Donner und Blitzen River

Written by Rebecca Pickle

I started my adventure in Harney County in the winter of 2019 not really thinking about the amount of time my husband and I would actually stay. My husband landed his first permanent job and I was just going along for the ride, no job lined up and fairly clueless about the area.  Here’s the little information I started with: high desert, rural, and isn’t that refuge the place that had the take over? I was no stranger to the first two tidbits of information. After all, I did a work stint in high desert before in southern Wyoming. Also, I grew up in a rural community, my hometown was similar in size to Burns/Hines with an hour drive to anything that resembled a convenience store. I had even worked in the remote area of Dixie, Idaho where there’s only a total of 20 people that stay all year round and also a 2 hour drive to get groceries. What I didn’t know at the time was that I would land a job at the refuge that did indeed experience an armed takeover but I would absolutely love every season of being there.

I got the Malheur Wildlife Refuge seasonal job in the spring of 2020 to work on a water nutrient project with US Geological Survey (USGS) being the lead. Along with nutrients I had heard that the refuge hosts a program that involves multiple partners to round up common carp and remove them from the Donner und Blitzen River. In August, the carp removal effort commenced and we removed 10,229 lbs of carp from the river that year. Since then, I would return for two more seasons thanks to the awesome supervisors and partners. In 2021, to say the season was busy would be an understatement. There were three major projects on Malheur Lake that I was a part of. These projects included a USGS turbidity mesocosm study, a carp telemetry study, and a graduate student emergent vegetation study.

All of these projects would give us insight as to how to best manage Malheur Lake and its turbidity issues, but the caveat was that in 2021 Malheur Lake experienced a drought year. The mesocosm project ended beginning in July due to water levels being too low to feasibly conduct water quality samples. As for the carp, most moved to the Donner und Blitzen where the water is. The only remaining project on Malheur Lake was emergent vegetation. Since we had tagged carp in the river the carp removal was put on hold.

So as my season comes to an end in 2022, I reflect on lessons, experiences, and the relationships I have made around the community and through work. I have learned so much about wetlands, birds, fish, and high desert.  The community that embraced our presence from the start of our 3-year stretch was felt every day. Harney County was a beautiful midway point in my life. For that I would like to say thank you!

Wood Duck drakes and female.
Malheur Lake at Sunrise.