Onto New Horizons

I’m a planner. Since I started kindergarten, I’ve always known my next step. First, it was all about when homework assignments were due, when the next field trip was, what library book I would check out next. As I grew older, every class I took, every extracurricular I participated in, and every summer camp I signed up for had a purpose. I knew how each and every little thing fit into my larger academic and career plan. But when I arrived in Ashton two days after graduating college in mid-June of last year, I didn’t have a plan beyond my ten-week internship. For the first time, I didn’t know my next step and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

I pursued an internship with the Henry’s Fork Foundation to explore three things – recreational fisheries, freshwater fisheries, and collaborative management. After fourteen months with the Foundation, I have been able to interact with these aspects of the Henry’s Fork fishery in a more meaningful way than I initially anticipated.

Recreational fisheries

Growing up in coastal Alaskan commercial fishing communities, catch-and-release sport fishing is a concept I had little exposure to before moving to Idaho. Where I come from, we catch fish to put food in the freezer. So whenever I would share a photo of a famous Henry’s Fork rainbow with my family and they would ask what it tasted like, I had to explain that things were different out here…these people put the fish back.

And that’s part of the reason this internship appealed to me. I am fascinated with communities whose cultural and economic lifeblood is dependent on fish; I want to use science to ensure this fisheries resource is sustained so that these communities and cultures can persist. So when I arrived in Idaho, I was excited to meet anglers, to learn why they fish the Henry’s Fork, why they follow catch-and-release practices, and maybe to try my hand at fly fishing as well.

I have had the privilege to not only meet and make friends with guides and anglers, but also to present scientific data on the 2015 summer water season at an end-of-season guides and outfitters meeting. Additionally, I helped write and prepare a scientific manuscript exploring angler satisfaction in Harriman State Park in 2008 and 2014, broadening my understanding of what anglers on the Ranch value and seek out in their recreational experiences. Presenting data to anglers, exploring data from anglers, and talking directly with anglers has helped me understand what information is important to the fly fishing community and how to best communicate that information – skills that will be valuable as I continue my career in fisheries science.

To all the guides and anglers that have taken the time to share your knowledge, opinions, and advice, thank you.

Freshwater fisheries

Having majored in ocean systems in college, freshwater systems was an entirely new topic I had yet to explore. My first exposure to freshwater fisheries management was population estimation via electrofishing. During my summer as an intern, I spent five weeks with Friends of the Teton River conducting electrofishing surveys in the tributaries of the Teton River to estimate if and how native Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout populations have changed in the basin since 2005 and 2010. I learned trout identification, how to measure length of a live trout (I had only measured dead salmon before), and the limits of my own perseverance as I hiked miles in waders in summer heat carrying a heavy pack. When I was hired on after my internship, I had the privilege of then taking the electrofishing data I had helped collect over the summer and use statistical tools for analysis.

Leading monitoring efforts of the Buffalo River Fish Ladder this past spring also allowed me to explore freshwater fisheries topics through both field collection and data analysis. I helped measure and identify to species almost one thousand fish migrating from the Henry’s Fork to the Buffalo River between mid-February and mid-June of this year. I led field trips for Ashton Elementary 5th graders and BYU Idaho students explaining why fish migrate, why we monitor their migration, and what we have learned so far. My biggest accomplishment of this project was writing a report detailing the history of the Buffalo River Fish Ladder and analyzing the last ten years of upstream migration data, completed earlier this week.

Perhaps my most important work over the last year has been in regards to water. Last year, I conducted data analysis to contextualize the severity of the 2015 drought. This year, I tracked snowmelt and runoff to help anticipate what irrigation delivery would be during the 2016 summer angling season. While the results of these two projects have been somewhat bleak, they have helped better explain the changes the Henry’s Fork has experienced during this four-year drought cycle. Data-driven, science-based information can allow users and managers of the Henry’s Fork to make informed decisions, build resiliency, and better prepare for and respond to dry conditions. After having lived in both California and Idaho during drought, I have witnessed how climate change is difficult for livelihoods dependent on natural resources and on natural resource managers, and just how important communication of information is. As baselines shift and we enter into a new normal it is important to realize that business as usual is no longer acceptable and we as users must adapt as well.

Collaborative management

The term “collaborative management” was what most piqued my interest in the internship announcement. Discussions on the value of having different stakeholders at the table when making management decisions were prevalent in my undergraduate career and I looked forward to the chance to witness and learn from how these multiple stakeholder meetings were conducted. I had the privilege of attending meetings with the Henry’s Fork Watershed Council, Drought Management Planning Committee, the Teton Valley Water Users Association, and the High Divide Collaborative. I have attended discussions on the construction of a new angler access on the Teton River, the provision of winter flows for trout while also filling Island Park Reservoir, how to implement incidental recharge in Teton Valley so as to stretch water supply, and how regional organizations can work together to fulfill common conservation goals. I have really valued participating in these meetings and learning about what different stakeholders value and how different stakeholders communicate. Fisheries and watershed science involve and affect many different entities and having this experience will be beneficial to how I approach these situations later on in my career.

One of the largest projects I worked on in relation to collaborative management was the Managed Recharge report for the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer for the Idaho Department of Water Resources. This project and the related addendum (yet to be published) really put my coding abilities and R skills to the test. As a result, I grew as a systems modeler and graphical communicator while also learning more than I ever imagined about Idaho water law.

Onward

Although my co-workers often joke that I love sitting in front of my computer and coding, I have also had the chance to get outside of the Foundation office and explore the surrounding area. Last summer, I picked my first huckleberry, my first chanterelle. Last fall, I went to the Eastern Idaho State Fair and milked a cow – a task that was at the top of my lifetime bucket list. This winter, I snowmachined (snowmobiled), snowshoed, and ice fished for the first time. This summer, I have hiked over 72 miles in six weeks, soaking in Yellowstone, the Tetons, and rural Idaho’s proximity to nature as much as possible. And this past April, I caught my first (and only) wild Henry’s Fork trout on a dry fly thanks to Rob’s patience, encouragement, expertise. I never quite understood dry fly fishing to rising fish until this moment, when four fish were feeding at the surface and my caveman instinct turned on, willing the fish to eat my March Brown as dark storm clouds rolled in.

Leaving the Henry’s Fork Foundation and Idaho is going to be tough, but I look forward to the adventure ahead. I will be moving to Seattle to attend the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington to pursue a master’s degree in fisheries science. I am funded by Dr. John Skalski and will be conducting a thesis on salmon in the Columbia River Basin. Of course, eastern Idaho has stolen a piece of my heart and I’m sure that after three years in the city, the small-towner inside of me will be looking to retreat to somewhere more rural, more familiar, more Idaho.

Thank you to the Henry’s Fork Foundation for this incredible year. I look forward to watching this organization grow and continue to tackle the challenges the changing system will bring.