Wildfire Season has Finally Arrived!

Since I have lived in the Midwest for my entire life up until now, I have never experienced a true wildfire season. I had heard of the catastrophic wildfires here in Oregon, and I was anxious for them to begin. Fortunately, wildfire season started later than usual due to an exceptionally wet spring. My overly-optimistic, oblivious mind believed that maybe I lucked out, maybe I would not have to endure a wildfire season at all! However, one August morning, I woke up to darkness at 6 AM, the AQI was well over 200, and my optimism was shattered.

Due to my moderate asthma, I have spent little time out in the field. However, I have been able to help with tasks around the office, which has been a learning experience in it of itself! Last week, I had the opportunity to help my supervisor organize current and expired permits that the Klamath Falls Fish & Wildlife office has issued. While this might sound boring to most, yet I found interest in this project as I got to read about the threatened & endangered species permitting process, which I knew little about prior to this task. I witnessed how these permits were communicated among stakeholders and our office, why one may want a permit, and why certain permit requests are denied, while others are approved. Even though office work may not be as enticing as field work, it is a crucial part of employees’ jobs here in Klamath Falls.

Smoky skies calls for amazing sunsets over Upper Klamath Lake!

I also was given the opportunity to help organize telemetry data, which was exciting for me because I have not yet worked with the telemetry team. Working with the data meant I had the chance to use R, which was intimidating because I know close to nothing about coding. R allowed the data to be sorted and compiled to indicate which telemetry sensors suckers have passed by, which was insightful to see that through an analytical lens! I believe that a good balance between office and field work can give me a well-rounded view of the work completed at KFFWO.

Outside of work, my outdoor adventures have also taken a brief hiatus, I have decided to pick up crocheting (and applying for full-time jobs) in the meantime. Although a break from field work is needed at times, I hope to see clear skies before my internship is up!

Showing off some mussels!

Throughout the past month, we have been given the opportunity to conduct mussel surveys along the Sprague River. During these presence/ absence surveys, we have been looking for three mussel species: the California floater, western ridged, and western pearl shell mussels. The surveys, which are completed either by kayaking or snorkeling, have given us great views of the river as well as an opportunity to explore other wildlife! Before these surveys, I was unaware of the abundance of life among the riverbed.

I took an invertebrate biology course during undergrad and we had a section dedicated to mussels. I surprised myself with the knowledge I retained during the course, as I remembered where the mussel’s “tooth” and “foot” were located, which are important indicators when determining a species. Below are some examples of western ridged mussels observed along the Sprague.

We also had the opportunity to visit the wildlife forensics lab located in Ashland. I was a bit weary at first as I tend to get squeamish around deceased organisms, yet I faced my fears and learned so much about wildlife trade and trafficking. Wildlife trafficking was always a blurry subject for me, as I never understood how people got caught and what is considered illegal and legal. I learned that many tourists when traveling abroad want to bring back souvenirs such as ivory or animal fur, however, the gifts they acquired may have been illegally sourced. The gifts are then collected and brought to the forensics lab to determine where they originated and what type of animal was used. This is why the role of wildlife inspectors is crucial within international travel, as many goods are sourced from endangered species. Below is a collection of trophy animals donated by a family who had legal permits to hunt on safari trips, it is baffling that these animals were all acquired legally!

It was also interesting to learn about various cultural cosmologies. To a worker in southeast Asia, they might want to impress their boss by purchasing a “valued” good such as a sculpture from an endangered animal, since that animal is endangered, it is considered “rare”, meaning goods created from it have more value. To me and most people from the western world, this way of thinking seems skewed, however, this is common in several cultures across the globe. Throughout the tour, I kept asking myself, “how can we respect other cultures and animals at the same time?” I left the tour with more questions than I came with, so I hope to come back to the lab someday!

Every week I obtain a great appreciation for the work completed at U.S. Fish & Wildlife and I am so excited to share what is next to come.

Greetings from the UKB!

When I received my offer letter from Chicago Botanic Gardens to work with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Klamath Falls, OR, I was beyond enthralled! Coming from Omaha, NE, I had never experienced a landscape quite like southern Oregon. Knowing I was going to have an whole summer dedicated to studying an entirely new range of species was my sole motivator for making the twenty-two hour trek out here.

My first project started the week of May 8th, where another intern, Loretta, and I, had the opportunity to conduct yellow rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis) surveys within the Klamath Marsh. These small birds, only a few inches in length, reside in grassy marshes and due to their brown and yellow coloration, are difficult to see from the naked eye. Due to the decline in population, rail surveys are important indicators of the health of the marsh. In order to attract yellow rails, we had to create a series of clicking noises with stones (a technique that was difficult to perfect) which lured male rails toward our net. After they were trapped, we carefully handled the bird using a bander’s grip, shown below.

We then placed a silver band around their leg, measured the length of each bird’s wing, tail, tarsus, and culmen. In the end, we surveyed 30 birds throughout the course of three nights. It was a rewarding first project that I was grateful to be a part of!

After a week of rail banding, I spent the remainder of May working with the FWS hatchery crew. The hatchery’s main focus is to restore lost river and shortnose sucker (Deltistes luxatus and Chasmistes brevirostris) populations within Upper Klamath Lake. Larvae from both populations are collected at the mouth of the Williamson River, which feeds into Upper Klamath Lake. The larvae are then brought back to the hatchery and, upon successful survival, will be released once they have matured.

A bulk of our summer has consisted of monitoring bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) populations at Deming Creek and removing brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) populations from Callaghan Creek. Bull trout populations have significantly declined from habitat loss and degradation, which is why they are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Brook trout are an invasive species throughout the Upper Klamath Basin (UKB) because they are out-competing bull trout for vital resources. In order to restore the health of waterways, brook trout removal and bull trout re-introduction must be conducted.

Species monitoring and removal are completed with backpack electroshockers, which are designed to temporarily shock the fish while mitigating harm. For bull trout monitoring, electrofishing gives us the ability to easily record measurements and other useful data that indicates the health of the fish. Below is a picture of a healthy brook trout found at Deming Creek.

Aside from species’ monitoring, electrofishing allows us to capture and remove as many brook trout as possible. At first, I was quite uncomfortable with removing up to 300 brook trout a day, however, I have begun to recognize the importance of invasive species removal.

Outside of fieldwork, I have been able to connect with several employees at the Klamath Falls office, all who have been extremely helpful in providing me with ample resources. I am beyond appreciative to be an active participant in the conservation work being performed within the Upper Klamath Basin and I cannot wait to share more updates about my time with FWS!

Maddie Weinrich