Wildfires and Mussel Surveys

During the month of July, my time at Klamath Falls shifted to a new task and a rude-awakening to the wildfire season in the Pacific Northwest. On July 6th, the Bootleg Fire began burning roughly 30 miles from Klamath Falls. It is the largest fire to burn this year so far, currently staying around 414,000 acres, and is fortunately 84% contained! The smoke can get pretty dense and can feel very apocalyptic. Being from the Midwest, I have only ever experienced the travelling smoke from the west, but when you travel to California and you get evacuation texts, it’s very surreal. Hearing residents and coworkers talk about how the smoke season and fires are earlier than normal, it definitely puts climate change into perspective. Speaking of, this region is also experiencing a drought, putting tension between federal agencies and farmers, and forcing residents to conserve their water. Having said that, I have really been thinking about climate change and the importance of immediate action and how valuable this position is becoming for me. I am learning from experts in their fields, who dedicate time building bridges between private landowners to adopt conservation/restoration practices. These conversations are crucial in a bigger picture sense, as well. The information I’m learning on top of the first-hand climate disasters, I feel as though I am building on my ability to have those conversations with people close to me and strangers.

Driving to Lake Tahoe. Felt like I was on Mars.
Pyrocumulus cloud formed by the Bootleg fire. These clouds triggered lightning and wind, exasperating the conditions.

On a lighter note, we got to switch our tasks from electrofishing to helping with mussel surveys. Specifically looking for any native and listed Western Ridged, Western Pearlshell or Winged Floaters in the Sprague, Williamson, and Wood rivers. All of which are freezing cold, but on a hot day, feel great. Our days would consist of kayaking down stretches of these rivers looking through an aquascope to detect presence or absence of any of these mussels. I feel very lucky to be able to kayak all day while also contributing to necessary conservation tasks. Now, we are back to electrofishing and starting to help in Brook trout removals. In the coming weeks, we get to backpack into a field site for a few days to do more trout surveys. I really hope to be able to see a Bull trout!

For most of my weekends, I am out camping and seeing something new if I can. My partner and I love finding rivers to swim in and new hikes to explore. I am very grateful to have had this opportunity to learn so much, grow as an environmentalist and see the beauty of the PNW.

View of Crater Lake from Mount Scott. It was pretty smoky that day.
Awesome redwoods from Jedidiah State Park.
Largest tree in the state park.

The Days Need to SLOW Down

For starters, I cannot believe that it is almost July! This past month or so in Oregon has been full of beautiful sights and many learning experiences and I am in disbelief in how fast it’s going by! That being said, I appreciate this opportunity to look back on those moments and share them, allowing them to settle in my memory and grow in value. It’s worth mentioning that a good reason why this past month flew by is mostly due to the fact that Justus and I have been very busy. Today, being an “office” day, allows me the time to reflect and realize how much I’ve already grasped and seen in this time.

To pick up where I left off, the following weeks were mostly consisting of electrofishing for trout species in Long Creek. My previous mentor, Justus and I traveled the hour and a half ride to the field site for several days together until we were confident enough to take on the task alone and alongside some of The Nature Conservancy employees. All of whom were very kind, knowledgeable and a joy to have during the days that were snowy and cold. Now, it has been just Justus and I traveling everyday to the site, and the weather has taken quite the turn. While we started in the snow, we ended in the heat. With that came mosquitos and leaky, smelly waders. Nonetheless, I gained a lot of electrofishing experience, knowledge about fish behavior, honed in on my fish ID skills, learned how to PIT tag, and grew my relationship with my co-intern. Currently, we are in a heat wave experiencing near 100 degree weather. Thankfully, our time at Long Creek came to an end just before it hit. But, we are on to more field work this week working with Modoc Suckers conducting habitat monitoring. I’m excited to learn more and have experience with a new species.

Here I am PIT tagging my first Brook trout. We first measured the fish and inserted the tag just under their dorsal fins. At first, I was nervous and didn’t want to hurt the fish, but with practice came confidence and reassurance.
A TNC staff member (Katie), Justus and I attempt to catch any fish hiding near this log. I promise we weren’t posing for the picture.
Long Creek runs next to property with a lot of cows and during our time there, some of the cows were on the wrong side of the fence. They nearly came in the creek with us at one point. I realized how much I love cows.

In the days that we weren’t at Long Creek, we were at the FWS hatchery, Gone Fishin’. I’d like to just share that I love that name for a hatchery. At this well-named hatchery, I got to assist in a variety of tasks alongside staff. A FWS staff member (Josh) offered to show us around the property where we were first introduced to staff, the goals of the hatchery, the Lost River and Shortnose sucker species, and some of essential tasks needing to be done. One of which we participated in that same day, was counting larvae that were collected that morning. In each cooler there were thousands of larvae that needed to be accurately counted in each tank. It was straining to the eyes, but very cool to help the first step in their goal to conserve these species. Now, having been to the hatchery a number of times, Justus and I have counted thousands more larvae, helped clean tanks, count mortalities, maintain the grounds, feed both larva and juvenile fish, and the most exciting one- help milk and fertilize eggs. We were lucky to have been there the day that they decided to collect sperm and eggs from male and female suckers to gather fertility data. There was unfortunately only one female with eggs, but they used that opportunity to fertilize, incubate, and hope for development. I really enjoyed watching and helping with these tasks. That same day was when the federal government announced their new regulations on masks- fully vaccinated people didn’t have to wear one. We all simultaneously took our masks off and saw each other’s faces for the first time. It was a bizarre but positive moment.

Another day, we got to go out with FWS staff Michelle, to collect larvae ourselves. That involved boating on the Williamson River, sifting the shorelines with our dip nets until all of our coolers were full. I was grateful to participate in this step to see a larger view of the process of conserving these species.

Here is Javier (fish biologist) and Mark (hatchery manager) milking a male sucker.
If you look closely in the white areas of the cooler (best at the bottom and top of the image), you will see tan-colored little lines that are larval fish. At this stage, they are just millimeters long.

Apart from my internship experiences, I have had the privilege to spend my weekends seeing the beauty of Oregon. Besides the fact that this internship offers me a very valuable education that will set me up for my future, along with connections, unforgettable experiences, etc., I really was drawn to the location, as well. Oregon has a new place in my heart. I feel like it always had one, but now I have the memories here. I owe that to the crystal clear rivers in the mountains, the mountains themselves, the cloudy coast with their enormous slugs (Banana slugs are my favorite), rocky yet lush landscape, the strong coastal winds, the birds, the lack of humidity, and the river rocks.

This experience so far has shown me my abilities and the reality that there are so many places to see, people to meet, and new things to learn. I want the days to go by slower so I can soak in everything and see and learn as much as I can while I’m here. Please enjoy the images! I can’t wait to share what the next month will bring.

Banana slug I watched eat this dying leaf. Just LOOK at that pneumostome (aka the massive hole in it’s side).
Elk River
Taken on coastal trail
First time doing Mount McLoughlin! Very well worth the sore body after.
Stunning blue water of Crater Lake #nofilter.
The coldest, clearest water I ever swam in. Granted, it took me several minutes to build up the nerve to get in.

First Week!

I made the trek to Klamath Falls in two days, coming from Downers Grove, Illinois. The Saturday before leaving was spent celebrating my sister and her fiancé at their small backyard wedding. Sunday was full of ranging emotions, but I was ready to start my adventure. I hugged my mom, brother and dog goodbye and left at 5am Monday morning. The roughly 30 hour drive consisted of several podcasts, reading, and gazing out of the window admiring the views of states I was seeing for the first time.

My pup Frank, helping me pack.

I was traveling with my partner, Charlie, who I’m grateful for taking time off work to come with me. Having traveled to Colorado in the past, long car rides were something we were prepared for, but we were clearly poorly prepared for the change in climate when reaching Wyoming. We were wearing Teva sandals and shorts, when it was snowing and 30 degrees outside. But it was definitely beautiful to see the landscape and quick change of weather.

Utah was also a state we bookmarked to come back to, even though we just saw a small portion. Driving through the Great Salt Lake Desert was incredible, except for the fact we were cutting it close on gas. But we made it! Spent a whopping $4.60 per gallon.

Arriving in Klamath Falls and having the rest of the week and weekend to settle in was a treat. We used that time to get myself packed and organized, as well as check out some of the nearby hiking trails and restaurants. Come Sunday night, my nerves about the first day were building, but after meeting Nolan (mentor and FWS Fish Biologist) and Justus (co-intern) the nerves turned into excitement.

Top photo is a view from a trail near Shoalwater Bay. Middle is a view from Moore Park.
Bottom is the largest pine cone I’ve ever seen.

Arriving in Klamath Falls and having the rest of the week and weekend to settle in was a treat. We used that time to get myself packed and organized, as well as check out some of the nearby hiking trails and restaurants. Come Sunday night, my nerves about the first day were building, but after meeting Nolan and Justus, the nerves turned into excitement.

This first week has shown me a glimpse of working for a federal organization and the amazing conservation work being done by staff at KFFWO. I’m so looking forward to starting field work next week and gaining any and all knowledge and skills I can!