the pond. Unlike the low probability of survival for salmon fry, headstarting has increased the turtle's likelihood of reaching maturity from 0.5 percent to 80 percent.