Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pathways Perspective

Kyle Beard is presently a Pathways Intern with the Columbia River Fisheries Program Office.  

Well I’m now past the fall midterm point at Washington State University-Vancouver, and everything is going great. It has been a lot of work doing both school and interning (days just don’t seem long enough), but it is all working together nicely and really complementing one another. There seems to be a lot of crossover learning and I couldn’t think of a better way to learn about conservation biology than this.

In each of my classes I have been able to relate something to my work here at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Columbia River Fisheries Program Office, and vice versa. In my Environmental Science course we have been utilizing the creek and ponds on campus to study water quality for things such as dissolved oxygen content, pH, and temperature. We have taken soil samples to look at composition, pollution, and runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus. And we have studied marine fisheries and how they are affected by illegal fishing, derelict fishing gear, and a warming acidic ocean. All of these of course relate to salmon habitat and it’s great to see how it all connects with what I am doing here at the Service.

In my Chemistry and English courses there isn’t such a direct relationship but there is still some crossover. With Chemistry we are of course in a lab running experiments and learning proper lab techniques which makes my time in the lab here at work more comfortable. In my Technical Writing English course we have been pouring over documents to understand the reader/writer connection and how to write to a specific audience. I, of course, took the office’s Marking pamphlet from work to use for my first project.

Things have been really busy here at the office too considering its fall and adult salmon are returning. This means that much of the Marking and Tagging crew has been out of the office spending all their time at hatcheries either spawning adult fish or marking juveniles. With the fish being spawned, there is always a certain number that need to be sampled to determine run age composition. In addition, the ones with CWT’s need to be sent back to the lab to have coded wire tags extracted and read. This has been where I have spent the majority of my time.

The freezers have been completely full of salmon snouts and when it seems like I’m making headway, crew members return from the hatcheries with more. I guess with the great returns this year I can expect to be in there a while longer.

The only frustration I have had managing my school schedule with work is that I hardly ever have the time needed to go out on the full-day work trips to hatcheries. My classes are dispersed in such a way that my longest time available to work is a five-hour shift, which with the commute time makes it unrealistic to get out in the field. I have already planned to fix this for next semester.

I have been able to make a couple of trips, though, and one of those was a real highlight of my time here at the Service so far. This was my visit to the Abernathy Fish Technology Center. It was a real treat to be shown all of the projects that go on there, and by “there” I mean west of Longview (I’d never heard of it before either). This place has amazing capabilities and does extremely important work to aid in conserving salmon, steelhead, and other species.

For example, they have a genetics lab that processes samples to identify hatchery and wild fish and further the understanding of how they interact and use habitat. This is definitely a big topic and necessary for many reasons. Not only are they completing their own studies, they have a rapid response field kit that allows biologists in the field to collect a sample, ship it overnight to the lab, and obtain immediate results. This greatly improves the ability to make decisions and manage fish in real time.

There’s also a nutrition research laboratory onsite that tests the feed being given to hatchery fish. Since hatchery fish are raised on feed alone until they’re released, it is extremely important that they are getting all of the needed nutrients from the feed. They can also make small batches of experimental feed to see how it affects diet.

Another laboratory is set aside for testing fish health and physiology. From what I was told, it is like having a physical done at a doctor’s office. This helps to identify and document trends is fish health and behavior.

Overall, my experiences so far have been great. Everyone I have worked with at the Service has welcomed me and been willing to share their knowledge. I have never once felt like I was just some new guy or a burden on time.

I’m looking forward to 2015 with my new school schedule and being able to get out and experience some other things. It sounds like I will be helping out with some classroom activities in a program that works with 4th graders. This should be fun and I will be sure to write about it next time.

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