Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Summer’s STEP on the Columbia

Summer 2011, for me, was spent as a STEP (Student Temporary Employment Position) student working on the Hatchery Assessment Team with the USFWS’s Columbia River Fisheries Program Office. Just as any proper summer should, mine was filled with bush-whacking trail adventures, acquisition of new skills, technical difficulties (associated with our electronic equipment), challenges, rewards, and of course FISH!

My summer challenge was re-acquiring my “stream legs.” After nine months of classroom studies, keeping my waders from collecting their own stream water samples from the field each workday was a task in itself. Especially due to the unusual higher summer flows and lower water visibility – overall concealing inconspicuous slippery and shifting stream rocks and making stream walking entertaining to say the least.

Netting was probably one of the most rewarding aspects of this job, especially netting multiple steelhead at once and getting to shout “double rainbow,” or even better “triple rainbow” (an Eagle Creek crew thing). Also, netting a really large cutthroat, steelhead, or especially an adult Chinook (which only half-way fits in the net), was pretty exciting. Rocking the shocker and handling fish were also much fun and very enjoyable.

In the field I observed not only the creek, but Eagle Creek as an ecosystem: deer, kingfishers, adult Chinook salmon, juvenile steelhead and coho salmon, Pacific Giant salamanders, garter snakes, and lots of sculpin – even a sculpin consuming a fellow sculpin!

As summer comes to a rapid and unfortunate close and books, lecture halls, and exams dominate the next nine months of mine, the experiences and memories of working in the astounding and beautiful Pacific Northwest with all the awesome and friendly people of CRFPO will stick with me forever. Working for USFWS was a great experience – thank you to all CRFPO’ers for an amazing summer adventure!

Submitted by Megan McKim.

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