Chapter 5: Literature. So much literature.

Reading is a large part of science, as you may or may not know. The past two weeks we’ve been tasked with assembling a few literature reviews and compiling data.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife does a lot of work reviewing papers and writing reports. We did preliminary research on a the effect of beaver dams on bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), a threatened fish native to the Klamath basin, and other fish. We compiled a report based on previous studies, and this research could be used to make management decisions in streams in the area at a later time.

My desk looks something like this. I do say “something like” because this picture is staged. I couldn’t find my highlighter when I decided to take the picture, and I moved some pads of paper around. The contents is accurate. The arrangement is not.

In an effort to get ahead of the curve, we were also tasked with compiling reports on species endemic to the Klamath basin that are not well studied or monitored. These included three species of freshwater sculpin and blue chub (Gila coerulea). Literature review can always be a bit of a grind, but when you’re in the zone it’s exciting, as well as educational.

Something possibly more interesting that I also did during what I’ll call our “indoor weeks”, is historical distribution compilation. We had a selection of newspaper articles that mentioned bull trout. I read through them and made note of where exactly the fish were reported throughout time. Newspapers really are time machines. There were articles from as far back as 1892! Here are some examples. Click to embiggen (the bottom row is fun).

Brianne Nguyen
USFWS, Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office

Chapter 3: Milk-vetch. I become an archaeologist.

I’ve learned that a biologist at Fish and Wildlife must wear many hats in order to get the job done. This includes possibly dealing with species you’re not familiar with, and interacting with the public in different ways.

A couple of weeks ago, we did milk-vetch surveys, making use of all of the information we learned at the CLM Workshop in Chicago.

Our first day, we scouted a potential new site for our species, Applegate’s milk-vetch (Astragalus applegatei), that we learned about from an anonymous tip (submitted by mail no less!) that the office had received. It was all very exciting. Armed with a letter with a description how to get to the site and a map they supplied with an area of interest circled, we hiked about a mile out to the site in question and looked for our plants. I felt very much like an archaeologist, trying to piece together the location of the plants from a pretty cryptic description of the location from a letter written long ago. We found hairy vetch (Vicia villosa), invasive, and similar looking, but we didn’t find any Applegate’s milk-vetch (AsAp), much to our disappointment. It’s not called a rare species for nothing. We think the tipster might have mixed them up, and we’ve sent a response with pictures of the vetchs we found to try and confirm the misidentification. Still waiting to hear back on that front.

Our second task with milk-vetch was surveying a known population. Contrary to what you’ll find on Wikipedia about AsAp, there are around eight populations extant. They are surveyed on a rotating schedule. We surveyed a site that had last been surveyed in 2013. There isn’t cause or manpower enough to survey each site every year. Most of the populations exist on private property, so they are not protected from take. It’s a sad situation sometimes. Our lead biologist on the species told us that a site they’d surveyed just last year was bulldozed immediately after for development. Life of an endangered plant is rough. Still, AsAp is a tough plant. At least to of the locations where it occurs are mowed regularly, and it seems to do fine with that. In fact, mowing seems to beat back its competitors, and there has been discussion about mowing aiding AsAp growth and propagation (it lies low to the ground, and so can be undisturbed by mowing). The site we surveyed had cows actively grazing, and the plants seemed to be doing just fine.

Anyway, surveying was done in two ways: censusing, which is basically counting every plant you see in a general area, and sampling, which is where you count a subset of the population and extrapolate a guess of the total count from that (which we helped design the protocol for). All-in-all we counted thousands of plants, and we estimated the site to have over 100,000 plants from sampling data. It involved many flags, flagging tape, a GPS, walking a lot, and teamwork.

The lead biologist happens to also be assigned to grey wolves (Canis lupus). We did a little work on them during the week, which Jessie and Jenny both definitely explain, so you can read about it on their posts. It was interesting to do our mammal and vegetation work at the same time, but USFWS covers a lot of ground.

Until next time,

Brianne Nguyen
USFWS, Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office

Chapter 4: Fecundity. Not couscous.

The interns from last year had collected some brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) egg sacs for a study on brook trout fecundity (the ability to produce offspring). They didn’t finish, so we had the lovely task of processing the ones that were preserved in formaldehyde (yay!). A smelly, but not overall unpleasant task. We knocked it out in three days while listening to podcasts. It involved weighing the eggs, measuring their volumetric displacement, and counting them. So much counting, and also the least amount of counting we’ve done so far. Brook trout eggs are pleasant to handle, sturdier than I would have imagined, and closely resemble couscous.

Not couscous, but brook trout eggs.

I should mention that brook trout are an invasive species. They endanger our species of interest bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) through competition and hybridization. We’re looking at their fecundity in order to see what sort of impact we make by removing them from the streams (which we will be doing by electrofishing starting next Monday!). It’s possible that us removing them reduces intraspecies competition, and count therefore improve their fecundity. We’d have to harvest them again to compare before and after. We’re also checking other studies to make inferences.

Until next time,

Brianne Nguyen
USFWS, Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office

Chapter 2: Suckers. Growing up.

This post is long overdue. We finished larval collection more than a month ago, but I thought I should still touch on the subject. Jenny and Jessie have probably caught you up, but here is my summary of events.

We finished up larval collections. It was a success. One day, Jessie and I collected over 9000 individuals. We’d harvest them, put them in buckets and haul them to our satellite hatchery at Gone Fishing. It was reminiscent to me of the fish in a bucket video I was shown in college. The entirety of a species saved by one bucket. Except in our scenario there were many buckets, and many days, and still suckers in the lake. But the principle remains the same.

The larvae that went into our buckets would survive, and those that drifted down the river would not. It was a sobering thought, but it make the late night shifts worth it. On cold nights the larvae would ride in the truck with us. We buckled them in to keep them safe.

We also got to watch the larvae grow up. Through our seven weeks of larval collections, we harvested in the morning, and performed husbandry in the later morning (or the day if we were on the day shift, we rotated on a cycle for the night shift, two on-one off). This involved feeding fish, hatching brine shrimp (yum), cleaning tanks, and doing behavioral observations to monitor fish health. The fish changed so much over the course of our time there. It was easy to tell the differences when comparing fresh-caught larvae to the ones that had just come in that morning. I think I felt the same pride for them as new parents must feel for human babies, but I’ve never had kids so I can’t be sure about that. Leaving them when our rotation with the SARP (sucker assisted rearing program) was over was a struggle.

Week old suckers
Month old suckers

Brianne Nguyen
USFWS, Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office

Its Ne-VADD-ah

Situated at the eastern side of the Sierras, half an hour from Lake Tahoe is the BLM’s Carson City district office.

Carson City is part of the Carson Valley watershed. All of the melt water from the snowy tops of the ranges melt and flow into this area’s lakes and soils. This year was anomalous for its amount of snow and rainfall. In many areas of Nevada the yearly rainfall average was surpassed in May!

Normally one would think that’s great for the plants. And it is! There were beautiful super blooms in the Spring. However, the high precipitation fairs better for the most problematic weeds in the area- medusahead and cheatgrass. We’ve spent quite a bit of time mapping medusahead populations for herbicide treatment. We’re also learning quite a lot about the ecology of these weeds based on our observations and literature reviews.

We’ve done some post-wildfire monitoring called ESR (Emergency Stablilization and Rehabilitation). In the course of our data collection we were happy to see a relatively diverse recovering population of native forbs instead of a blanket of cheatgrass or medusahead.

Belt transects at our ESR site. The Earthstone fire was northeast of Reno.

For our SOS work we’ve been mostly on BLM land in Nevada so far- although the BLM Carson City district office has some land in California that we’re going to be venturing off to in the coming weeks.

Mucho rain is bad for the weeds! But good for the double rainbows and Pride month!

Swan Lake, one of the best birding spots in Nevada- near Reno. The most birds I’ve ever heard in one place! Though what you’re looking at is supposed to be a nature walk! Unfortunately the entire boardwalk along the lake is underwater due to the high precipitation in recent years. We’re using GIS to map how the drainages and vegetation have changed in this period!

What I’ve learned so far about Nevada is that the public thinks of BLM land like the wild west. There are signs warning people about the danger of wild fires with gun use during the summer, but there is no enforcement. Always fun to hear gunshots a couple hundred feet away on a 95 degree day with dry cheatgrass surrounding you.

We’ve come across several interesting “targets” used for shooting on BLM land while collecting seed. –also this definitely should be an album cover.

We’ve done some youth educational outreach too. I find it is excruciatingly important for the BLM to provide outreach to youth and the public at large because unfortunately the locals don’t see the benefit of managing public lands. This is because of an education gap. So whenever we have a chance to educate the public we pounce on it. The previous years’ techs focused mostly on botany so we decided to switch it up and focus our outreach on geology! Nevada and the Great Basin and Range region have a fascinating and complex geology, and we’re excited to impart this knowledge to the locals so they better appreciate what they may see as commonplace!

We were able to teach the kids about geomorphic processes and the various energy levels involved in depositing the layers visible in this wash. To the right you can see the remnants of an old rail road track that passed through the region.
Here we showed the kids how wildlife makes use of geology! There were some barn owl nests in the eroded rocks.

From noxious weeds to rare species monitoring to wetland ecology and range ecology — my mind is sponging it up! Happy to be here *dance emoji*

Exploring Oregon

Since the workshop ended, I have been hard at work controlling the invasive plants in the area. Its crazy to me as you start to learn which plants are invasive, that landscape you once thought was beautiful for all its yellow flowers and berries is actually a nightmare. They are called invasive for a reason, they completely dominate in most areas and completely out compete the native species. At times it becomes overwhelming, because everywhere you go they are there and you just want to control that population, but there’s only so much time so we have to strategically plan on which spots to hit and which invasive we want to target. We have been mostly focusing on False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) which is from the Poaceae family and Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) from the Fabaceae family. Most times we will choose to hit areas that are heavily visited by people and areas that lumber sales may take place to prevent further spread of the plant. While it can some what difficult work at times, its truly satisfying to come back to an area and find all the work you did paid off and the weeds are dead.

This is one of our sites and that is a field full of Scotch broom.

Outside of work I try to spend most of my time exploring the beautiful state of Oregon, for anyone else that wants to visit Oregon or for future interns stationed in Roseburg, these could be some suggestions. Ashland is a little town slightly North of California, I went on Saturday and it was bustling with people going to the farmers or artisan market in the downtown area. The downtown consist of a bunch of little shops, restaurants, and coffee shops along with lithia park that is a forested area around Ashland Creek. Next, I drove over to Crater Lake which isn’t too far and I was astonished, I don’t think I have ever seen water so blue before! Unfortunately most of the trails were closed due to the late snow fall, so I would recommend checking before, but either ways its definitely worth it to just to drive around.

Crater lake (sorry I’m not sure how to rotate here)

The following weekend I got to go to Bend and meet up with Jessie and Brianne, who I met at the workshop! They are located in Klamath Falls which is a few hours away from Roseburg and some of the coolest people I have met! We did dispersal camping about 15 minutes outside of town, which made it really convenient to come and go as we pleased. I just want to say Bend is probably my favorite town so far, every block consist of Bike shop, brewery, and coffee shop, there are a couple parks scattered around town and its a very bike/ pedestrian friendly town, you can also see Mt. Bachelor from it.

For the 4th of July I stayed closer to town and checked out some of the waterfalls nearby, there are about a dozen but I only visited two Watson falls and Toketee falls. They are easily accessible and both are less than a mile hike to the falls.

Toketee on the left, Watson on the right