Featured Scientist

  • December 3, 2019

Scientist Montalvo posing with a sample collected at an oil spill in near Huntington Beach
Montalvo collecting samples at an oil spill in the Huntington Beach channel

Image of quagga mussels found in Lake Mead
Quagga mussels found in Lake Mead

Image of New Zealand mudsnails found at the Lower Feather River
New Zealand mudsnails found at the Lower Feather River

Scientist Montalvo on a boat in the Oakland Harbor while working on an oil spill.
Montalvo working a spill in the Oakland Harbor

Environmental Scientist Angie Montalvo is the aquatic invasive species (AIS) regional coordinator for CDFW’s North Central Region. Her job is to ensure that invasive species – including quagga and zebra mussels, snails, crabs, clams, fish and aquatic plants – don’t find their way into bodies of water in the region.

Montalvo graduated from the University of California, Davis, with degrees in biological sciences and behavioral psychology. In 1996, she was hired as a scientific aid in CDFW’s Aquatic Bioassessment Laboratory. She was hired as a full-time scientist in 1998 and spent about 15 years working for CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) on issues involving statewide pollution response, natural resource damage assessment and biological monitoring for macroinvertebrates. Through her work at OSPR she got to know the North Central Region, which helped earn her a promotion in 2013 as the region’s lead AIS coordinator.

What inspired you to become a scientist?

I’ve always been interested in the environment and being outdoors, and I wanted to see positive change for the environment. I always envisioned myself doing a great deal of field work because I enjoy it immensely, and I wanted to be a voice for the natural resources in our state. I developed my interest in AIS while at the Aquatic Bioassessment Lab and while working for OSPR. At OSPR, the focal point was protecting the state’s natural resources from damages due to various pollutants. My current job is somewhat similar, but I am protecting our natural resources from the impacts of introduced AIS.

Tell us more about your role at CDFW?

My work is focused on aquatic biology, mostly dealing with inland, freshwater issues. Currently, there are no waters infested with quagga or zebra mussels within my region, so my focus is on prevention and monitoring. I conduct a lot of monitoring of waterbodies where the risk of introduction and establishment for quagga and zebra mussels falls within the moderate to high range or is unknown. I typically conduct field sampling three to four days per week between late March through November, depending on weather conditions. I monitor for other invasive species as well, including the New Zealand mudsnail, Asian clam and invasive aquatic plants such as hydrilla and Eurasian watermilfoil. Asian clams were introduced into California roughly 40 years ago and have spread from low elevation to high elevation waters. New Zealand mudsnails were introduced into California’s streams about 20 years ago and continue to spread throughout the state.

Another important part of my job is the inspection of watercraft that have entered California from other states. It’s common for people to purchase boats from out of state that have been launched in infested waterbodies. Watercraft entering California are checked while coming across state lines at a California Department of Food and Agriculture inspection station. Food and Ag staff will contact me if they quarantine a watercraft for invasive mussels or other AIS, and I will then reach out to the owner to arrange for an inspection.

Depending on the size of the watercraft, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to complete a thorough inspection. I can usually identify quagga and zebra mussels visually. However, if I anticipate a difficult inspection — for example, a houseboat with a lot of small components to search — I reach out to our wildlife officers and their mussel detection dogs. These K9s are trained to detect by scent and can find things that I might not see. I’ve worked with the mussel detection K9s at least half a dozen times and it has worked out very well.

Decontamination of vessels involves using a high-pressure hot washer that can reach water temperatures of more than 160 degrees. I usually conduct follow-up inspections as well. Watercraft aren’t released until there are no remnants of quagga/zebra mussels or other AIS observed.

Why is it important to monitor for aquatic invasive species?

Unfortunately, once you have an infestation – for example, of quagga mussels – you can never eradicate them from a waterbody. They change the water quality and infrastructure of the ecosystem. The infestation results in a build-up or layers of mussels in the ecosystem, which can deplete the water body of nutrients and cause clogging and filtering issues. Not only do invasives alter the ecosystem, but they can affect fisheries, water delivery and recreational opportunities. Trying to address these issues after an infestation can cost many millions of dollars. Prevention, monitoring and education are crucial.

What has been your biggest career accomplishment so far?

I’ve worked on major oil spill incidents like Cosco Busan, the BP Gulf spill and others, which have all been major accomplishments and unique experiences.

Currently, the major accomplishment is there are no waters infested with quagga or zebra mussels within my region. I attribute this success to CDFW’s dedication to practicing the best sampling methodologies, continuing to improve and standardize its statewide program and having a great public outreach and education program.

We’ve had good success with outreach. For example, we have a campaign called “Clean, Drain and Dry” to get boaters up to speed on what they can do to prevent the spread of invasive mussels and other AIS. We strongly encourage boaters to clean, drain and dry their motorized and non-motorized boats and any equipment that comes in contact with a waterbody. We try to make sure boaters are aware that that their boats can be subject to screening or inspections prior to launching at a waterbody. Based on feedback and what I’ve seen, the outreach does translate. Boaters are more familiar with invasives and following proactive steps to preventing the spread of AIS.

In addition to your work with AIS, you also serve as the lead environmental responder when there’s an inland pollution incident. What does that entail?

As part of the region’s Inland Pollution Response Support team, I respond to discharge incidents from sources like wastewater treatment plants, asphalt or cement contamination, vegetable oil and wine waste. When there is a discharge or spill incident, I typically work with wildlife officers and other agencies in an incident command setting. I collect samples to assess the extent of the impact. For example, with a sediment incident, I determine the volume of sediment within the waterbody, extent of injury to the biological and physical habitats. If the containment is chlorine, I collect field water samples to determine the percent chlorine level. My role as a spill responder is not directly connected to my work with AIS, but if I am out responding to a spill, then I will document any non-native species.

What advice do you have for young people who are considering careers in science or natural resources?

I would say follow your passion and do what you enjoy. It can be difficult to get a job in environmental science or in the field of aquatic biology, so be proactive and start volunteering early. Applying for a position as a scientific aid is very helpful and don’t be afraid to move around to different departments or groups to get a sense of what you enjoy and learn valuable field experience.

CDFW Photos. Top Photo: Environmental Scientist Angie Montalvo conducting an aquatic invasive species survey at a reservoir near Lake Tahoe

Media Contact:
Ken Paglia, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8958

Categories: Featured Scientist
  • September 14, 2018

Bearded man wearing blue windbreaker, gray shorts, fishermans hat, sunglasses, and backpack while leaning on 2 hiking poles. Background is rocky and mountainous.
Backpacking remains one of Evan’s outdoor passions – along with gardening, fishing and hunting. He’s pictured here in 2016 near Bishop Pass on the southeast side of the Sierra.

Bearded man wearing camo jacket, green cargo pants, sunglasses, and orange and gray baseball cap holding large lingcod fish on boat in water. People fishing on the boat in the background.
Evan King shows off a lingcod he caught last year off of Morro Bay.

Bearded man in green jacket and green pants kneeling on ground with arm around kneeling woman wearing black jacket and gray pants holding a red rose in one hand and other hand on black dog laying in long dry grass. Mountains and blue sky in background.
Evan, his wife, Renee, and their dog Madison hike in the Mineral King area within Sequoia National Park.

Since 2010, Evan King has been CDFW’s wildlife biologist for Kings and Tulare counties. He is based in Visalia, just about two hours south of where he grew up. Born in Turlock and raised in Denair, Evan King is a third-generation biologist. His grandfather, Frank H. King, worked for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and his father, Holman E. King, spent more than 30 years as a wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game assigned to Stanislaus County.

Evan got an early education in Central Valley wildlife as he often accompanied his dad on deer and waterfowl surveys and human-wildlife conflicts. He later earned a degree in wildlife management from Humboldt State University.

Given your family background, was it inevitable that you would one day work for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife?

My dad encouraged me to go to Humboldt State because a lot of people he worked with at the department also went to Humboldt and because wildlife always has been something I was interested in. But getting a job with the department wasn’t necessarily a goal or a push or anything. It just happened to be the right fit for me.

How did you come to work for CDFW, then?

When I graduated from Humboldt, some roommates and I attempted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I did all of California – the whole state, just shy of 1,600 miles in over 100 days. Thirty miles from the Oregon border, I got word of a scientific aid job opening with the Wildlife Investigations Lab near Sacramento. A friend of mine worked there and had put in a good word. I didn’t have a huge plan about what I was going to do after the hike so I dropped off the trail and took the job working for Dr. Pam Swift in the lab.

Four months after that, I got hired permanently as a biologist at the Mendota Wildlife Area. Full-time positions were hard to find back then, and as far as I was concerned it was a dream job for me at the age of 25. It was a permanent job with good pay and was an hour and a half away from where I grew up. I could go home on weekends and spend time with my family.

How long did you work at Mendota?

About four years. I was there from 2006 to 2010. I was in charge of all the water for the 13,000 acres of property. I did raptor surveys, breeding waterfowl pair surveys, duck banding, pheasant counts. I talked to all the hunters. I also learned how to repair irrigation problems, fix damage caused by beavers, and maintain flood control structures. It was a great place to cut your teeth as a biologist. Plus, I lived on the property and got to have my dog with me all the time. I hunted all the time. Life was good.

Many Californians have never visited Kings or Tulare County. What can you tell us about those places?

Kings County is mostly agricultural. Central Valley agriculture dominates the landscape and there are a lot of dairies. We’ve got some sensitive species there – tricolored blackbirds and San Joaquin kit foxes. Swainson’s hawks migrate from Argentina to spend their summers in Kings County. It’s more diverse than most people think.

Tulare County is pretty amazing. There are two national parks, a national forest and three wilderness areas all within the county. We’ve got Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, the Sequoia National Forest and parts of the Golden Trout Wilderness and South Sierra Wilderness. It encompasses the crest of the Sierra. If I were to drive from one end of Tulare County to the other, it would take me several hours.

What do you like best about your job?

I like the diversity. One day I am out darting a bear that’s in a backyard and the next day I’m checking for signs of porcupine in the national forest. One day  I could be writing a report and another day I could be out trapping nutria. I’m about to learn how to be a drone pilot. So it’s a lot of fun, and I get to use a lot of different skills.

There are people who volunteer and take time off of their work to come and do my job – to help on deer surveys or band doves or whatever the project might be that needs extra hands. For the past 10 years, I haven’t felt like I’ve gone to work at all. I enjoy it so much. It’s not just a job. It’s a big part of who I am.

We don’t hear much about porcupines. What’s happening with porcupines?

There’s a statewide study taking place. We’re trying to develop a technique to detect porcupines without using cameras. Porcupines are salt-driven. They want salt, need salt in their diet. So if we take a stick that is really salty and put it out there in the forest, will a porcupine be drawn to it and, if so, will they chew on it? If they do chew on it, are the chew marks distinctive enough to positively identify the animal as a porcupine or do we need to use a trail camera? Trail cameras are expensive. I can put out a thousand salty sticks – but not a thousand trail cameras.

So how are porcupines doing?

Well, it’s concerning since I haven’t detected one yet. We have biologists in Tuolumne, Madera and Fresno counties that are helping me with this project who haven’t detected them either. Porcupines once were quite common in our forests and now we never see them. They’ve had detections in Yosemite so at least we know they are up there. We are trying to detect them over an area that includes three national forests so there is a lot of ground to cover, but I am hopeful that we will find one eventually.

You were among the first wildlife biologists in the state assigned to the nutria eradication effort. What’s one message you’d like to share about nutria?

I think people just need to know the potential destructiveness. Nutria have the potential to destroy what is left of our native habitat – the very small amount of wetlands we have left that millions of waterfowl and other native species rely on. To have an animal that is not native potentially destroy our native habitat and make it disappear – people need to know that impact. People need to understand how important it is to identify nutria and let us know where they are. 

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

I met my wife, Renee, banding doves and we got married on the property where I still band doves. I was living on the same street as I do now in Visalia. I needed a place to band doves, and 500 yards down the street was her parents’ property. Their son is a biologist, and I asked them if I could use their property, put out some traps. I got to know the family. They invited me to dinner, and I met Renee. We got married in May.

Photos courtesy of Evan King. Top Photo: Surveying local deer and elk populations is a routine part of Evan’s responsibilities. Here he collects vital statistics from a tule elk near the San Luis Reservoir in Merced County.

Categories: Featured Scientist
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