Views of Upper Klamath Lake from atop Moore Mountain.
I floated along a ridgetop trail, dancing over rocks through the mixed juniper forest. A bite in the chilly spring air heightened my senses as I ran. My eyes wandered up from the dirt under my feet to the north, where a massive lake nestled amongst ridges glimmered softly in the low-lying evening sun. A quick turn of the trail revealed a tree-studded urban landscape fading quickly to sprawling farmland in the valley below. The basin was penned in by low-lying mountains, accented by the volcanic cone of Mount Shasta glowing a brilliant golden-white in the distance. As I ran to the summit of Moore Mountain, I had a fantastic vantage point from which to survey the Klamath basin, the area that I would call home for the next six months.
It has now been a month since I moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon and went on that first glorious trail run. It seems to be a trend for CLM interns to note how “time flies,” and I concede that I am experiencing the same phenomenon. My initial impression of the area has also held true: the Klamath Basin is wonderfully beautiful. I was lucky enough to be placed here to work with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Most of my work (and the work of fellow CLM intern Marissa) revolves around two endangered sucker species, though we’ll also dabble in the realms of wolves, bald eagles, butterflies, and frogs. When I am not working, I am usually running up, down, and around all of the fantastic trails accessible from town.
Marissa and James pulling in trammel nets on Lake Ewauna as four pelicans pass by.
Hand-over-hand, Marissa and I pulled in the first of eight 100-meter long trammel nets into the boat. The soaking net comes in haphazardly as we repeatedly stop hauling to pick sticks, rocks, logs, and by-catch out of the net. The sun creeps higher in the sky, eventually surmounting a ridge lying to the west. I wish I could say the warmth of the sun landed on our skin as we basked on the deck of the boat, but aside from our faces it only warmed our waders, jackets, gloves, and hats. It was cold, but we had it easy. Brock and James, from the Bureau of Reclamation, had been out in the sub-freezing temperatures at 5:00am setting the nets. Marissa and I certainly get the quite long end of the proverbial stick on that one. With each net that comes aboard the boat, we continue to release any assortment of blue chubs, brown bullheads, and net-eating logs back into the cold waters of Lake Ewauna. We pull, and the white grid work of net comes shimmering out of the water foot-by-foot. A later we feel more resistance, and up comes a two-foot long dark object. “Sucker!” I yell as Brock hustles over to help remove the endangered fish from the tangle of nylon. The fish is swiftly put in a holding tank, and we resume our constant pulling. The work may be repetitive, but luckily for Marissa and I, Brock and James are superb company. Brock and James teach us about the myriad of water bodies nearby – Upper Klamath Lake, the Link River, the Klamath River, the Williamson River (to name a few)-, the Klamath Reclamation Project, and the biology of the basin. After two hours, our noble team of four arrives back at the dock and we work up our one lone sucker. We process the fish and note length, sex, presence of parasites or lesions, and tag it with a PIT tag before moving the sucker into a waiting transportation tank. With any luck, this old fish will successfully reproduce after being released north of Lake Ewauna into the breeding grounds of the Williamson River.
Marissa and I processing juvenile fish at “Gone Fishing,” the Fish and Wildlife Service’s sucker hatchery.
The Lost River and shortnose suckers were listed as endangered nearly 30 years ago, in 1988. Prior to and after being listed, both species have faced habitat, water quality, and recruitment issues. The Fish and Wildlife Service here in Klamath Falls continues to battle ahead, working with other government agencies, nonprofits, and the public to help recover the two formerly abundant sucker species. In addition to relocating adult suckers from Lake Ewauna to the Williamson River, Marissa and I have also spent time at the Fish and Wildlife Service hatchery program, affectionately known as “Gone Fishing.” At this outdoor facility, juvenile suckers are raised into sub-adults that will have a better shot at surviving when released into the wild. While measuring and weighing hundreds of these fish is a great opportunity to get our hands on the animals we are protecting, the real fun came when a number of us from the office released nearly 800 young suckers back into Upper Klamath Lake. The morning of the release was cold, but the beauty of the lake and excitement in doing a release made up for the slight discomfort.
Releasing juvenile suckers in Shoalwater Bay on the Upper Klamath Lake.
Marissa and I are enjoying our time settling in to life in Klamath Falls. In our free time, we both adore sampling the surprisingly large amount of food trucks in town and delving into rural Oregon’s finest cuisine. Hands down, my favorite Klamath Falls locale is the Waffle Hut, a total dive of a restaurant with positively exquisite fancy waffles. After a long week, nothing beats a hot golden waffle topped with crispy hash browns, savory melted cheese, steaming scrambled eggs, and a sprinkling of spicy jalapeños. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to both eat fantastic waffles and learn about endangered species conservation for the next five months!