Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Connecting Kids to Nature: Skyline Crest Youth Come to the Columbia River Fish Office


Sally Jewell, the Secretary of the Interior Department, announced a national initiative earlier this year to engage and inspire young people to connect to nature.  She confirmed her commitment to “welcome a new generation of young people into public land stewardship, into science”.

The Pacific Northwest Region of the Service provided a little funding in “mini-grants” to help deliver on this promise.  So, we partnered with Vancouver Housing Authority Community Family Resource Coordinator Sharon Linn and Skyline Crest Community Health and Wellness Advisor Sara Angelo to help connect underserved inner city kids to nature. 

Our “Take Time to Connect to Nature” project aims to add an innovative component to an inner city low income housing facility by providing hands-on and in the field nature experiences. Using a nearby neighborhood greenspace and field trips to other Pacific Northwest destinations, mentors and volunteers lead youth groups in activities such as a FWS hatchery visit and guided nature bike rides or hikes.  The project is a great collaboration – New Season’s grocery store even teamed up to help provide the kids with healthy, delicious lunches on some of the field trips!

In early July, 20 Skyline Crest youth from ages 7 to 15 came to a three-hour Nature Day at our Columbia River Fisheries Program Office.  Ten of our staff members led the kids through a variety of activities to give them hands-on experience with nature, native species, and scientific methods. 

We were impressed and inspired by how much fun the kids had learning about salmon, owls, and radio telemetry.  They showed so much natural curiosity and a love of science….they had a blast picking out rodent bones from barn owl pellets and dissecting big spring chinook salmon!

 
They grasped the salmon life cycle, from freshwater to ocean and back again, and made bracelets with various beads representing each life stage.  Creativity and artistic flourish were present as they made “gyotaku” Japanese-style fish art prints to take home.  

 
The day really underscored that every child is a naturalist…given the opportunity, time and access to the natural world they will apply curious and creative minds to interact with and explore nature.  Who knows what effect these early experiences might have or where they might lead a child to later in life …our job is to make the connection so they have the opportunity to forge their own path.

 Submitted by Amy Horstman and Donna Allard

Monday, July 7, 2014

Working with the City of Portland to Restore Urban Stream Habitat


The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services to evaluate the success of aquatic habitat improvements in Tryon Creek.  In 2010, the City of Portland completed a 900-foot off-channel aquatic habitat enhancement along the Willamette River.  Habitat improvements included floodplain connectivity, removal of invasive species, and installation of root wads and boulders. 

In 2012, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service began an intensive monitoring program to assess community, relative abundance, and temporal use by fish in the improved area.  Sampling occurred monthly throughout the year and weekly in the spring, sampling will continue in July 2014 at the same frequency.  Backpack electrofishing and seining is used to sample from the confluence to the Oregon State Highway 43 culvert.  All captured fish are identified, checked for external markings, measured, and tagged with a passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag.  Genetic samples collected from salmonids are transferred to the City of Portland.  To determine temporal fish use of the confluence habitat, two PIT tag antennas are installed at the mouth of Tryon Creek.  All PIT tagged fish moving over or through these antennas have the opportunity to be detected and identified before entering or exiting the Willamette River.

Sampling the mouth of Tryon Creek
 
Resident fish such as adult and juvenile cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, and hybrids of the two were identified in the confluence habitat along with outmigrating juvenile steelhead, Chinook, and coho salmon.  Native fish were more abundant than nonnative fish and coho juveniles were the most abundant species observed.  Coho and Chinook were detected emigrating after an average 37-44 days suggesting the habitat serves as a refuge for outmigrating juvenile salmon from elsewhere in the Willamette River basin.  PIT tagged Chinook and coho salmon (originating from upstream locations in the upper Willamette River basin and Eagle Creek) utilized the Tryon Creek confluence as part of their migration.
 

The Tryon Creek Confluence Habitat Enhancement Project improves aquatic habitat in the lower Willamette floodplain and provides refuge for native fish species.  Information collected from this assessment will aid the City of Portland in determining if the project is meeting its goals, gauging if the site is achieving desired function over time, and improving the design of future projects. 

This project is relatively small compared to the Willamette watershed overall, however, the combined efforts of habitat improvement and fish monitoring lead to a larger product.  This collaboration improves the design of future projects benefitting the entire Willamette River and supports the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. 

 For additional information, please see this factsheet from the City of Portland:

Submitted by Brook Silver


Monday, June 30, 2014

CRFPO Carbon Footprint

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Columbia River Fisheries Program Office (CRFPO) convened a Carbon Footprint Team in 2013.  The goal of this team is to quantify, track, and make recommendations toward reducing the office carbon footprint.  To this end, we established a process that involved establishing objectives, meeting regularly, establishing contacts outside of CRFPO to collect information, conducting an energy audit, adopting a carbon footprint calculator, quantifying the office carbon footprint, and developing recommendations to reduce that carbon footprint.  The energy audit was conducted by Clark Public Utilities and provided some insight to ways we could easily reduce our carbon footprint.  The carbon footprint calculator was adopted from Seattle Climate Partnership, and provided a platform to easily input data so that the office carbon footprint could be quantified.  The CRFPO carbon footprint for FY 2013 was approximately 350 metric tons of CO2.  Recommendations developed included ways of reducing the person commute between home and office, changes to the office vehicle fleet, and reducing electricity usage, all of which represented the biggest sinks to the CRFPO carbon footprint.  This approach developed and implemented by the CRFPO Carbon Footprint Team identifies a way that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field offices can easily quantify and track their carbon footprint, and can be a meaningful step toward making changes that decrease the carbon footprint for the agency.
 Read the CFT Carbon Footprint Report

Submitted by Michael Hudson

Friday, June 20, 2014

Finding More Than You Are Looking For


This has been a fun spring because I had the opportunity to get out with a student intern and coworker.  They were continuing a project that our Office started a few years ago, which was to investigate reproductive timing of the western pearlshell mussel.  The project was conducted in a local stream, and involved inspecting adult mussels for signs of spawning and drift samples for larval mussels (i.e., glochidia, see previous blog for more on the life cycle of mussels).  Because glochidia are really small, around 1/20th of a millimeter, we use a very fine-mesh net to collect drifting material that is then preserved in alcohol.  The real work starts in the lab where we look for glochidia by picking through all the preserved material under a dissecting microscope.  Although this is often like “looking for a needle in a haystack” when a needle may not be there, the net collects other organisms, which makes the work interesting.


Below is what the material typically looks like magnified 20X.  Where’s “Glochido,” and can you identify some of the other organisms?



This is an early instar (i.e., stage) of a mayfly (Family—Baetidae).  These insects will grow a lot and emerge as winged adults that live for just a couple days or so.



This is the larvae of a small fly called a midge (Family—Chironomidae).  Midges are an extremely diverse group.  Because they are usually very abundant, larval and adult midges are a major source of food for aquatic and terrestrial predators.



The oval object with a black dot is actually a seed shrimp (Class—Ostracoda).  Seed shrimp are crustaceans (large group that includes crabs, crayfish, shrimp, and barnacles) whose two-part shell makes them resemble miniature mussels.



Here are two types of fly larvae, a midge (upper left) and black fly (lower center; Family—Simuliidae).  Black fly larvae have mouth parts with fan-like structures that are used to strain microscopic food particles from flowing water.



There’s “Glochido” (lightest object slightly up and left of center, no stripes or glasses).  This glochidia is about 0.06 mm long and appears small even when magnified 40X (same magnification used for all photos except the first one).  A key characteristic is the faint line appearing horizontally on it at this angle.


Submitted by Sam Lohr

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Discovering New Interests: Looking back at my year with USFWS


(Foreword:  Sarah Martin is a student at Portland State University studying communication.  She will soon finish her one year communication and outreach internship with Region 1 Fisheries.)
I live with nature documentary fanatics.  In the evenings while I study or after I go to bed, Evan (my husband) and Huxley (our cat) lounge on the couch transfixed by the wonders of nature conveniently harnessed and transmitted indoors.  Blue Planet, Planet Earth, Life, Life of Birds, and Life of Mammals are among their favorites, but I’ve never taken the time to develop an interest. 

I’ve never developed an interest, that is, until this past year when I’ve had the opportunity to benefit from first-hand experience and one-on-one Q and A sessions with fish and aquatic resource experts.  I tease my friend Donna, a Fish Biologist at the Columbia River Fisheries Resource Office, that she has become my very own nature documentary.  I always look forward to our chats when she shares her knowledge about interesting aquatic species like fresh water mussels, Pacific Lamprey, and white sturgeon.

You might ask why my interests have developed over the past year.  The answer: Opportunity!

 I am a student at Portland State University pursuing a master’s degree in communication.  Although I don’t have a background in aquaculture or fish biology, I have been lucky enough to have a one year graduate assistantship with Fishery Resources to help with communication and outreach initiatives.  As part of the communication work I do, I read technical information and talk to experts about scientific findings, aquatic species, and conservation then write short stories or summaries for people like me (i.e., non-experts).  So, while it may be surprising, my naiveté on the subject is actually an asset because I ask a lot of questions that other non-experts might wonder about. 

As it turns out, my budding interest is infectious.  Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to call it “communicable.”  The factoids that Donna and other experts have shared with me, along with my hands-on experiences helping with spawning at hatcheries and stream sampling, have a way of sneaking into my daily conversations.  A few examples…

·        After helping with spawning at Carson National Fish Hatchery last August, I tried to impress Evan with my newfound knowledge. Unfortunately, it turns out that he and Huxley had already seen a few spawning documentaries so I wasn’t able to teach him anything new.  I did, however, gloat about the fact that I got to experience spawning for real instead of just in documentary format!

·        After stream sampling with a crew at Abernathy Fish Technology Center last September, I found myself raving to anyone who would listen about the wonders of waders (they are pretty incredible after all), not to mention the interesting studies and genetic research that the folks at the Technology Center do. 

 

·        At dinner with my parents last week, I described the incredible reproductive odds that fresh water mussels face (check out Donna’s post about it).  I also told them about the neat lures that some species have evolved (check out Donna’s recent post about them… Whoa!). 

These are just a few of the instances when the important and interesting work that the Service does have snuck into my daily conversations.  Prior to my first day last July, I didn’t know I would be so interested.  Now that my one-year appointment with the Service is nearly complete, I will miss the opportunities for hands-on experience and one-on-one Q and A sessions with experts.  Evan and Huxley might be able to persuade me to take in a documentary or two to fill the void.  And, maybe I can persuade Evan to do a little citizen science with me (tales of our adventures will have to suffice for Huxley because he’ll have to stay home)!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fishing Lures

The life cycle of freshwater mussels is dependent upon host fish.  In order to complete the reproductive process, the glochidia or mussel larvae must attach to the gills of specific host fish where they will metamorphose into free-living mussels.  Mussels, being sedentary creatures, are incapable of moving to find a host so they have evolved different methods of attracting their host to increase their reproductive success.  While some mussels simply release packets of gochidia, called conglutinates, which fish may mistake for food, others have modified mantles or other adaptations which will attract fish to them.

Follow this link to the Freshwater Mollusks Conservation Society to watch video of some amazing fishing lures.


Image courtesy of Unio Gallery

For more amazing images and videos, visit the Unio Gallery.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fisheries Academy


Last month, I attended Fisheries Academy at The National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in Shepherdstown, WV.  The mission of the Fisheries Academy is to inspire and develop the future leaders of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Fisheries Program.  Well, it worked.  After two weeks of training, and learning about the inner workings of the Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation Program at the national, regional and field station levels, I left inspired and invigorated about my own future and career in the Service.

 

Throughout the two weeks of training, we had representatives from each of the eight USFWS regions, (http://www.fws.gov/where/), share the goals, issues, and challenges of fisheries conservation and recovery in their region.  It was great to learn about the work being done all over the country, and to share experiences and build camaraderie with other fish heads (as we affectionately call ourselves in the fish business). In addition to classroom time, we had several field trips which helped to strengthen some of the in- class training we received and gave us an opportunity to meet with national directors and leaders of the USFWS.

Hey look, it's the Capitol!                            Photo Credit:  Benjamin Gilles
 
One of our off-campus field trips was to Washington, DC. While there we met with majority and minority staff for the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs, toured the Department of Interior building, and met with David Hoskins, the Assistant Director of the USFWS.
Mural painted by Maynard Dixon (1939) in the Department of Interior building, Washington, D.C
Photo Credit:  Michele Atha        

 
Mural Painting on a wall in the Department of Interior building, Washington, D.C.       Photo credit: Michele Atha

 

For many of us, the highlight of the class was a trip to Antietam Battlefield just a few miles from the NCTC campus. We spent the day learning about the importance of communication and goals in leadership, and ultimately how this plays out on the battlefield (I mean work place)!  It was about 20 degrees that day, yet still one of the best days of training.
Even in the sun, it was a cold day on the battlefield.   Photo Credit:  Matthew Patterson
 
 
Poised and ready to take aim at those pesky work deadlines.  Photo Credit:  Matthew Patterson
 
For me, this training helped bridge a gap between the work I do at a field station and its role in helping to direct policy and management decisions on the regional and national levels.  I met some really fantastic people from all over the country, and the bonds I formed with my fellow Fishery Academy graduates during those two weeks will stay with me for the rest of my career!
Submitted by Maureen Kavanagh