A Farewell to Klamath Falls

I could see my breath drift above me as I lay wrapped in my sleeping bag and quilt, snug in my bed. It had started snowing as the night wrapped my van in a chilly embrace. I was parked a few miles outside of town, tucked into the Klamath foothills. A few hours later I would wake up to a winter wonderland and take off on a run into the snowy hills with new friends. That was my first weekend in Klamath Falls, OR, way back in April. Now, six months later, the heat and smoke of summer have abruptly left. Brisk evenings are replacing the summer swelter. As the weather turns its gaze back towards winter, I am also turning in a new direction.

My favorite place to run, Moore Park

Tomorrow, I wrap up my last day of work interning with the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Klamath Falls Field Office. The past six months have been filled with everything from electrofishing to goose banding to frog surveys. I am grateful to have gained so much valuable experience working with a government agency. Many days spent in the field gathering data, conducting experiments, exploring the local environment, and helping out with countless projects were coupled with report writing and research in the office. I am so grateful to have lived in such a beautiful corner of the world for the last chunk of my life. I managed to race four trail ultramarathons, run countless miles on trails around town, and climb in California and Oregon. So many wonderful adventures were had from my home base in Klamath Falls!

Leading a climb at the Williamson River Cliffs

I will depart Klamath Falls with a heavy heart this weekend and make the long drive down to LA. From there, I will fly back east for two weeks with family and friends. Then back to LA, where I’ll mobilize once again and spend all of October exploring the incredible desert country of southern Utah and northern Arizona. Come November, I will wind up in northern California. I will work with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission until late April monitoring salmon and steelhead populations on the Mendocino coast. I can’t wait to apply wait I have learned here in Klamath Falls and explore a new part of the world!

Jeff Mogavero
USFWS Klamath Falls

Boatloads of Fun in Klamath Falls

A beautiful day on the Gerber Reservoir

Spring has quickly progressed to summer here in the Klamath Basin. Nights are still cool, but the daytime temperatures have gotten to be a very comfortable 75-85. With the warming weather, work is shifting from in the office to in the field, a most welcome change. Although I will admit that Marissa and I recently remodeled our cubicles, and they are both looking mighty cheery these days. Speaking of Marissa, at the time of this writing she is off at a conference in Hawaii, and I’m holding down the fort here in Klamath Falls.

On another note, I would like to point out that cattle love to poop. It must be their favorite hobby. Either that, or standing in the middle of whatever road you find yourself driving down. Biologists are generally less concerned with why the cow failed to make it all the way across the road. We like cow poop. Sometimes cattle poop in unfortunate areas, like in and along streams and ponds. And where there are cattle, there are cattle trails. Cattle can expedite the process of erosion, change the composition of the riparian habitat, and decrease water quality. In the case of streams serving as critical habitat for endangered species, these effects are notably unwelcome. A few weeks ago, a few of us from the office set off on a mission to confirm and/or deny that cattle were accessing certain stretches of a few remote rivers. Ladies and gentleman, enter the enthralling sport of cow-pie hunting. We would leave early in the morning, drive four-wheel drive roads, get lost, encounter snow, hike off trail, and be deterred by dangerous river crossings. All in the pursuit of poop!

Heading off into the Williamson River delta with a boatload of wocus plants ready to be transplanted

Getting ready to sink an array of wocus plants

Poop is fun, and so is underwater gardening! Just this week I donned a dry suit and hopped in a roadside wetland. Submerged up to my neck, I followed the stems of lily pads down to the muddy sediment below. In this rich muck, I felt blindly for the big, hunking tuber of the wocus. With a circumference larger than a coffee mug and a texture resembling a pineapple sans spines, I would scrap, pull, push, chop, wiggle, and heave at the often several-foot long tuber to free it from its benthic home. Once free, the tuber would float on the surface, giving no indication that in fact prefers to be buried several feet down below the surface. These wocus plants will be transplanted to a Nature Conservancy property in an effort to reestablish the natural wetland areas that were once there.

Pulling in a fyke net to sample for suckers!

Whether poop hunting or extreme underwater gardening, the field season here sure is heating up. Other activities have or will soon include electrofishing, zooplankton sampling, larval fish studies, goose banding, and fish netting. I’m glad my work here has offered up plenty of opportunities to explore, learn, gain professional experience, and hone my underwater gardening skills.

I’m a Sucker for Larvae

An early-spring sunrise on the Williamson River.

Our mission began in the icy 2:47am darkness. A brisk Monday morning, if one can rightfully call that hour morning. It was too early to hear the calls of birds welcoming a new day. The only sound was from a stiff breeze rustling the pines. Occasionally a car’s headlights sliced through the night on the nearby highway. Joel emerged from his truck, and we greeted each other quietly. Noise seems inappropriate at such an hour. Joel slipped a key into the door and turned. The deadbolt retracted out of its nighttime abode with a loud clack. As we entered the office, we moved with calculated haste. We had 60 seconds to disarm the alarm. With precision that can only be described as akin to a neurosurgeon, Joel swiftly entered a four-digit code into the keypad. Beep beep, bop! We were in. I maneuvered the light switch to the “on” position as I rounded the corner. Down the hall I went, finally arriving at my productivity and action facilitation station. Here I began to prepare for the morning’s arduous tasks. Bag? Hat? Gloves? Check. I got up and moved with an excited urgency down the now-lit hallway and met up with Joel by the office kitchen. We loaded our chosen vessels with an energy vector formed by sending highly active water molecules through a barrier of ground African beans. And so, with coffee in hand, we left the office, now only a memory in the taillights of the truck. Admittedly, on any normal work day one must go through the same process we had just gone through. But at 2:47am, every action is magnitudes more exciting. Positively invigorating!

As much as I’d like to say that Joel and I arrived at work while most are innocently asleep because we relish the splendors of an early start to the day, that is not why we were there. Instead, we had arrived at such an ungodly hour because just a 30 minute drive away, something peculiar was happening in the Williamson River. Thousands of minute endangered larval suckers were going on a journey. As the earth goes about its daily plunge into transient darkness, the larvae drift. These minuscule newly hatched fish, a scant one centimeter of translucent flesh, rise up from the river’s rocky bottom and migrate to the top of the water column. To a scientist trying to capture larval suckers, this is a thrilling behavioral pattern! A simple zooplankton net can be deployed from a bridge for 20 minutes and left to “fish” in the coursing currents of the Williamson River. Several sets of these nets can yield anywhere from a handful to several hundred to several thousand of the wondrous drifting larvae. Joel and I plied the waters for several hours that morning, managing to secure just 150 larvae as the earth emerged from its daily dose of darkness. As we pulled in our last net, a robin chimed in to welcome the sun. In no time light was erasing the long shadows of our early dawn.

What does one do with 150 endangered sucker larvae, or ideally, several thousand? Nurture, love, and care for them, that’s what. Coddle the precious lives of these young beings and prepare them for the arduous journey of life. Joel and I transported the larvae south to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s controlled propagation facility. At this rearing location, we meticulously counted each future adult fish and gently placed them in a tank swirling with waters tuned to the biochemistry of the larvae. A little salt bath and rinse in some medicine, and the fledgling fish are good to go. With any luck, in a year or so these larvae will have grown into mighty sub-adult suckers, ready to be released into the sometimes perilous but often bountiful waters of Upper Klamath Lake. Early mornings collecting larval fish may be challenging, but they are necessary to help endangered species avoid extinction. Personally, I find days go by quicker when onerous tasks are turned into exhilarating life or death, covert missions to push the bounds of science. Now time for my nap.

Jeff Mogavero
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Klamath Falls, OR Field Office



Welcome to the Klamath Basin

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!