Before this summer, when I pictured Idaho I thought of three things: snow, fish, and potatoes. Now that I am here, the images I associate with these words have changed dramatically. In the seed potato capital of the nation, with top-notch fly-fishing and altitudes so high that you get tan hiking on snow, I have learned more about fisheries, agriculture, and Idaho than I could anywhere else. The welcome to Ashton sign says, "Adventure starts here," and after my first few work weeks, I believe it.
During the workday, we drive through some of the most glorious sun kissed farmland and bushwhack through unchartered territory in order to arrive at the most beautiful streams in both the Teton and Henry's Fork watersheds. In Henry's Fork, we collect water samples, identify and tag the fish coming up the Buffalo River fish ladder, measure rate of water flow, and so much more. During these tasks, I help the Foundation scientifically show how tributaries of the Henry’s Fork fluctuate throughout the day, season, and over time. Additionally, we can see both through the data and through the field experience how streams compare to each other, and how these differences result in ecosystem differences. Some of the data we are retrieving shows these differences in turbidity, phosphorus levels, orthophosphate levels, suspended sediment, and more. Additionally, we are physically see how aquatic bugs, fish, aquatic vegetation, and water clarity can be impacted. When at work, I feel more connected to nature than I've ever felt before.
Last week, Thacia and us four interns embarked upon our next challenge: working with the Friends of the Teton River on a longitudinal study. This survey occurs every five years to estimate population changes in trout along the Teton River. To figure this out, we electro-fish to estimate population counts of different types of trout in the Teton River. Using the electro-fisher, we create a current with enough electricity to paralyze but not kill the fish so they can float on the water. Then, we can net them and place them in a bucket. We do this for each 100m long pass at sites along the Teton River that are each 2 km apart. Once all the fish in the pass are collected, we look at what kind of fish they are. We measure all the trout, and pit tag and take genetic samples of the cutthroat trout because they are the native species we are tracking.
In order to reach the sites, we hike miles each day—sometimes in waders and sometimes in bug-repellent covered clothing—in order to find the pass. Once we use the GPS tracker to find around the coordinates that match where the electrofishing was done the past two times this study was conducted, we use visual clues to match up what we are seeing with the pictures that were taken five and ten years ago. During this process, we have learned more about the Teton watershed and the types of nonprofit work towards protecting the ecosystems around here. Meeting the people who are working towards protecting these watersheds is just as inspiring as the nature itself. I am looking forward to continue working with HFF and the Friends of the Teton River and to explore more of the “wild” west.