Diving Right In

Shortnose and Lost River suckers are two species endemic to the upper Klamath basin.  They are relatively slow growing and long lived, with maturation times of 5 and 8 years and average lifespans of 12 to 20 years.  Historically there were hundreds of thousands of each species living in upper Klamath lake.  Their abundance and large size (max length of about 2 feet) made them a reliable and culturally important food source for the native American tribes.  Now, with a host of different factors negatively affecting their survival, both species are federally listed as endangered.

In 2016, in an effort to prevent both species from going extinct, the US Fish and Wildlife service partnered with Gone Fishing, a local business that specialized in rearing tropical aquarium fish, to start a propagation and rearing program for Lost River and shortnose suckers.  This partnership was ideal for several reasons.  First, there was an already existing facility with ponds and a geothermal water source that proved to be useful with controlling water temperatures over winter.  Second, the owner had decades of experience and expertise with rearing and propagating fish which has contributed a great deal to the success of the program.  Third, the partnership with a local small business helps the program gain support from the general public, where the economy is largely based on agriculture.  Efforts to protect endangered fish are not always welcomed if it means restricting water use for irrigation.

This effort is unique in that unlike the hatchery programs of the past, which supplemented the wild populations with fish hatched from a captive broodstock, this program captures wild larvae as it is drifting downstream.  This does not significantly impact the wild population because the adult suckers are spawning successfully.  The population bottleneck happens during the early juvenile stage in the first 1 or 2 years of life.  The larval fish are started off in glass aquaria for the first few weeks and fed a diet of brine shrimp.  The glass tanks are useful for monitoring the larval fish for disease.  After the fish outgrow the tanks they are transferred to .1 acre earthen ponds, built to try and mimic their natural environment.  They are raised in these ponds for 2 years, after which they are collected, weighed, measured, tagged, and released.

This spring, the first 2 weeks of April, the first cohort of larval fish captured were released back into the wild.  It will be several years before we know if these fish actually make it to reproduce, but the release was celebrated as a proof of concept, there was 99% survival to the release stage.  The program is now gaining a lot of attention and support, from congressional leaders to local farmers and other water users who view this as an opportunity to allow the downlisting of the species, leading to fewer water restrictions.  That could mean more funding and an expansion of the program, as well as higher stakes for delivering concrete results.  Let’s hope we can meet these high expectations.

Klamath Basin Propagation

Following the birds:

            I left New York nearly a year ago with my eyes set on the West Coast. My destination was the Cosumnes River Preserve (CRP) in Galt, CA. That opportunity was a CLM internship with the Bureau of Land Management. My experience was great. So great, in fact, that I decided to reapply to the program and see if any new/fun opportunities presented themselves.

During my last few semesters of college I began to dabble in fisheries courses. Prior to that, nearly all of my attention and study was focused on plants, because plants are awesome. What I soon found out, however, is that fish are pretty neat creatures too (and I find the fieldwork to be more fun). Some of my experiences at the CRP further reinforced this newfound notion and I began seriously looking into opportunities for fisheries experience.

Now, I am in Klamath Falls, Oregon working with the Fish and Wildlife Service with the main focus on working in their Sucker Assisted Rearing Program alongside another CLM intern. Before hearing about this opportunity, and unlike Galt (which I had never heard of prior to my internship there, although it now has a place in my heart), I had heard of Klamath Falls before. This is perhaps unsurprising for birders or anyone working or interested in the Pacific Flyway. As it turns out, the Klamath Basin is also popular among birds and their enthusiasts. I had, however, never really heard about anything more than that. I wrapped up with some volunteer work at the CRP just a Friday prior to my start here, and as I did so, I realized that like many of the birds that had called the Central Valley home for the winter, I too was soon to be migrating north along the flyway*.

*Whether or not this is a sign of some deep connection with the birds, I cannot say. Although, much like them, I am happy to be escaping the heat of Central Valley summers.

View of Mount Shasta and Part of Klamath Falls

Details of the position so far:

As part of the Endangered Species work here in Klamath Falls, there is an ongoing propagation effort to rear endangered suckers (Lost River and shortnose suckers) as supplements to the existing populations. These populations are battling many factors outlined quite well in the USFWS’s Revised Recovery Plan for both species. For the sake of keeping this post relatively concise (mostly, to save me having to write them all up for you), I am including a link to that plan.

USFWS Revised Recovery Plan (Lost River and shortnose suckers):


Working in this program has already provided a good variety of tasks. On a day-to-day basis, the suckers require tending and some slight monitoring. This means things like checking water temperatures (adjusting if necessary), feeding, salting (when needed to help prevent disease and parasites), and checking for mortality or abnormal behavior (hopefully, unlikely). Being a relatively new project, with a moderate amount of troubleshooting and amending plans for efficacy and to resolve unpredicted errors, there is a fair amount of maintenance/construction required as well.

Once fish are big enough, they are released back to their normal stomping (swimming) grounds (waters). In our first week here, we were able to assist in the release of quite a few fish. This process involves netting fish out of their holding tanks, scanning them for PIT tags, transferring them to the release site, acclimating them to the water at the release site, and then ultimately releasing them. They are then free to face whatever the future has in store for them (hopefully not too much predation or too many harmful algal blooms). A pretty good description of this process can be found at the following link:


When studying any animal it can be important to observe their movements. This can range from daily movements to more broad movements (i.e., migration). This helps folks to better understand when, where, and why a species of interest is utilizing an area. I leave plants out in this regard, because, as I assume we all know, most plant/plant-like things are not moving about in quite the way that animals do. Here at the office, this means that 200 of the reared suckers (~180+ mm in total length) are receiving radio tags.

Now, one doesn’t just put radio tags in fish all willy-nilly. Much like any surgery, there are some things to consider. How big do the fish need to be to receive the tag and be able to function/survive with it? Where will the tag be installed? How do you prevent them from tangling while they recover from surgery and await release? In order to address these questions proactively, staff here at the office organized a trial run to make sure their procedure would work effectively and efficiently. Lucky for us, we were able to sit-in on the operation (and assist with some small details) and it was quite an experience (add fish OR assistant to the resume?)

Our time here would feel unfulfilled if we did not get the opportunity to see some mature adults heading upstream to spawn, so we headed out for a couple of days with Bureau of Reclamation staff to do some monitoring and tagging of suckers at a place called Gerber Reservoir. Using trammel nets, we caught suckers (and some bycatch—perch, crappie, bass, and bullhead). The adult suckers were scanned for PIT tags, inspected for parasites/disease/or injury, measured, sexed, identified, and had a PIT tag inserted (if they were lacking one) before being returned to the water to go on their merry way. To summarize: We caught some big suckers*.

*While uncertain of the origins of this colloquialism, and the extent of its use in rural-American parlance—I like to believe it comes from a long-fought, line and tackle battle with a member of the Catostomidae. For instance, “Holy cow, that’s a big sucker!” Again, whether this is the case, I assuredly cannot say.

Looking forward to another great season.

Tyler Rose
CLM Intern
USFWS-KFFWO (Klamath Falls, OR)

*Any opinions expressed herein are my own.

Flowers and Fire

Wow, has a month already gone by?!

Temperatures have started to warm up over the past couple of weeks, and so field season has officially begun. Since my last post, the early spring wildflowers have begun to display their wonderful colors; some of earliest ones are already starting to die off–for instance, Henderson’s fawn lilies, shown below.

Fawn lily (Erythronium hendersonii)


The other week, I went with one of the botanists to tour a meadow where a local organization had conducted controlled burns in a previous year. The organization wanted to show us how the burns had helped to control the invasion of species like Taeniatherum caput-medusae, Poa bulbosa, and Centaurea solstitialis. They had also repopulated the area with native plant seeds, so the entire meadow was pretty much an explosion of white popcorn flowers, pink plectitis, and blue lupines.

The meadow was packed with flowers!


Shortspur seablush (Plectitis congesta)

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time conducting surveys for Fritillaria gentneri, an endangered species of lily that is endemic to southwest Oregon. Gentner’s fritillary is pretty fascinating; from what I’ve heard, a lot of people suspect that the species is a hybrid between Fritillaria recurva (scarlet fritillary) and Fritillaria affinis (checker lily). Most of the time, the species reproduces asexually through its bulbs. It tends to prefer meadows and very open oak woodlands. A lot of work is being done by the folks up at OSU to analyze certain genetic factors (for instance–is it a hybrid or an individual species?) as well as to grow seedlings that are being used to repopulate certain areas. Most often, the plant will only display bulb leaves, but since the leaves tend to look exactly like those of other fritillaries it can’t be identified that way. However, on the scarce occasion that the plant produces a flower, Gentner’s fritillary can be distinguished from F. recurva and F. affinis in these ways:

Color: Not a great way to tell them apart, since the colors are arbitrary and usually unreliable. However, in general, F. recurva tends to be a bright scarlet color, F. gentneri tends to be a sort of dark red/maroon, and F. affinis tends to be purple-brown and yellow speckled. Gentner’s fritillary sometimes grows a sort of almost-scarlet color, though, and can often be mistaken for F. recurva if identified solely by color.

Flower shape: F. recurva has (as the name implies) petals that are recurved at the tips, and F. affinis has wider set flowers with non-recurved tips. F. gentneri usually has non-recurved tips, similar to F. affinis, but can sometimes have slightly/partially curved petals that can be mistaken for F. recurva.

Style/nectaries: The best way to distinguish between the three species is based on their styles and nectary glands. F. affinis has a style that is strongly divided (for at least half its length), as well as a nectary gland that is ¾ the length of its petals. F. recurva’s style is the least divided, usually ¼ to ⅓ its length, and its gland is less than ½ the length of the petals. F. gentneri is an intermediate of the two; its style is divided around ⅓ to ½ its length, and its gland is ⅓ to ½ the length of its petals.

Fritillaria gentneri (Gentner’s fritillary)

Fritillaria affinis the most easily distinguished due to its yellow and brown color.

Fritillaria recurva (note the scarlet color and recurved leaves)

All in all– it’s fairly easy to distinguish F. affinis by its color and shape, but recurva and gentneri can get a little dicey, so it’s best to identify based on styles/nectaries.

On another note– over the past week, I’ve been spending some time working on keeping an invading population of shiny geranium (Geranium lucidum) away from an OHV trail. The population has pretty much taken over the understory; at this point, the main priority is to prevent the plant from being carried to other places. As such, my supervisor and I have been using weed torches (yes, he trusted me with fire) to wilt the geranium within 15 feet of the trail in an effort to prevent the plants nearest the trail from seeding so bikes/ATVs/etc. can’t carry the seeds to other locations. Overall, I like wielding a weed torch. It’s kind of fun. Is that bad?

On my way to burn some noxious weeds…


Until next time,