Monday, June 17, 2013

USFWS Internship & Mentoring Programs 2013 - Outreach Activities

The hush that fell over the students as I made my first incision quickly transitioned into a wave of awe and excitement as they saw, for the first time, the inside of an adult coho salmon.

Fish dissection with
Poulsbo Elementary students
My USFWS internship has been going well as I have kept busy providing support for numerous outreach and education events. Teaching the fish anatomy station at a recent school field trip at Quilcene National Fish Hatchery, for example, was both fun and rewarding. I worked with over 100 third-grade students from Poulsbo Elementary in groups of about 20 teaching them about salmon anatomy (both external and internal) as well as the significance of salmon to the ecology of the Pacific Northwest. Few things can capture the attention of a third grader like a fish dissection. Throughout the day I heard numerous “oohs” and “ahhs” as the students' excitement grew with each new discovery. Their interest reminded me of my younger self when I first discovered the wonderment and excitement that science has to offer.

Simulating river processes  
I also had the pleasure of assisting with the outreach campaign associated with the Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon recovery project. Educating the public about this lesser-known, but no less important, salmon species is a major component of the long-term recovery and conservation strategy for these fish. During this project I provided lessons focusing on river morphology and fish habitat. I used an engaging and effective river model ( that allowed students to take part in hands-on demonstrations of how rivers change over time.  It was also a useful tool for demonstrating features such as log jams, riprap, culverts and bridges. The students were utterly captivated as they watched a river evolving right in front of their eyes. This activity was also a very effective demonstration of both healthy and damaging human interactions with river habitats and riparian zones. Each student walked away with multiple real world examples of how they can practice stewardship and conservation.

It has been very fulfilling to help inspire the next generation of conservation advocates and professionals. Both of these outreach experiences not only benefitted our local schools and communities but they also benefitted myself as well. My public speaking abilities are being significantly strengthened and my retention and understanding of fisheries conservation and stewardship science increases with each lesson I teach.

--Travis Hedrick, USFWS Intern/Fisheries Technician


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

USFWS Internship & Mentoring Programs - 2013

Hello, my name is Travis Hedrick. I am a senior at The Evergreen State College (TESC) in Olympia, Washington, and an intern for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). I just started this full-time internship and I’ve already taken part in a few adventures including salmon snorkel surveys on the Big Quilcene River!  Other future learning opportunities will include fish hatchery support, estuary sampling and stream electrofishing. All of these experiences will prove to be beneficial as I move toward completing my bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences from TESC. I have learned much from the college in the fields of environmental studies and biology but nothing rivals the real-world experience I will gain from this internship.  

My internship with the USFWS also includes a youth education component. I am looking forward to applying the knowledge I have obtained from both my classroom and field experiences as I lead learning activities covering fish anatomy (fish dissections), river morphology, and salmon life history. As I lead these activities I will strengthen my ability to articulate biological concepts to the public as well as reinforce my existing understanding of them. This program is also a great way to connect youth with nature and to promote interest in the conservation process. I am excited to have the opportunity to give back to my community as well as inspire future advocates and enthusiasts.

I am confident this internship will help me gain a better understanding of the inner workings of fisheries biology and ecology work. This internship will also help me forward my education goals, strengthen my interpersonal skills, and diversify my as work place experience. All of which will prove to be essential as I begin my transition from student to professional.

I never would have guessed that I would be earning college credits while swimming with local trout and salmon populations!


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Strengthening Partnerships and Coordination of Elwha Restoration and Monitoring Activities

Projects as large and complex as the Elwha Restoration Project are best accomplished when numerous individuals and agencies work together. These collaborative partnerships don’t occur by chance---they take significant effort by all those involved in the project. Recent staff changes at Puget Sound Partnership (PSP), the Washington State agency tasked with coordinating restoration and protective activities in Puget Sound, provided an opportunity for agency staff to further strengthen interagency partnerships and collaboration. Duane Fagergren recently became the new PSP lead for the Strait of Juan de Fuca region. In an effort to learn about the Elwha Restoration Project and begin to forge relationships, Duane contacted several individuals from the agencies involved with Elwha River restoration and monitoring, including Roger Peters (U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service biologist) and Jeff Duda (U.S. Geological Survey ecologist).

Roger Peters (left) and Jeff Duda on Altaire Bridge
Roger and Jeff took Duane on a field trip to multiple monitoring sites on the Elwha River to provide an on-the-ground perspective of the Elwha restoration progress focusing on science, monitoring, and related issues. They visited sediment monitoring sites at Altaire Bridge (where suspended sediment below the Glines Canyon Dam project is being monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), National Park Service, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation) and the water diversion where USGS is monitoring turbidity in the mainstem of the Elwha River (see webcams). They also visited multiple sites designed to monitor the movements of juvenile fish that are among the first group of recolonizers to portions of the watershed that haven’t seen anadromous salmonids in nearly a century. These sites included a screw trap operated by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe that is used for monitoring outmigrating juvenile salmon on Little River and a PIT tag recording station operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Indian Creek that also monitors recolonizing juveniles. 

Stumps cut during construction of the Elwha Dam are being
uncovered as sediment from Lake Aldwell erodes and is
transported downstream. Based on this picture, the current
floodplain level is likely close to the original floodplain level.
They then visited the former reservoir bottom and delta area of Lake Aldwell where the former lake bed is being transformed into a functioning floodplain river, a salmon-rearing channel created by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and a site where the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has installed a series of engineered large woody debris jams to create fish spawning and rearing habitat. Finally, the group visited the Elwha estuary and beaches east of the river mouth. There numerous groups are studying the physical and biological changes to the ecosystem caused by the removal of the dams. At low tide, the physical changes to the beaches and submarine delta were apparent since sediment released from the former reservoirs has already moved to the coastal areas.

Accumulated small wood that has been deposited
along the Elwha nearshore after being released from
Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell after dam removal
Throughout the day, the three discussed the issues relevant to research and monitoring, particularly those projects that will contribute to a better understanding of how the restoration of the Elwha River and its salmon populations unfolds.  “A strong working relationship between the Puget Sound Partnership and those of us on the ground can only help, as we both are striving to learn as much as we can about the possibilities to recover ecosystem structure and functions that are relevant to Puget Sound,” said Jeff.

According to Duane, “This was one of the most informative and enjoyable days I’ve spent in my career working at the Puget Sound Partnership and its predecessor agencies. Roger and Jeff helped me understand the enormity of the system and the dynamic forces at work in the Elwha. The important work we all do benefits by forging personal relationships like this, and important resources like Chinook salmon in the Elwha will hopefully benefit from our cooperative, collaborative effort". Duane plans to meet with others working on the Elwha restoration effort, including individuals from NOAA, WDFW, Olympic National Park, and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe in the near future.

Duane Fagergren (left) and Jeff Duda discuss changes in the
Elwha nearshore. This picture was taken at low tide from the
Lower Elwha Klallam Reservation, east of the Elwha River
mouth and facing Freshwater Bay and Observatory Point.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Elwha River Fine Sediment Sampling

Late last summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), NOAA Fisheries, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, U.S. Geological Survey, and National Park Service participated in a multi-agency effort to measure fine sediment concentrations in salmon spawning areas of the Elwha River. This sampling was the first to occur following the initiation of dam removal on the Elwha River; baseline data had previously been collected for 2 years prior to dam removal.

Sampling area within the 'shield' showing
sediment conditions prior to dam removal (2010)

The removal of Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams is expected to release 7-8 million cubic meters of sediment. About half of this is fine sediment (silt and clay), which should be transported quickly by the Elwha River into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. However, this material could alter spawning habitat downstream of the dams. Monitoring fine sediments in locations where salmon are likely to spawn will help determine whether any impacts occur and, if so, how long they persist.

We sampled both mainstem and floodplain channel habitat, collecting 30 samples from just below Glines Canyon Dam to near the mouth of the river. A plywood shield blocked water flow during sampling, providing a calm water area where the sample of the river bed material could be collected. We removed the surface layer of the sediment and placed it into a sample bag for later processing to determine sediment size distribution. We also collected a 'before-and-after' water sample to determine the amount of fine sediment that was suspended in the water column during sampling.

Measuring pre-sampling water depths within the shield.
This is done to determine the depth of the sediment sample and
the water volume behind the shield. This volume is used to
calculate the overall weight of fine sediment suspended
in the water column during sampling.
Preliminary results suggest that there is more fine sediment in the spawning areas today than before dam removal began; however, the level was lower than expected. There was also a change from large cobble to gravel substrate in some areas, which will greatly improve salmon spawning habitat. We expect larger changes this year following the complete removal of Glines Canyon Dam, which holds back the majority of the sediment in this river system.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Transporting Coho - The Journey from Quilcene NFH to Quilcene Bay Net Pen

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Pathways student technician Michael Farnum and I had the opportunity to participate in transferring young coho salmon to a net pen in Hood Canal last month. During this once-a-year event, approximately 200,000 coho smolts from Quilcene National Fish Hatchery (NFH) are moved to a net pen in Quilcene Bay. This partnership between USFWS, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, and the Skokomish Tribe is helping to rebuild Hood Canal’s salmon population for tribal and sport fisheries.

The transfer of coho from Quilcene NFH to the net pen is a multiple-step process. The first step happened at the hatchery, where the coho smolts are moved from the raceways into the WDFW fish transport truck using a pump and tubing. During this process, I helped crowd the fish to one end of each raceway; this makes the transfer to the fish transport truck a lot easier. Once loaded, the WDFW fish transport truck headed to the harbor to meet the boat. At the harbor, we transferred the coho from the truck into a 1,000-gallon tank on the boat. Once the fish and technicians were safely aboard the boat, we set out on the final leg of our journey to Quilcene Bay.

On the way to Quilcene Bay net pen
These coho salmon will spend the next couple of months in the net pen acclimating to saltwater and growing a lot. The net pens will also protect the fish from predators that are looking to dine on a tasty and naive young fish just entering the marine food web.

Transferring coho from the boat to the net pen
My experience participating in this event was a positive one. I was able to gain valuable experience and, as usual, working at Quilcene NFH was an interesting and educational experience.

--Tim Grun, Biological Science Technician


Friday, March 15, 2013

Observations on the 2013 Seattle Boat Show

CenturyLink Field in Seattle is known as the home of the 12th Man and 72,000 screaming Seattle Seahawks fans that regularly set the Richter scale twitching during every home football game. A typical trip to CenturyLink Field leaves you excited after watching the home team cruise to victory.

But CenturyLink Field also plays host to many other events. From January 25 through February 3 this year, I represented the USFWS at the 66th Annual Seattle Boat Show. This being my first boat show, I didn’t know what to expect. Coworkers shared stories of their experiences from last year, but each experience was unique. With attendance expected to be around 50,000, along with 600 exhibitors and more than 200 free seminars, I knew there was going to be lots of action.

Two young visitors testing their casting skills
My first day on the job was exciting and busy from the start. Wide-eyed kids were rushing to our casting booth with high hopes of catching some of our laminated fish (with magnets instead of hooks). After they reeled in a fish, I helped them identify what species of fish they had "caught" (they ranged from bull trout to largemouth bass). Not only were these kids having fun fishing, but they were also learning about sportsmanship, fishing skills, and fisheries conservation.

There were plenty of "older" sportsmen eager to share fishing tales and boaters who were amazed looking at our maps that show the rapid spread of zebra and quagga mussels west from the Great Lakes. Travelers from all over the state of Washington visited our booth, along with some folks from Alaska and Maine. I even ran into people I know from my prior residence in Sitka, Alaska (the king salmon fishing capitol of the world). I would like to think they all walked away with more information about what USFWS does and how they can enjoy and conserve America’s great aquatic resources.

Educating the public on invasive species
By the end of the boat show, we had shared time with nearly 1,000 young fishermen and fisherwomen in our casting activity and had close to 3,000 conversations with interested and amazed individuals about invasive species. With informational brochures and invasive species literature running low, the Seattle Boat Show came to a close.

Reflecting on my experience at the show, I found the atmosphere of the Seattle Boat Show to be fun, exciting, energetic, and even crazy at times. The USFWS presence, thanks in large part to Biologist and Outreach Coordinator Dan Spencer, was a great success. The experiences I had during the Seattle Boat Show were priceless! My only regret is not signing up for more shifts so that I could educate more people on the potential threat of invasive species to our pristine Pacific Northwest waters and teach another young boy or girl how to cast a fishing pole for the first time.

--Timothy Grun, Biological Science Technician


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

USFWS Internship - Working on the Elwha River Restoration Project

Sarah Gabel
Greetings! My name is Sarah Gabel and I’m a biology major at Saint Martin’s University and an intern for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). I began pursuing internship opportunities last fall in order to gain field and lab experience and exposure to the application of scientific research and methods in a professional setting, as well as to bolster my resume. The USFWS offered an opportunity associated with the Elwha River restoration project which appealed to me because of the lab experience and focus on the environment, a branch of biology I’ve had an interest in. I have often enjoyed going fishing, camping, hiking, kayaking, biking, and partaking in various other outdoor activities which have given me a strong interest in nature and a desire to learn more about it.

The Elwha River restoration project is a study of how the deconstruction of the Elwha Dam is affecting the fine sediment concentrations in salmon spawning habitat. Data will be used to monitor changes in the quality of salmon spawning habitat during and following dam removal. This data will be important for understanding factors limiting salmon recovery in this system. My lab work includes filtering water samples, burning off the organic material, and measuring the difference in order to determine how much fine sediment is being added to the spawning gravels in the river. It’s an interesting process observing the differences between the samples taken before and after deconstruction of the dam. It has been a great learning experience for me and has given me the chance to practice lab techniques in a professional environment while earning college credits toward my degree.
Filtering a water sample
In addition to developing my lab skills and understanding of the Elwha River restoration project, I find it exciting to have the opportunity to provide needed support for this important research project studying the effect of human activities on the environment. It is our responsibility to make sure that our actions do not disturb the ecosystem; projects such as this help to sustain the environment for the use and enjoyment of generations to come. This internship opportunity has piqued my interest in this field of work and I am now considering pursuing a career in biological research.

Placing samples in drying oven