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My Experience at Malheur NWR

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By Rebecca Pickle, MNWR Restoration Technician

I moved to Harney County in the winter of 2019. It was not my first pick but considering my husband got a permanent job in Hines, I followed. My first job in Harney County was for the Agricultural Research Station working on seed coatings to prolong germination after the first frost that normally rolls through in the spring. While the research was interesting, my passion has never really been plants and I looked forward to seasonal work doing aquatics around the area. My breakthrough was a call from Dr. James Pearson about work on Malheur Lake and its tributaries as a seasonal technician.

            The work entailed a lot of scientific water quality testing that I thought was out of my league coming from a land management background. The majority of my previous work was on stream assessments. With this job and it’s supervisors, I was able to grow my understanding of how a shallow lake functions and acquire a base of how the tributaries contribute to the nutrient accumulation in the lake. One of the factors surrounding Malheur Lake degradation is Common Carp which I’ll admit I had no working background in when I first started this position. My position entailed working with all stages of the Common Carp life cycle, when and where they spawn, where the new young of the year reside, how far upstream the adult carp travel along the Donner und Blitzen, etc. I should have known I’d be doing a vast amount of work on the carp but failed to look into what my boss’s Ph.D thesis was. It was my mistake, his gain.

            I’ll admit carp are tough, resilient creatures that will make for many years of job security, but I also love the work of figuring out James’ model and how to remove a certain percentage of carp a year to lead to lake and river restoration. These job experiences and the scenery of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge ultimately lead me to come back for a second season. Little did I know, James would have several projects lined up to keep me on my toes from March until November of 2021.

            My second season at Malheur was different since I was employed through High Desert Partnership. It was weird considering it was my first position in quite a few years that I was not a government employee. Other than that all was right with work on Malheur. We have three major projects that are ongoing on the lake. First thing I worked on was a mesocosm project that studied the different influences of lake turbidity and how to lower lake turbidity using aluminum sulfate. After that I helped with an emergent vegetation (EV) project that Beth Boos a LSU graduate student is working on in processing why bulrush and cattails are not encroaching on the lake. The last project was a carp mobile tracking study to exploit their aggregations for future carp removals. (Photos of each below)

I was around for every install which led to the joke that I was a hog panel expert considering both the mesocosms and the EV projects had modified versions of hog panels and there were several exclosures to be made. The other installation was the carp tracking stations that went up along the Donner und Blitzen. This took a few months to get everything situated for data collection which we started in April/May. We also couldn’t predict that 2021 would be a drought year which cut the first two projects short. The mesocosms dried up by the end of June. We could still collect EV data but most soil moisture was dry. The lake got to low levels that a handful of the tagged carp got trapped on the lake and as the lake shrank in size they died. A majority of the tagged carp seeked refugia along the Donner und Blitzen.

            As all of this data was being gathered, James moved on to fulfill other fisheries dreams. This was close to my original season end date but the refuge made plans to extend my season. Huge shoutout to the Friends of Malheur for extending my season to make sure all of the project’s initial years data collection finished smoothly. Without my extension, we wouldn’t have been able to collect data needed to solidify refuge needs for future restoration efforts on the emergent vegetation study and the carp telemetry on the Blitzen. I also believe there needed to be a face for the aquatics realm in meetings and on refuge that wouldn’t have been possible without my extension. My hope is that next year we can gather more data on these three projects without the hindrance of a drought to further our understanding of turbidity, EV, and carp.

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