Featured Scientist

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  • August 7, 2019

Two white males kneeling with bows and arrows next to deceased turkey on wooden cart. Young white boy kneeling on cart, behind turkey.
In the Fish family, hunting and fishing is a family affair. Max Fish, right, accompanied by his son and brother, pose for a photo after a successful archery hunt for wild turkey.

White male wearing grey, black, and yellow jacket and black pants holding up large halibut standing next to white female wearing black pants and blue jacket with hood up holding large halibut. Both are standing on a boat on the water. Partly cloudy sky in background.
Fishing in Alaska, Max and his wife, Carly, show off their catch.

White male wearing blue t-shirt, ball cap, and sunglasses holding fishing rod in one hand and small fish in another standing on beach next to young girl and young boy. Overcast sky and water in background.
As a father of two young children, Max makes it a priority to take his kids fishing, hunting and into the outdoors every chance he gets. Max and his son, Ryland, and daughter, Ellie, spend time surf fishing in Southern California.
 

There is not a more appropriately named employee anywhere within CDFW than Max Fish. An environmental scientist with the Inland Fisheries Assessment and Monitoring Program, Max is tasked with, well, helping to maximize fish and fishing opportunities within California’s inland lakes and reservoirs. He is based in West Sacramento.

The tools of his trade include the heavy duty, Smith-Root SR18 electrofishing boat he captains, a research vessel that can pump 170 to 1,000 volts of electricity through the water, temporarily stunning fish to the surface in order to survey populations and assess health in the state’s inland waters.

From Kokanee Salmon to crappie and catfish, Max works with more than three dozen inland fish species found in California. He also collects and analyzes all the data submitted by tournament anglers and fishing contests throughout the state.

Born and raised in Palo Alto, Max earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fish conservation biology from UC Davis and joined CDFW shortly after graduating in 2007.

You’ve seen the data from all the big bass tournaments. Where would you send someone interested in catching a really big black bass?

We have several species of black bass in California, which are largemouth, smallmouth, spotted, Alabama and redeye.

My area of expertise is really in northern California. I’d start with any of our central California lakes that have Kokanee Salmon populations. California holds the world record for Alabama Bass out of New Bullards Bar Reservoir (Yuba County). For awhile, it seemed like New Bullards Bar would kick out a new world record bass every season. Right now, the world record fish is sitting at just about 11 ½ pounds.

For Largemouth Bass, we don’t have the world record but we’re close. Of the top 25 largest Largemouth Bass ever caught anywhere in the world, 20 have come from California – all from Southern California lakes. In northern California, it’s hard to beat the quality of large fish in Clear Lake (Lake County) and the California Delta.

Tell us about the special projects you’re involved with.

I work on a program to promote and expand Sacramento Perch. Sacramento Perch are the only species of sunfish native to California. They are the only native sunfish west of the Rockies. They are now extirpated from their native range in California, which was the Delta, but we’ve got them in about 20 lakes where they’ve been translocated.

We’ve been trying to promote the Sacramento Perch on a variety of fronts – for private industry, for private stocking and recreational angling. There are a lot of private landowners who are really interested in native fish, especially native gamefish that are warm-water tolerant. There’s really only one – and that’s the Sacramento Perch. So we’ve been working on that front. We’ve collected all the tissue samples to identify which populations are more genetically robust, more diverse and suitable to create new populations.

Can Sacramento Perch be reintroduced into the Delta or are there too many other predatory fish there now?

The literature shows that predators aren’t as big of a problem as are competitors. Sacramento Perch evolved in California when the main competitors on the valley floor were Pikeminnow and Steelhead. All the introduced sunfish from the Midwest had dozens of competitors they had to compete with so they developed breeding strategies and feeding strategies that are really aggressive.

Sacramento Perch just don’t have that. So when you put them in an environment with a bunch of Green Sunfish or Bluegill or Redear Sunfish, they just seem to get pushed out over the course of a few years. So that’s been, I think, by far the biggest challenge in trying to expand them. All of our surface waters in the Sacramento Valley and the foothills have sunfish in them.

But when you talk to people about Sacramento Perch, they get super excited to hear about a native gamefish that’s warm-water tolerant. You can stock them in a pond and they will do great. They will survive under ice. As far as environmental conditions go, they are super tolerant.

What’s happening with California’s landlocked salmon such as Kokanee and Chinook?

One of the things I’m doing now is a mark and recapture study of Kokanee Salmon. Last year, we began marking fish by clipping the adipose fins of all the Kokanee we stocked into Stampede Reservoir (Sierra County). Stampede Reservoir is our brood stock water for Kokanee Salmon. In lakes like Stampede where there is natural recruitment and a stocking allotment it’s tough to make management decisions when you don’t know what relative contributions either of those make to the fishery. By fin-clipping those fish when we stock them, we can see how many return to spawn or how many show up in anglers’ catches. We can see the relative number of hatchery fish versus natural fish and determine if we are stocking too many, too few and adjust our stocking accordingly. In 2019, we released marked Kokanee into New Melones Reservoir (Calaveras/Tuolumne counties).

If you had free reign and unlimited funding, what scientific project would you most like to undertake?

I’d do two. One is create a Sacramento Perch broodstock facility. Like I said, we have an idea from our genetic work on where to get our broodstock, but there is the question of where to put them. We’d like something on state lands that we can control. A natural pond could function as a production facility as well as a grow-out facility but finding something that doesn’t already have non-native fish and has a secure water source that is not going to go dry is a challenge. A solar-powered well would be perfect. We could dig a pond, put in a well, know that we would have good water – but all of that costs money. We are headed there but it is slow going.

I’d also expand our Kokanee mark and recapture study. Instead of fin-clipping 40,000 Kokanee a year, I would love to do all of the Kokanee we plant – but that’s the expensive part. Collecting the data on the back end isn’t too bad. We use creel surveys of angler-caught fish. At least in Stampede, that’s where we collect our eggs so we are seeing all the fish that come up the river to spawn anyway. Maybe we wouldn’t have to fin-clip all of the fish but at least the ones we stock into lakes with naturally reproducing populations. We could get a lot more data a lot more efficiently.

What advice would you give a young person today thinking about a career in natural resources?

If you haven’t already, read “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold. That book had an impact on me and still does to this day. I think it’s a valuable read for anyone going into this field.

What about the book spoke to you?

It’s just the way Aldo Leopold viewed the natural world and the way we as human beings fit into it.

Away from work, where are we most likely to find you?

Usually fishing, hunting, backpacking or otherwise spending time with family. It depends on the season. In the spring, I really enjoy turkey hunting and fishing – stripers in the river, and Kokanee, bass and crappie in lakes. In the fall, I’m deer hunting, duck hunting, crabbing, and fishing for rockfish.

I hunt and fish for food – not out of necessity but because I feel more integrated into the natural world and more connected to the earth. I think it’s a uniquely satisfying experience in our society that’s increasingly disconnected from the earth. It’s what Aldo Leopold wrote a long time ago that holds true today: “There is value in any experience that reminds us of our dependency on the soil, plant, animal, man food chain.”

CDFW Photos. Top Photo: Max Fish captains a CDFW electrofishing boat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in January to help collect Largemouth Bass for live display at the International Sportsmen’s Exposition in Sacramento in January.

Categories: Featured Scientist
  • April 16, 2019

Smiling woman and man sitting cross-legged on bow of boat. Woman is holding fish flat on white tray. Man is holding a clipboard and pen. Ed trains a CRFS sampler aboard a CPFV off Fort Bragg

Man kneeling next to young boy standing on boat. Man is holding out large red fish, boy is holding a fishing rod.

Man standing on boat under roof holding metal clipboard. Ed examining catch aboard a boat in Shelter Cove

Man standing on boat holding large brown fish while holding fishing pole in crook of arm. Another hand is holding onto the mouth of the fish. Ed preparing to tag a brown rockfish aboard a CPFV off La Jolla

Man standing on beach holding fish head with tag attached. Ed collecting a salmon head in Shelter Cove

Group of seven people, two women, five men standing on road posing for photograph. Rock face, beach, and body of water in background. Trinidad Pier Youth Fishing Tournament CDFW Staff

Smiling man holding very adorable baby wrapped in white blanket with thin blue and pink stripes. Ed and his new grandson, Edgar V

Three people standing on beach with back to camera, facing the water with orange bucket and blue kayak. Man with red kayak in water in background.Ed training new CRFS samplers in Shelter Cove

Edgar “Ed” W. Roberts III is an environmental scientist in CDFW’s Eureka office. As the lead for the California Recreational Fisheries Survey (CRFS) in Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino counties, Ed is responsible for all aspects of the CRFS on the north coast, from training new staff, to creating sampling schedules, to making sure sampling goals are met.

Ed was born in Oceanside and grew up in San Diego, where he lived until he left for college at Humboldt State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology.

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?

My passion for fishing and stewardship of the environment was instilled in me by my father and grandfather along the streams and lakeshores of the Sierra Nevada. I kept the first fish I caught (a nice CDFG stocked rainbow trout taken at June Lake when I was 5) in my mother’s freezer for years and would break it out for show-and-tell whenever someone new would come to the house. Growing up in San Diego, I spent a lot of time at the ocean, and I read and watched Jacques Cousteau religiously. I had a sense early on in life that I wanted to become a marine fisheries biologist.

During those fishing trips with my father and grandfather, I also met many CDFW game wardens. Through them I learned about CDFW’s mission, which really appealed to me and my outdoor ethics.

How did you come to work for CDFW?

I started my fisheries career working seasonal and part-time jobs, as most CDFW scientists do. I worked on the CRFS’ predecessor, the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey, for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, as well as several CDFW scientific aid positions. Those projects were interesting and included an aerial census of the harbor seal population in California and a bycatch study of the commercial spot prawn fishery.

In 2000, I was hired as a marine biologist to work primarily on outreach and developing youth fishing and educational programs at the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve and Back Bay Science Center. Since then I’ve worked on the implementation of the Marine Life Management Act, the Nearshore Fishery Management Plan, the development and implementation of CRFS, and other work for the Marine Region’s Groundfish and Invertebrate projects.

What is the most rewarding project that you’ve worked on for CDFW?

I represented CDFW on a collaborative groundfish tagging project from 2002 to 2006. At the time, I believe it was the biggest fish tagging program of its kind in the state – we tagged over 32,300 fish from 32 species and learned quite a bit about the life histories and movements of some previously little-studied species. During the early 2000s, the California charter boat industry was hit hard by recently implemented bottomfishing restrictions that were necessary to help depleted fish stocks recover. This tagging study was paid for primarily through federal groundfish disaster relief funds. We hired sportfishing boats that were impacted by these new restrictions to use as research platforms, helping to ease the economic problems their owners and operators were facing. At the same time, we, the fishery biologists, worked side-by-side with the captains, crews and volunteer anglers we enlisted to help us with the work, benefiting from their experience and on-the-water observations. It was a great example of resource managers and consumptive users working together for a common purpose. I am very thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of that project.

 

Tell us about your current work with the CRFS.

The CRFS is a statewide survey of marine recreational anglers. CRFS samplers intercept saltwater sportfishers at the completion of their fishing trips, ask them some questions about that trip and their fishing habits and collect biological data from their catch. The data we collect are then used to create estimates of saltwater sport catch and effort. Those estimates are used by fishery managers at both the state and federal level to manage our state’s finfish resources for sustainability. If you’re reading this and you’ve ever participated in our survey, I want to thank you for your cooperation, and for doing your part to conserve our resources.

Within the CRFS, my specific and primary responsibility is to ensure that the data we collect is of the highest quality. I work towards fulfilling that responsibility by cultivating and maintaining good working relationships with the angling public to increase awareness of and cooperation with our survey, by working with my staff in the field to make sure our strict sampling protocols are followed, by reviewing the data my staff collect for quality control purposes, and by reviewing the estimates of marine finfish catch and effort that are generated using those data.

CRFS, by design, can be used to document changes in fisheries and species assemblages that may be due to variable oceanic conditions caused by climate change. We observed many unusual occurrences this last year, and I’m currently working to publish some of those findings.

What is the best thing about your job?

Aside from the pride I have in knowing I am working to maintain, enhance and restore our marine ecosystems for the use and enjoyment of present and future Californians, I get a lot of satisfaction from helping students and recent graduates with degrees in natural resources gain valuable experience in their chosen field. Many former employees have expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to hone their skills. Those thanks really mean a lot to me and make me feel like I’m making a difference.

Over the course of your career, was there a discovery or incident that surprised you?

I recently published a note regarding a tag return from a California scorpionfish that I tagged in 2004 (tagged during the same project I mentioned previously). It was recaptured in 2017, after spending almost 14 years at liberty with my tag in its back. Interestingly, the fish was caught in almost the same location where it was originally captured and remains the longest documented tag retention for this species.

Do you have any advice for people considering careers in science or natural resources?

Most of the people I’ve met during my career are not here for the money – they do their jobs because they have a desire to learn and passion for the resource with the end goal being sustainability. Don’t go into the field expecting to get rich. Cultivate your passion for science and resource management during your education, and be prepared to work entry level, seasonal, part-time jobs to make connections and get your foot in the door. Success in this field is equal parts passion and perseverance.

Away from work, where are we likely to find you?

Fishing and camping with my family is the greatest pleasure in my life. On a day off, or even after work, you might find me fishing the south jetty at Humboldt Bay with my wife, children, brother-in-law and nephews. On vacation, you might find me camping and fishing with the same crew, plus some aunts and uncles, at Trinity Lake or on the Kern River.

Tell us something about yourself that many people would be surprised to learn.

I’m an Eagle Scout, volunteered with Scouting for more than 15 years, and I am an Army veteran. I’ve played fantasy baseball with the same group of people for the last 30 years. Also, my grandson, Edgar V, was born on March 16, 2019. I can’t wait to help my son pass on our love for fishing to his son.  

Categories: Featured Scientist
  • October 12, 2018

Smiling woman standing in open field wearing striped long sleeve shirt, backpack, and brown baseball cap holding small rodent
Mia holding a federally endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia sila), helping environmental scientist counterparts from Region 4 with their annual population surveys in West Kern County.

woman wearing black jacket and green beanie hat holding small san joaquin kit fox with red face mask
Mia handling San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica) in Bakersfield.

woman wearing black jacket and green beanie hat holding small san joaquin kit fox with red face mask. Also pictured are another person's black gloved hands and camo jacket covered arms reaching out to kit fox.
In an effort to control a mange outbreak affecting the kit fox population in Bakersfield, Mia and other scientists were providing a helping hand to do some wellness checks for individual animals.

Mia Roberts is an environmental scientist for CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR). She is part of the Fairfield-based field response team, tasked with responding to oil spills throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. She previously worked on the response team in Bakersfield.

Mia began her career with the department as a scientific aid working on the Delta Smelt and Coastal Pelagic Species programs. She then served a brief stint in the private sector, working as a scientist for an environmental consulting firm that specialized in electrical transmission projects. She returned to the department in her current role at OSPR about three years ago.

Mia earned a bachelor’s degree in integrative biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and has diverse professional experience in natural resources management and environmental compliance. She is also a fluent Spanish speaker after spending time studying abroad in Costa Rica.

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?

My inspiration to pursue a career in natural resources protection came from my mother. She taught me to care for the environment around me, even if that meant picking up one piece of trash a day. She encouraged outdoor play, and many of our family outings were spent outdoors. In addition to my mother, Jane Goodall was (and still is) a powerful role model for me.

What got you interested in working with CDFW?

Not everyone is lucky enough to know what they want to “be” when they grow up, but I had a general idea of what I wanted to do since I was very young, which was to protect animals. My career goals evolved and matured over time as I accumulated professional and life experience, but my core interests have always stayed the same – speaking for the voiceless.

I have worked in private industry, the federal government and in non-profit organizations, but my favorite and most fulfilling work experiences have always been with CDFW. The work I have done, and continue to do, has always aligned with my childhood aspirations of protecting the natural world. I work alongside some amazing people at CDFW, and I have learned so much from them along the way. I hope to continue learning as much as possible with the department while simultaneously contributing to the protection of our state’s beautiful and unique natural resources for future generations.

What is a typical day like for you at work?

Being on the Northern Field Response Team means we are some of the first people on scene during an oil spill. My schedule could be full of oil spill drills, contingency planning and training activities, but it could all be dropped if the team has to respond to an oil spill. I love having a profession where I never know what my day is going to look like, because it keeps me on my toes and I never get bored.

I love working with a team to solve a problem, and being part of the response team provides endless opportunities to do that. Every spill we respond to is different and comes with its own challenges. Our main goal as the field response team is to safely clean up oil spills while causing the least environmental harm. I very much enjoy working with my fellow responders to accomplish that goal.

Over the course of your career, was there a discovery or an incident that surprised you?

My time with OSPR has been full of surprises, but the biggest one so far was learning about the history of oil in California. I had no idea that California played such a large role in oil production for the nation. Seeing the extensive Central California oil fields was a huge eye-opener, and it felt like I was on a whole new planet that I did not know existed. Here was black, sticky oil literally oozing out of the ground from natural seeps! The same seeps that created the tar-pit-death-traps for countless prehistoric creatures! How did I miss this my whole life?

If you had free reign and unlimited funding, what scientific project would you most like to take on?

I would love to train an oil detection dog to aid with oil spill response. Dogs are amazing creatures and can perform many tasks that could benefit the spill response community. Their capacity for scent detection and differentiation could really change the way we respond to oil spills in the state, and the department already has a wonderful infrastructure to support this type of project.

Do you have any advice for people considering careers in science or natural resources?

Get as much experience early on as you possibly can! The competition for entry-level natural resources and science jobs can be fierce, and oftentimes it is that little bit of volunteer time you had at that lab, or the summer you spent doing field work banding birds that can make all the difference.

The field of science is extremely broad, so I would recommend trying to identify the specific job you would like to do and spend your time gaining experience relevant to that position. During college, I spent a lot of my undergraduate time as a research assistant on various research projects, working for graduate students and research labs on campus. These jobs can provide you with the hands-on experience employers look for when hiring for entry-level positions.

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CDFW Photos courtesy of Mia Roberts. Top Photo: Mia Roberts helping perform kangaroo rat surveys in West Kern County with our fellow environmental scientists from Region 4. The animal she is holding is a federally endangered giant kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ingens).

Categories: Featured Scientist
  • September 5, 2018

Man with long brown hair tied in low ponytail with brown beard wearing a gray t-shirt and blue shorts holding an eagle with cliffs in background.
1994, Henkel performing work with Bald Eagles

Black and white photo of bearded man wearing winter hat and rain jacket, holding a tufted pigeon with dense shrubbery in background.
1995, Henkel performing work with Tufted Puffins

Man wearing blue OSPR hat, glasses, black foul weather gear, red life jacket, and binoculars around neck holding western grebe on boat in water.
2010, Henkel performing research on Western Grebes

Man wearing blue windbreaker, glasses, baseball cap and bicycle helmet holding rhinoceros auklet
2010, Henkel works on Rhinoceros Auklet restoration project

Laird Henkel is a senior environmental scientist-supervisor with CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), where he serves as director of the department’s Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center (MWVCRC) in Santa Cruz. Laird joined OSPR in 2007 as the statewide oiled wildlife response coordinator. He moved to his current job in 2010. The MWVCRC is the primary care facility for oiled sea otters and serves as a center for research on the health and pathology of sea otters and marine birds.

Laird grew up in Connecticut and moved to California to attend UC Santa Cruz, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. He subsequently earned a master’s degree in marine science at Moss Landing Marine Labs, where he studied the spatial distribution of marine birds on Monterey Bay. Prior to working for CDFW, Laird worked on a variety of research projects with birds including marbled murrelets and snowy plovers.

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?

I’ve always been inquisitive, and enjoyed science books as a kid. I also spent quite of bit of time with other kids checking out critters living under rocks, and – probably like most kids – thought  Jacques Cousteau (a famous marine explorer in the 70s and 80s) was awesome. But when I left for UC Santa Cruz, I was not necessarily planning on studying science. A variety of factors led me to major in biology and once I was in, I was hooked. 

What got you interested in working with wildlife?

In college, I took some great natural history classes, including one working with elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve, and an ornithology class, which led me to become fascinated with the lives of animals. The summer before my senior year, I assisted on a project assessing mountain goat behavior related to population size in Idaho, and right after graduating I had a great volunteer job working on a remote island in Alaska monitoring diet and growth of tufted puffins. Field biology was fascinating and a great way to see some amazing places, from Alaska to Maine to Costa Rica.

Who or what brought you to CDFW? What inspires you to stay?

I first worked for CDFW as a scientific aid for Senior Environmental Scientist Rob Titus in 1995, working with winter-run Chinook salmon. That was a short-term position. Then I moved back to Santa Cruz and had a variety of other field jobs with birds, earned a master’s degree in marine science, and worked at an environmental consulting firm for several years. One of my other jobs included conducting aerial surveys for marine birds and mammals under a contract with OSPR. Through that work, OSPR seemed like a great place to work and was in the right place at the right time when my current dream job opened up. I feel lucky to have it. I am inspired to stay because of the great work we do!

What is a typical day like for you at work?

I typically deal with various logistical issues—I’m responsible for my staff and for a complicated (and aging) facility. The facility is set up for oiled wildlife response including pools plumbed with seawater and a state-of-the-art necropsy facility (necropsies are the equivalent of autopsies but on non-human animals—here mostly sea otters and seabirds, but we’ve had an occasional great white shark or leatherback sea turtle). But all this logistical work can be rewarding. Planning projects and providing strategic vision for staff allows our team to respond effectively to oil spills, and allows my staff to work on exciting scientific work investigating health of sea otters and seabirds.

What is the most rewarding project that you’ve worked on for CDFW?

Our primary role at OSPR is response to oil spills and although we never look forward to them, the experience can be rewarding (albeit stressful). Spill response allows an opportunity to put our training to use and have a positive influence, hopefully making a bad situation better. My first big spill response was the Cosco Busan incident in the San Francisco Bay in 2007, only a month after I started. That was a great learning experience for me. Since then there have only been a few spills affecting substantial numbers of animals, most recently the Refugio spill in Santa Barbara in 2015. All of this work on oil spills is rewarding, especially to see cleaned and rehabilitated wildlife released back into the wild.

If you had free rein and unlimited funding, what scientific project would you most like to do?

There are many projects that would be intellectually stimulating and fun, and also a lot of conservation projects in desperate need of funding. But I think one way to have a big influence on recovery of threatened species would be to put more funding into investigating ways to minimize the impacts of corvids (ravens, crows and jays) on threatened species. Through our work on oil spill restoration projects, I’ve seen corvid impacts (corvids eating eggs or young of threatened species) as a common theme limiting recovery of multiple species. Corvids are very smart birds and they’ve done a great job of adapting to and benefiting from humans. Because humans are responsible for huge population increases in corvids, it would be great if we could do something to minimize their impacts on other species. But this is not an easy issue to address – thus the need for more funding.

What is the best thing about being a wildlife scientist?

Discovery. There will always be new things to discover, and that is the whole point of science. 

The world of science and managing natural resources is often confusing or mysterious for the average person. What is it about the work you do that you’d most like us to know?

The natural world is indeed so mysterious! But I guess one thing for non-scientists would be not to let numbers and mathematical formulas scare you. Ecology as a science has become more mathematical over the years, and even we scientists have a hard time keeping up with new statistical methods and fancy mathematical models. Scientific studies should still be done in a way that makes sense – if you can see past the formulas and understand how a study or an experiment was set up, it is usually not too difficult to understand the results.

Is there a preconception about scientists you would like to dispel?

I think one misconception might be that scientists have all the answers. Any good scientist will tell you there is still a lot to learn, and the better you are at science, the more likely you are to acknowledge that we are not sure about a lot of things. Uncertainty is a big part of science, and properly assessing that uncertainty is important. (To be clear: global climate change is NOT something with a lot of uncertainty).

Any advice for people considering careers in science or natural resources?

Be curious and have an open mind. Science is all about not having pre-conceived biases, and being willing to accept findings that may be surprising or even in conflict with previously-held beliefs.

Photos courtesy of Laird Henkel. Top Photo: In 2010, Laird Henkel participated in the Deepwater spill response.

Categories: Featured Scientist
  • February 7, 2018

Teo men and two women kneel around a sedated mountain lion on a concrete floor
Wildlife training with a mountain lion at CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Lab outside of Sacramento.

A man nearly disappears as he climbs in the hollow of an enormous coast redwoods tree
John climbs redwoods at Hendy Woods State Park in Mendocino County.

Two middle-aged rock guitarists play in concert
Wildlife biologist by day, rock guitarist by night in the band Sticky’s Backyard.

A Caucasian mother, father, and two tweenaged girls pose in their back yard
John with wife, Trish, and daughters Phoenix (left) and Sequoia.

Face of a smiling Caucasian man wearing a bicycle safety helmet, with a mountain bike trail and forest behind him
Mountain biker John near Lake Almanor.

A snowboarder dressed in black stands on a peak in a snow-covered mountain range, in front of an “Experts Only” sign
Snowboarders’ expert runs have the best views

Wildlife biologist John Krause is a 17-year CDFW employee who serves Marin, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. In the heavily populated San Francisco Bay Area, human-wildlife issues often dominate his workday. But his professional pride and joy is the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve near Hayward. John has spent his career overseeing the restoration of 6,400 acres of commercial salt ponds to tidal marsh and other natural habitat while creating access and recreational opportunities for the public.

A native of Carmichael in Sacramento County, John holds a degree in terrestrial plant ecology from UC Davis.

Do you find it ironic that you are a wildlife biologist working in some of the most urbanized communities in the country?

Sure, at times. When I took this job back in 2001, I did not really know how much of the human dimension aspect of things I would be getting into. It’s a regular part of the job, dealing with the public about everything from “Where can I go hunt?” to “I’ve got a problem with a coyote in my backyard.”

How much of your time is spent dealing with human-wildlife conflicts?

It’s every day. A lot of it is depredation-related calls from the public – wild pigs, wild turkeys in the urban-wildlife interface, occasionally deer out in the vineyards causing property damage. There are regular calls about coyotes being perceived as a public safety risk, though coyotes are really more of a risk to domestic animals like cats, small dogs and backyard, free-ranging chickens. The number of these incidents is definitely increasing, primarily because we have open space immediately adjacent to these metropolitan areas. Many of these communities are tucked into the natural landscape so they are inextricably linked to the landscape.

Many people today just don’t have the background or understanding about the behavior of these wild critters. Our general message is to leave these critters be. But when wildlife becomes a nuisance, then it’s time to step up and make an effort to discourage that behavior. That might mean building a coop for your free-range chickens, hazing a coyote out of a neighborhood or thinking carefully about the kind of landscaping you are installing in your yard.

What prompted your interest in science and the outdoors?

I grew up on the American River. I had friends who lived right out there on the bluffs so as kids we were out there all the time biking around and hiking around, swimming in the river, going fishing.

I was a pre-med student originally. I thought I was going to go to professional school to be a dentist. My motivation as a kid was “I’ll be a dentist and I’ll be rich!” But I realized over time that wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to spend my life looking into people’s mouths. So I got into this career by thinking about what it was that I really cared about.

What brought you to CDFW and what inspires you to stay?

I was a biologist for Caltrans for two and a half years before I came to the department. I learned a lot at Caltrans – really useful stuff like reading plans and working with engineers that has served me well over the years with the wetland restoration work I do now. I was out on construction jobs in the Santa Cruz Mountains and there were all these issues coming up with listed species. It was great training. But ultimately, I wanted to work for a conservation agency instead of doing conservation work for a transportation agency.

This job was advertised and I was all over it. Counting deer and elk by helicopter or by driving out to remote areas to survey? Working in and managing wetlands for waterfowl and shorebirds or endangered mice? Counting rails by airboat? Yes, please! The work is really diverse, and I think that’s what keeps me so engaged. And I have this really cool project I get to work on – my legacy project, Eden Landing. I will hand it off to somebody else at some point and they will have a whole career finishing it off.

What is special about the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve?

It’s part of the largest wetlands restoration on the West Coast – 15,100 acres in the South Bay. It’s what I studied in college. Landscape change over time. We are restoring salt ponds to tidal marshes, keeping some managed ponds that birds have come to rely upon. It’s a 50-year project that started in 2003. I’m the guy on the ground working with all of our contractors and partners.

The water birds are the real stars of the show out there. They are the poster species for nature. We manage the ponds for the different seasons and bird species. I will go out and take a dry pond that has been set aside for snowy plover nesting in the spring, flood it up in late summer and watch the bugs come back. And a couple of weeks later the shorebirds show up and are taking advantage of it. And then later in the year we transition from shorebirds to ducks and we start flooding it up a little more for ducks. We’ve got shallower ponds for the dabblers and deeper water for the diving ducks.

Is there public access for birders and others at Eden Landing?

Absolutely. Public access is part of our mandate. We’ve got 4 miles of trails. We’ve got anglers out there. We’ve got kayaking and a kayak launch out there. I started the waterfowl hunting program there and we are just wrapping up our 14th waterfowl season. It’s a success in many ways.

What’s the story behind the waterfowl hunting program? It’s unique in that it is free, for one thing, and you allow hunting on some non-typical shoot days such as Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Hunters have to buy their license and state and federal duck stamps, but they don’t have to buy a lands pass for Eden Landing. San Francisco Bay has a long history and tradition of duck hunting and we wanted to continue that at Eden Landing. When Cargill owned the property, they leased out ponds and hunters built duck blinds and had duck hunting out there for decades. When CDFW took it over, we made it accessible to the public. We now host about 10 hunt days annually.

The South Bay federal wildlife refuges allow hunting on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. I wanted to provide more opportunities for hunters when those wildlife areas are closed so I added shoot days on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We get a lot of local hunters, and we see new hunters every year. Eden is getting pretty well-known in the hunting community, and our averages are pretty good for people coming out and getting birds – better than the wildlife areas and refuges a lot of the time. The hunters really appreciate that their dollars are supporting the restoration and enhancement of Bay-Delta wetlands.

Away from work, where are we likely to find you?

My wife and I have two young girls, 13 and 11. I’m an outdoor sports person. I mountain bike all the time. I go hiking. I love snowboarding. I’ve been snowboarding since 1984 – back before snowboarding was even a thing. I love to travel. My wife and I have been all over the world and have visited countries in Europe, Central America and Africa. More recently, my family has traveled in America, Mexico and Canada.

Tell us something about yourself many people would be surprised to learn.

I’m in a band. I play rhythm guitar and sing back-up vocals with friends I met in college. The band is called Sticky’s Backyard – Sticky was the nickname of a guy in Davis and we played our first gig in his backyard. That was 26 years ago, and we are still together. We play all original music. Jam rock is the best way I can describe it. We played the Lucasfilm employee holiday party in December. It’s a fun outlet – scientist by day, rocker by night. Sometimes those days and nights blend together.

John Krause photos
Top photo: John welcomes U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to the South Bay’s salt ponds in 2010, where native habitat was being restored and public access opened for the first time.

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