Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cargo for Conservation

Many years ago, I drove down to Ashland, Oregon, home to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Forensic Laboratory.   It is the only lab in the world dedicated to crimes against wildlife.  As in police labs, forensic scientists examine, identify, and compare evidence using a variety of scientific procedures and instruments, in the attempt to link suspect, victim, and crime scene with physical evidence.
At the time, the lab also had a large warehouse containing row upon row of shelves containing a wide range of confiscated items.  Included were items made from ivory, coral, reptiles, furs, and bird feathers, to name a few.  The warehouse has since moved to Denver.   Most of the items ending up in the warehouse are usually seized at U.S. airports from people returning from travels abroad.  Some of these people are unaware that they are transporting illegal items back into the states and others are simply smugglers.    
The main purpose of my trip to Ashland was to gather an assortment of these items from the warehouse.  These items are now used in a conservation awareness program called “Cargo for Conservation”, a kit which shows and encourages species protection.   Educators studying endangered species can focus on the illegal wildlife trade as one reason many species are in trouble.
Items used for conservation awareness
I’ve used this kit on numerous occasions, at public events, in the classroom, or with groups of girl and boy scouts.  Highlighting the stories of the animals affected by illegal trade and allowing the students to actually see and hold those items made from the animals makes a dramatic impact.  This kit is available to all educators.  Please contact our office to reserve it.  
Submitted by Donna Allard

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bandon Marsh Restoration and the Legend of Face Rock

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge to help Brook continue the post restoration monitoring work.  For the most part, the restoration work has been finished.  At least the earth moving part.  Tide gates have been removed and the dike is gone.  Fahys and Redd Creeks have been restored to their original channels.  Over 5 miles of new tidal channels have been dug.  Off the refuge, two fish barriers have been removed on Fahys Creek to allow salmon and trout full access to potential spawning and rearing habitat and into Fahys Lake.  Revegetation is still taking place in a few locations on the refuge.  More details on this marsh restoration project, the largest in Oregon, can be found at the following links.

Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge
Bandon Marsh NWR Restoration - Video
Restoring Tidal Marshes on Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuges - The Dish on Fish Blog

Fyke nets set in Redd Creek

We put out fyke nets, seined, and electrofished throughout the refuge to see what fish were using new and old sites.  We caught lots of really nice cutthroat trout, coho, starry flounder, as well as the usual three-spined stickleback and sculpin.  I was impressed when we caught coho yearlings and cutthroat trout in some of the very new channels, far from the creek.  I can't even begin to imagine the numbers and varieties of fish that may use these tidal channels in future years, but we'll be checking.

Brook sampling fish
A typical coastal cutthroat trout caught on the refuge

After one of our long hard days of carrying nets, buckets, and sampling gear through fields and mud, not to mention trying to beat the high tides, we had a chance to take a short ride to an ocean lookout.  There was a rock in the ocean, called Face Rock.  I saw the likeness to a woman's face right away. 

Face Rock
There are many variations of the legend of Face Rock but here is a short version from the Bandon's Visitor Guide.

"Legend from the Nah-So-Mah Tribe has it that the beautiful Indian princess Ewanua was visiting tribes on the coast with her father, Chief Siskiyou, and in celebration of their visit, a great potlatch took place.
The local tribes were in great fear of Seatka, the evil spirit of the ocean, but Ewanua and those in her tribe, who lived in the mountains, were not afraid.
After the feast, while others lay sleeping, Ewanua carried her dog, Komax, and her cat and kittens in a basket and wandered down to the ocean.
She danced and played with delight, and soon placed her pets in their basket on the beach and swam into the ocean, far from shore. Unaware of any danger, she was suddenly grabbed by a fearsome creature that came out of the water.
Komax, knowing his mistress was in danger, swam out to her with the basket in his mouth and bit Seatka. Howling with rage, the monster kicked off the dog and threw the cat and kittens far out to sea. He tried to get the princess to look at him, but she refused, knowing his power was in his eyes.
Now, the beautiful Ewanua lies in the ocean, looking skyward, refusing to look at Seatka, who sits nearby. Her beloved Komax and her cat and kittens lie to the west, waiting in vain for their mistress to arise."

Submitted by Donna Allard

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Career Days at the CRFPO - 2012

The CRFPO held its 2nd annual 'open house' a couple of weeks ago. We renamed the event to career day, a term which better describes this program.  Two groups of high school students were invited this year on separate days to interact with some of our fish biologists.   This event was meant to showcase careers in science as well as with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a whole, and to give the students a closer look at some of the specific activities performed by our office.

Using electricity to capture lamprey.
This year there were four stations.  Each activity lasted about 1/2 hour, enough time to get our point across, but not too much time to let anyone get bored.  Not that they would, with all the cool stuff we had to show them. 

Anesthesiology 101 demonstrated the various ways we use electricity to either catch fish or put them to sleep so that we can tag them.  This activity was a big hit, mostly because we had live fish.  The GPS activity showed students how to navigate to different locations.  After a quick introduction and lesson on how to use a unit, each student was given a GPS to find six locations.  Most every field crew in the office uses a GPS unit to either find a sampling site or to mark a site.   Students also learned how to locate fish using radio tracking.  Two large tubs filled with corks, some marked demonstrated how we estimate fish populations and depending on the effort, how accurate the numbers can be.  Finally, for the first time, we set up one of our automated marking trailers.  Although it did not have fish, the students were able to see the machines run and also got a chance to tag a fish (cork).

Radio tracking
Some of the feedback we recieved from the students follows.

“I enjoyed the GPS activity the most.  I haven’t had the experience of doing anything like that before.  It was fun.”
“I most enjoyed learning about the machinery in the 1.3 million dollar trailer and how accurate it is with cutting the adipose fin.”
“I enjoyed the shocking station.  I found it interesting because I learned many new things about how electricity works with fish.”
“I kind of liked the cork/population estimation a lot because it was the most hands on.”
“I liked looking for the fish tag in the field, because it was less ‘talk’ and more ‘do’.  I don’t like lectures that much.”
“I enjoyed all the activities very much.”
Students touring the auto marking trailer
Besides showing the students some of what we do and explaining why we do it, we hoped the students took at least two more messages back to school with them.  1.)  Biologists often need many more skills to perform their jobs.  Sure we all know alot about fish but we also need to know how to use special equipment as well as have the skills sometimes to build some of the research equipment needed such as PIT tag antennas.  2.) The CRFPO could not function as a unit without the much needed support of people such as our purchasing agent, accountants, contract officer, and computer specialists, to name a few.  Thus, even in a 'fishery' office, numerous career opportunities exist.

All in all, both days were a success.  Here's a note one class left us.

"Career Day was Awesome, Interesting, Informative, Job-Qualifying, and Educational"