So long Klamath Falls

The last two days of my internship I got to assist with the Bureau of Reclamation’s efforts in salvaging fish from the A canal on the Link River that occurs annually. Fish were herded with a seine net to one end of the fish screen, netted and placed in a large bin. The bin was then hoisted up and sent to a make shift table in which we sorted through the fish. Through the mayhem of fish we had to locate and remove all suckers. The majority of fish being Blue or Tui chubs. Once you got a search image down, locating them became much easier. Overall I estimate we sorted through over 500,00 fish. Suckers were placed into a holding tank to then be processed. They were measured, some clipped for DNA and PIT tagged. They were then released in a spring fed stream that connects back to Upper Klamath Lake. More suckers were found than was expected, last year only 123 fish were caught, this year was over 300.


Fish being hoisted up out of the pit.


So many fish!


Julie Day (USFWS, Fish Biologist) and Bureau of Reclamation Staff sorting through fish.

It has been a great experience working at the US Fish and Wildlife Office in Klamath Falls, Oregon. I’m leaving with a more robust knowledge of fish biology and ecology plus a slew of new skills. With MOCC (Motor operator certification course) training standing out the most. Being able to use that knowledge and apply it to the rearing of an endangered species was extremely rewarding. But I’ve also learned a great deal more about the endangered species act (ESA), in its implementation and impact. And being a part of data collection for a biological opinion, which is a major component of the ESA. I’ve also learned the importance first hand of cooperation with other government agencies and NGO’ s in conservation.


Me, Erica and Nic, looking awesome in waders.

I will definitely miss working here in Klamath; I was able to work with some really great and inspiring people who I hope to keep in touch with. I am gearing up for a bunch of traveling. I’m headed to Seattle first, then Maryland, Vermont, New York and perhaps a trip to Ethiopia (fingers crossed). And after all that traveling I hope to continue a career in wildlife biology and conservation.



We spent a day assisting USGS with their efforts out on Clear Lake in California. For several years they have trapped and PIT tagged adult suckers in the lake. The lake is a natural freshwater lake, but was dammed at its outlet in 1914 to increase its capacity. Around the lake cattle graze and it was a historical site used by the native tribes of the area. USGS puts out trammel nets, which are long nets that layout and act similar to mist nets, that are used to trap birds. When a fish swims into the net it creates a pocket and gets trapped. We placed seven nets and set them for 2 hours. For the day our boat caught over 70 fish, another boat caught over 100. Most fish caught were adult Shortnose suckers, we only caught about 4 Lost River. Each fish was measured, scanned for a previous tag, and if one was not found, was then PIT tagged. It was my first time handling adult suckers, work all summer has only dealt with juveniles.


Measuring fish out on Clear Lake


Lost River Sucker

Threemile creek is about an hour north of Klamath Falls and a few years ago Bull trout was found in the stream. Bull trout are a listed threatened species and are a char in the Salmonidae family. Since its discovery in the stream, efforts to remove Brown trout, an introduced species from Europe, started. Brown trout compete with the threatened Bull trout for resources. They were manually removed from the stream at first. Then electroshocking was used, and finally a chemical treatment to ensure no fish remained. We assisted with one last effort of electroshocking before the placement of large woody debris. These downed tress would be helicoptered in to create fish habitat, such as pools, and eventually level out the stream. Barriers were placed downstream to prevent brown trout from traveling back upstream. Once the woody debris is placed the hope is bull trout will then recolonize from upstream.


Electrofishing Threemile Creek

We spent a few days in the Gerber reservoir area searching pools for juvenile suckers. We used electroshocking to catch the fish and collect genetic samples. A small clip of a pectoral fin was enough to test for DNA.

My internship is wrapping up shortly with only a little over a week left. But there’s plenty more fieldwork planned before I leave.

Ending of a season and Marmots!

Work at the fish evaluation station came to an early close at the beginning of September. The number of suckers being caught at the station made a dramatic decrease, so it was decided to stop our efforts. The peak in their numbers must have happened earlier in the season. Now we’ve begun our final reports on the project, with mine focusing on the recirculation aspect.

Research down at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge has also continued with water quality measurements, trapping of predator fish, and other predator surveys. So far we’ve mainly caught fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) and Sacramento perch (Archoplites interruptus).  These pose threats to suckers by either being predators to young fish or competitors. These fish end up in the ponds from the water being supplied from other sources, such as Tule Lake. We did get a surprise in our traps, two suckers.  They were placed in the ponds last winter from salvage operations. It was exciting to see that they had survived.  Both still had their PIT tags, making them easy to identify. Some larval suckers that were raised in captivity were placed in net pens down at the ponds as well. These will serve as experimental fish and answer questions such as growth rates and parasite loads. While visiting the ponds we also continued trapping at  Tule Lake for suckers released last year.


One of the suckers caught at the LKNWR ponds.

At the beginning of September I was able to get some time off to travel up to Olympic National Park for a week. There I got the opportunity to volunteer for the park on their Olympic marmot surveys.


Moose Lake

The Olympic marmot (Marmota olympus) is endemic to the park. They inhabit isolated sub-alpine and alpine meadows, or on montane scree slopes. They are a burrowing species and live in colonies. Spending most of their lives in hibernation, from about September to May. While hiking, you’re most likely to hear them “whistle,” which is actually more of a scream and is a warning to other marmots about predators. The population has suffered a huge decline, which has since stabilized but is still of concern. The project was started in 2010 and aimed to estimate population numbers. This was the last year of surveying before the data collected will be accessed by the parks wildlife biologist. Hopefully this data will reveal whether management actions might be necessary.


Marmot laying out and relaxing.

In order to survey we had to backpack into a remote part of the park and setup base camp. Our camp was at Moose Lake (even though there are no moose to be found in the park) in the Grand Valley just below Grand Pass.  From there our day hikes traversed most of the valley and parts on the other side of the ridges. Some of the surveys required off trail hiking on some steep slopes.  Marmots sure don’t make it easy to get to their burrows.  Overall it was a fantastic trip!


Base camp.


A view from Grand Pass.



Fish work continued

At the end of July we set off for a conference in beautiful Vancouver, BC. The conference was called Compassionate conservation. It was focused on bringing humane practices and ideas to the world of conservation. It had a variety of speakers from different backgrounds and from all over the world. I learned a lot about how we may bring a compassionate view of individuals in a field, which is mainly focused on the species as a whole.


Mt Hood (top left) and Mt Saint Helens (right) view from the flight to Vancouver

Our flight was delayed on the way back to Oregon due to the forest fires, which have sprung up all over the west coast. The smoke was so bad you could not see the airport, and we had to spend an hour circling above until we could land. When we arrived back to work we were made aware that the blue-green algae, a cyanobacteria, in the lake had bloomed and started producing toxins. At certain levels it can become harmful if ingested. So work in certain areas has become limited or we have taken the necessary precautions.

Most of the last month has been spent working on two projects. Both are taking place at the canal fish evaluation station run by the Bureau of Reclamation. The first project is focused on work regarding the requirements of the sucker fish recovery plan. At this canal station, thousands of fish get entrapped and are funneled through back into the lake. Part of the bureau’s job is to trap fish and collect data on any suckers caught. This year is the first year of the project to see if the fish caught can be held onto, kept alive, and then released as part of the captive propagation section of their recovery plan. If this is successful, we’ll see if it’s a viable option to continue in the future. Fish caught were kept in tanks until the end of the week, and then were transported to net pens set up on Pelican Bay. Once the fish are large enough, they will receive a PIT tag and be released.


Canal Fish Evaluation Station

The second project deals with estimating the potential frequency of sucker fish recirculation through the station. Chub and sculpin were used as surrogates for the project. These two species were chosen due to their similar characteristics to suckers and their abundance. Visual implant elastomer (VIE) tags were used to mark the fish. The tag is a colored liquid that goes under the skin, lasts a few months, and can be readily seen under black light. Recaptured fish can then be used to estimate recirculation rates through the station.


Chubs tagged using visual implant elastomers



Saving the fish

Over the past few weeks it has been unusually hot here in Klamath Falls. The worst being 102! So my fellow interns and I decided to spend July 4th on the coast. For a not well-planned trip it turned out amazingly.  We lucked out and found a campsite not too far from the beach. And it was everything we had hoped for, the coast was cool, almost frigid and beautiful.  The small town we were near put on a great fireworks display on the beach.


Cape Blanco


Off the pacific coast scenic byway

Back in Klamath falls, the area is still suffering from a 5 year drought. It was expected that water at the dams would be shut off at some point. Over the July fourth weekend the water was shut off at the Gerber dam. When the water is shut off fish get stranded at the base of the dam, especially larger fish, and if they are not removed will die. The Bureau of Reclamation took on the task of trying to salvage as many fish as possible. We got a chance to go out for a day and help them with their endeavor. They utilized trap nets in the large main pool below the dam and electrofished the smaller pools. Any fish caught were transported to above the dam where there would hopefully be enough water for the summer for them to survive.


Gerber Dam


Erica having fun saving some fish


Unfortunately this catfish didn’t make it

We were especially interested in any sucker fish caught.  All suckers were photographed, measured, weighed, tagged and DNA samples taken. They are tagged with what’s called a pit tag, which is similar to what they use as microchips in dogs.  The tag is placed right in the underbelly, above the anal fins.  A small piece of anal fin was clipped for DNA analysis.


Sucker fish


Pit tagging

The next two weeks we spent trap netting in both Upper Klamath Lake and Tule Lake down in California. We are trying to catch suckers that had been released last year. The first week was disappointing.  We didn’t catch any, but we did catch a variety of other species such as: blue chub, tui chub, fathead minnows, sculpins, perch, pumpkinseeds, black bullheads and rainbow trout. Attempts on Tule Lake were not very successful due to our motor not wanting to start when trying to head back to shore.  We tried to paddle back to the boat launch, but the afternoon winds picked up, so we had to drift to the other edge of the lake and be rescued by our mentor. It was quite a long day.


Chub caught in one of our nets

This last week on Upper Klamath we caught four suckers in a single day, which is a pretty good catch.  This size of sucker is not seen very often and is similar in size to the fish we have in our net pens.


Sucker caught in our trap nets

Over the weekend we finally made it to Crater Lake, which is practically in our backyard. You can hike about a mile down to the water to swim or jump off the cliffs. The water was a spectacular blue and of course freezing cold.


Crater Lake








And the real work begins

Got started surveying the local airport for an endangered flower called Applegate’s Milk-vetch. The airport has the largest population of the flower so its vital to gather data on the population. The airport is proposing an expansion of their taxi way and to do so they must conduct a biological assessment. We worked together with private contractors hired on by the airport to conduct the survey. Surveys were done doing random transects in each area of the airport. With one person walking a transect with a 3 m pole while another walked behind to search and count plants.


Applegate’s Mik-vetch (Astragalus applegatei)

To add to the excitement of surveying, we got to experience F-15 jets take-off, train and land right next to us. The airport is the last base in the U.S. to train F-15 pilots.



There’s plenty of wildlife on the airport as well. Even found a horned larks nest that had survived the mowers.


Baby horned larks

At the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in California, ponds were made to raise sucker fish for 2 years in another strategy to save the species. Before placing young fish into the ponds, traps have been placed to see if any other fish have made it into the ponds, which may be possible from the ponds’ water source. Predator surveys of mammals and piscivorous birds were conducted as well.


Nicki and Erica collecting traps at one of the ponds.

We began building our net pens to raise young sucker fish in for the summer. Construction of the dock took all day, but finally git it pieced together. The dock was then towed out into the bay.


Dock being towed

Then two nets were placed into the dock to hold the fish.


The fish will be raised till about September, then released back into the lake with the hopes of increasing recruitment into the adult population.


View from the dock


First Post

I have never written a blog before so this is all new terrain for me. I am starting my intership at the US Fish and wildlife office in Klamath Falls Oregon, in the Ecological Studies section of the bureau. Klamath Falls is a small town with a population of over 20,000. It is a little over half an hour south of Crater Lake National Park, which I visited a few years ago but had no idea what to expect of Klamath Falls.  I have had plenty of experience living in small towns all over, so I didn’t think it would be a huge shock.  My drive luckily was only about 7 hours from Seattle and I got to drive through the beautifully scenic Cascades. After a stressful and frustrating month or so trying to find housing, my fellow interns and I finally found a place to live in town.  Pheww.



A quick snapshot on my way to Klamath Falls through the Cascades.


My first week at the office was mainly formal training:  computer usage, defensive driving, work safety and electrofishing. Work for the summer will be spent on a variety of different projects. Mainly we will be dealing with two endangered species of fish, the Lost River sucker (Deltistes luxatus) and the shortnose sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris).  Both species are endemic to the Upper Klamath basin and were listed endangered back in 1988. Multiple research projects will be working towards their recoveries, with threats being loss/alteration of habitat, blockage to spawning areas, and over-harvesting.  One project consists of constructing net pens on the Upper Klamth Lake, where young suckers will be housed until they are a bit larger to be released. Another concern of recovery is the negligible amount of recruitment of adult fish. Additionally young suckers will be reared in constructed ponds for the next two years, where they can be closely monitored and knowledge of how best to rear suckers can be gained. This is all in an effort to preemptively help the suckers and their recovery before an even more major population loss or extinction occurs. With our section of the office dealing only with endangered species we will be working with Applegate’s Milk-vetch (Astragalus applegatei). This flowering plant is in the pea family (Fabaceae) and was listed in 1993.  It was believed to have been extinct until it was rediscovered in 1983. There are currently 3 extant populations known. The airport in town has proposed an expansion of one of their runways, which will require a biological assessment of its Applegate’s population before proceeding. The assessment will obtain the location and numbers of each plant, obtain seeds, and try to minimize the impact to the population.


My second week was mainly Motorboat Operator Certification Course (MOCC) with a few days of night work, where we went out to collect larval suckers. Boat training is required since a majority of our work will be on the Upper Klamath Lake. The course consisted of three 8-hour days. The first day was all in class, mainly covering the basics of boating, parts of a boat, safety gear, knots, etc. The second day started out with a pool session. We got to experience the different forms of Personal Flotation Devices (PFD), heat lessening position, and how to rescue someone from the water back into the boat. The rest of the day was spent on the water. We practice with three different types of boats, each boat we would preform different practical tasks. The first one was object recovery and rescue. It entailed throwing PFD IVs, which are the ones you throw to someone after they have fallen overboard. Next was actual rescue of a “person” which was a dummy named OSCAR. Poor Oscar was flung multiple times back into the water to be rescued. Another practice was making a star turn, which is making a turn in a small area. Finally was boat docking, which can be an art in and of itself. And lastly off the boats we were tested in our knot making skills and being able to back a boat trailer, which is not very easy. Overall it was a great experience and I learned an amazing amount about boating. Three days is definitely not enough to learn it all, would take a lifetime. But we got the basics. I was nervous about testing, but passed with flying colors! I can’t wait to get out on our workboat this summer and start work.


A view from the bridge we started netting larval suckers from.

Hopefully better photos to come.

Alia Richardson

CLM Intern

Klamath Falls US Fish and Wildlife