Featured Scientist

  • May 28, 2019

Small red fox running away toward dense tree area. The ground is covered in snow.
A Sierra Nevada red fox dashes into the wilderness after being caught and released as part of an ongoing CDFW study. CDFW image by Corrie McFarland.

Woman wearing blue jacket with camo sleeves, and brown ball cap crouching in field behind large elk laying on its side. Elk's legs are restrained by leather straps, neck is collared, and face is covered with black mask.
Jennifer Carlson on a Roosevelt elk capture in Humboldt County.

Jennifer Carlson is an environmental scientist with the Wildlife Management Program in CDFW’s Northern Region. Based out of Redding, she is one of two unit biologists covering Shasta and Trinity counties. Her biggest current project is working on Sierra Nevada red fox, a state-threatened species, in the Lassen Peak Region, and she is a member of the long-standing Sierra Nevada Red Fox Working Group. In addition, Jennifer has an elk project waiting in the wings and recently conducted the first helicopter survey in her area to attempt to count the different herds in her unit. Her other responsibilities include responding to human-wildlife conflicts and providing expertise and advice to hunters and the public.

Jennifer received her Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Management with a minor in Statistics from Humboldt State University in 1999. She also received her Master of Science in Forestry from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2006. She started her career with CDFW in 2005 in the Timber Harvest Review program in the Northern Region. In 2012, she joined the Wildlife Management Program in her current position. When she is not working, she enjoys spending time with her family skiing, camping, hiking, hunting and fishing.

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?

My family was instrumental in my inspiration to become a wildlife biologist – particularly my dad. He earned his B.S. in Biology and Chemistry and was a self-taught entomologist. He worked for the department in the 1960s as a scientific aid. But at that time it was difficult to get on with the department as a permanent employee, and he never did get hired. Growing up he would take us on nature hikes and quiz us on all the flora and fauna we saw along the way. His own love of the outdoors started with camping and fishing in the central Sierra Nevada with his grandparents (my great-grandparents) when he was a child and it became a family tradition. It became a summer ritual that we carry on today with my own family – a total of four generations!

What is a typical day like for you at work?

As a unit biologist you don’t always know what the day will hold. When one of the aspects of the job is dealing with nuisance wildlife and the public, you could be getting called out to dart a bear that has found its way into town, or a deer that is stuck in a fence. It can include visiting sites to assess property damage caused by a bear, mountain lion, beaver, or bobcat and issuing a depredation permit. In addition to that there are annual wildlife surveys I am responsible for, including deer, band-tailed pigeons, pronghorn antelope, and elk. I also have special projects I work on and am responsible for overseeing, particularly the Sierra Nevada red fox project in the Lassen Peak area. Running a project from start to finish is very time consuming and takes up a lot of my day, especially during the height of the field season. I help out on other projects that my colleagues run, including capturing and collaring deer and elk, fecal DNA projects on deer and elk, and baited camera stations for mid-size carnivores.

What has been the most challenging, and rewarding aspects, of your study of the Sierra Nevada red fox?

We don’t know much about the Sierra Nevada red fox. We think their numbers in the Lassen area may be less than 20 -- we have a minimum population count based on collaring and genetics of 11 individuals currently. Small populations are difficult to study so this one has been a challenge from the start, and it has been compounded by the rugged terrain and conditions that these foxes live in all year-round. With the snowfall we had this past winter, maintaining functional traps has been a challenge, as has keeping our satellite collars working properly. No matter how much we try to alleviate all the obstacles we anticipate, there will always be a level of uncertainty when working on a wild animal in its natural environment that you must accept as a wildlife biologist. But there are great things we have learned from this project that we didn’t know before. For example, we found and documented the first Sierra Nevada red fox den since the early 1900s. We have some amazing video footage of red fox behavior at the den site as well as vocalizations never heard before. We captured, collared and released back into the wild three females and one male red fox. We documented for the first time an inbreeding event where siblings reproduced and had one pup together. We have also learned that these foxes don’t stay at a low elevation throughout the entire winter, as had previously been thought; instead, they will travel back and forth to the higher elevations around Lassen Peak that we thought they only used in the summer.

Tell us about your upcoming elk study.

The goal of the elk study is to estimate abundance, which is difficult with a wide-ranging species that often uses locations that hinder traditional survey methods. To do this, we will capture and collar cow elk in several different herds to learn their movement patterns and apply two different survey techniques to help estimate abundance. The primary technique will be using a helicopter to survey the different herds and count all individuals sighted in each group – both collared and uncollared. Using this data, you can create a “sight ability” model to estimate how elk many you missed and calculate the population size. The other technique would involve extracting DNA from fecal pellets to identify unique individuals and estimate number of individuals in the population. The satellite radio collars will also give us valuable data on habitat use, resource selection, behavior, disease and cause-specific mortality. This will allow the department to develop a long-term elk monitoring program that our recently released Elk Management Plan outlines for the Northern Region. The project will take place primarily in Shasta County (east of Interstate 5) and possibly Trinity County and will hopefully start in the late fall or early winter of this year.

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

It would be hard for me to pick just one project! I would like to help restore a genetically healthy Sierra Nevada red fox population to its historic range. The Sierra Nevada red fox populations that we have left in the state are severely inbred or their genetics have been compromised by other montane (high-elevation) sub-species and/or non-native individuals that have entered the populations. In the last few years we have learned that there are also Sierra Nevada red foxes in the central and southern Cascade mountains of Oregon, although we don’t know the extent or status of that population. I would implement a translocation project that would move individual foxes from their current population into a new one to facilitate “genetic mixing” and increase genetic health. Once we had genetically healthy populations, then I would like to see them reintroduced into areas that they used to occupy, like on and around Mt. Shasta.

I also would like to undertake a massive elk project that was scientifically sound and robust, with an army of people working on it in the Northern Region. With those resources, we should be able to come up with an accurate population size for elk in our region relatively quickly.

What is the best thing about being an environmental scientist?

One of the best things about my job is that I get to be in the outdoors and explore places I never would have been to otherwise. To be able to study one of the rarest mammals in California, the Sierra Nevada red fox, and provide new information on the life history of this elusive canid has been one of the highlights of my career. Flying in a helicopter counting big game species is something I always dreamed about when I was in college and now I am doing it. Some days I have said to myself, I can’t believe I am getting paid to hike on this trail or fly in a helicopter today!

CDFW Photos. Top Photo: Jennifer Carlson cradles a Sierra Nevada red fox that was captured and collared in the Lassen National Forest. CDFW image by Pat Sater.

Categories: Featured Scientist
  • February 15, 2019

Man with graying goatee and mustache in gray waders and blue shirt holding small fish kneeling in stream behind three mesh bags. Stream bank and tree in background.
Don Baldwin surveys rainbow trout at the headwaters of a small coastal stream in San Luis Obispo County. These wild trout serve as a seed population for coastal steelhead as some of their progeny may migrate out to the ocean.

Person face down in water with snorkel surrounded by large rocks
Don conducts a snorkel survey on San Luis Obispo Creek.

Man with graying goatee and mustache wearing sunglasses, brown ball cap, and green jacket standing under canopy with left hand on steering wheel beneath laptop computer.
Before he began monitoring steelhead in San Luis Obispo County, Don worked as a steelhead biologist in the Central Valley.

Man with graying goatee and mustache wearing black sweater, sunglasses, gray ball cap, and blue backpack with skis on rocky and snowy mountainside. Snowy tree covered mountains in background.
Don takes a summer hike to the summit of Mount Lassen to ski off the top.

Man wearing ski gear, skis, and poles on snow with trees in background.
A passionate backcountry skier, Don tours the Sierra through Yosemite National Park.

Man wearing gray plaid shirt holding frame with certificate depicting trout standing in office.Don successfully completed CDFW’s Heritage Trout Challenge by catching six different native California trout in their historic range.

Don Baldwin is an environmental scientist with CDFWs Central Region based in San Luis Obispo. A 12-year CDFW employee, Don oversees the California Coastal Monitoring Program in the area and is tasked with surveying and assessing South Central California Coast steelhead, a threatened species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. Steelhead are the anadromous population of rainbow trout that spend time in both the ocean and freshwater.

Born and raised in Sacramento, Don developed a love of trout and steelhead while growing up fishing the American River and small trout streams in the Sierra. His passion for steelhead in particular has influenced his education and career choices ever since. He holds a wildlife management degree from Humboldt State University – a school he chose in no small part due to its proximity to so many great north coast steelhead rivers.

When you think about some of the hallowed steelhead regions and waters of California, San Luis Obispo is not exactly top of the list. Can you explain the work you are doing there?

We are trying to get a grasp of what the wild steelhead population is in San Luis Obispo County. Since 2017, I have been implementing the California Coastal Monitoring Program there, which is part of our statewide responsibilities to monitor and recover these listed coastal salmon and steelhead populations under state and federal endangered species laws.
There are a lot of small, coastal streams in the county – approximately 25 plus their tributaries – and a lot of those are spring-fed with good, cold water with lots of wild rainbow trout in them. But not much research has been done so nobody really knows the population status of steelhead in the county.
Right now, I am looking for adult steelhead in the two priority coastal streams there – San Luis Obispo Creek and Santa Rosa Creek, the latter of which is in Cambria. We do that two ways: surveying for redds (fish nests) and using DIDSON sonar cameras to count the adults migrating upstream to spawn. We then build a mathematical relationship to estimate the number of adult steelhead for each redd we see. I am still in the preliminary stages of this monitoring program and have a way to go until we finalize our entire sample frame.

Are you finding many fish?

We did some redd surveys last year and we did find some redds, but never saw any adults while conducting spawner surveys. We’re still processing all the DIDSON data and have seen a few adult steelhead. I’m extremely optimistic we will see more. The last few years have been tough on steelhead in central and Southern California because of the drought, but they are a very resilient species. They have gone through this before. They’ve been around for thousands of years. They may have experienced droughts that have lasted 10, 20 years, but they keep coming back. So it’s exciting to be part of this project and monitoring these fish, yet it is challenging because they are so elusive and difficult to monitor. Hopefully, with these good rain events we are having this year, producing good flows, we will start seeing more fish.
What’s really special about this species is that there is this residence component of rainbow trout up in the headwaters of these streams that serves as a sort of seed bank for the anadromous component. They’ll just hang out and keep reproducing over the years and once the time is right, some of the juveniles may go out to the ocean.

Steelhead fishing opened on many coastal streams in December and January. Where would you direct steelhead anglers in San Luis Obispo County?

Go to the Eel River (in Humboldt County) (laughs). The streams in San Luis Obispo County are very small, some only a couple of miles long. Those that are open to fishing are open only in very small stretches on select days. You really need to read and understand the local fishing regulations. Many streams run through private property with no public access. There are just not a whole lot of fishing opportunities nor are there many fish.
To really immerse yourself in steelhead fishing and culture, go to the Eel River or Smith River (Del Norte County) and hire a guide with a drift boat. That’s how you have a chance to hook into a large chrome bright steelhead.

Can you explain the fascination with steelhead to somebody who’s never fished for them?

As a rainbow trout that goes to the ocean, they just get so much bigger, more powerful and strong. They are very elusive. You rarely see them. They return to freshwater, spawn, and then they are gone. Fishing for steelhead is like chasing ghosts, you always want to see what’s around the next corner.
They’re an absolutely beautiful fish. They fight hard and they’re exciting to catch. The appeal is the chase. When I first started steelhead fishing, I would go out for days and months and never catch anything. But I kept going back. I always heard it takes 300 hours of fishing before you start hooking them. And that’s pretty much it.

Anything surprising ever show up in these streams you are monitoring?

In San Luis Obispo County, we only have one species of salmonid: steelhead. We don’t have Chinook or coho salmon down there. The cool thing is that we have Pacific lamprey. Recently, that’s been the southernmost extent of their range. However, for about 10 years, we didn’t see any lamprey in San Luis Obispo Creek. They were nonexistent.
Down by the estuary there’s a saltwater intrusion weir with a fish ladder that wasn’t functioning well. A couple of years ago a “lamp ramp” was installed on the weir – which is a lamprey passage ramp made from a piece of curved sheet metal. Lamprey can’t scale a 90-degree angle as they use their mouths to suction-cup their way upstream over wetted obstacles. Ever since the lamp ramp was installed, we’re seeing adult lamprey, lamprey redds and a lot offspring once again in San Luis Obispo Creek.

Are lamprey a type of eel?

No. They look like an eel but don’t have paired fins or jaws like an eel. They are a completely different species. We don’t have freshwater eels on the West Coast. They have those on the East Coast. Adult lamprey have a round, sucker-like mouth and are parasitic when in the marine environment. They attach and feed on marine fish, including salmon and steelhead in the ocean.
Lamprey are a remarkably interesting species. They are an anadromous species like steelhead and salmon. They come into freshwater and hunker down in the gravel for a year without feeding. They absorb all their nutrients into developing their gonads and then come out a year later, dig a redd, spawn and die. They produce thousands of young that will live in the gravel for up to six, seven years. And they’re filter feeders, so they are aerating the stream bed and cleaning the water. Once they get to the size of about a pencil, they will migrate out to the ocean, grow up, and return one to three years later to spawn.

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

I would be doing exactly what I’m doing right now and just really build a huge monitoring program. It really takes an army to do it well. You really must have multiple crews to go out and collect field data. You need a crew processing sonar data. You need a lot of equipment and sampling gear, especially when we start monitoring juvenile steelhead in the future. It takes a lot of people, equipment and money. Right now, it’s just me and a couple Watershed Stewards Program (WSP) members a day or two a week trying to do everything. So I would love to have free reign and staff and money to really monitor steelhead throughout San Luis Obispo County so we could really understand and tell their story and put this program on the map.

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

I’m a ski bum. My true passion is backcountry skiing in the high Sierra and southern Cascade mountains. I started skiing when I was 5 and spent a lot of time in the mountains growing up. I don’t ski as much as I’d like to these days, but I still get out there a few times a year.

CDFW Photos. Top Photo: An avid fly fisherman, Don shows off a coastal cutthroat trout he caught in northern California before releasing it.

Categories: Featured Scientist
  • January 25, 2019

Man bent over in water at shoreline with net in evening at sundown.
Fishing for night smelt from the beach in Pacifica.

Man standing in water at shoreline holding net at sundown.
Fishing for night smelt from the beach in Pacifica.

Smiling man on boat wearing yellow jacket and ballcap with sunglasses holding up shark in both hands. Water in background.
Ken Oda holds a soupfin shark caught while capturing California halibut for a hooking mortality study.

Man wearing beige official Department of Fish and Wildlife uniform with beige ball cap inside boat at helm.
Ken Oda piloting the research vessel Triakis on San Francisco Bay while doing Pacific herring surveys.  

Ken Oda is an environmental scientist with CDFW’s Marine Region and a member of the Northern and Central California Finfish Research and Management Project. Based out of the Monterey office, Ken is also the lead person for sandy beach surfperch research and management.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Monterey. My great-grandfather operated a sardine cannery on Cannery Row, and my grandfather ran a wholesale fish business on Wharf 1 in Monterey, specializing in local abalone.

What led you to a career in marine biology?

It’s genetics. My mom’s family was in the commercial fishing industry. My dad was an avid fisherman and diver. I became fishing-obsessed at a young age and wanted to learn everything I could find about fish. Given my strong interest in fish and all things fishing, my parents “suggested” that I choose a career path consistent with my fish fascination.

After searching for colleges offering fisheries degrees, I decided that Humboldt State University could offer me the best education. I graduated from Humboldt State with a Bachelor of Science degree in fisheries, with a mariculture emphasis.

In 1982, my mom went to the annual open house at the CDFW’s Granite Canyon Mariculture Laboratory in Big Sur. She had a conversation with the director, Earl Ebert, who invited me to do my senior thesis at the lab as a volunteer student intern. My job entailed taking care of juvenile Red Abalone. Later, my first paying position was as a scientific aid sampling sport and commercial rockfish landings from Monterey to Santa Cruz. I worked as a fisheries technician on groundfish for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. By 1988, I began my first permanent position as an entry level marine biologist. Later I promoted to marine biologist conducting population assessments on San Francisco Bay herring. In 2005, I transferred back to Monterey, which eventually landed me on my current project.

What inspires you?

The learning opportunities. I remember reading vintage issues of CDFW journals and informational publications, e.g., ocean fishing maps and fish identification books, and thought that I’d want to do that kind of work someday. I had the privilege to meet and work with ichthyologists Dan Miller, Dan Gotshall and Bob Lea, who authored the publications that I had read.

I’m also inspired by the fact that I’m working on surfperch fisheries that my family have been active participants in since the 1910s.

What is a typical day like for you at work?

The best thing about my job is having daily opportunities to learn something new while in the field, interacting with others or through data analysis.

I’m doing more writing than fieldwork these days, but on those days when I can get out of the office, I head to a local beach to collect surfperch. To do so, I gather up my fly and/or conventional rods and reels, a tackle bag/soft cooler, electronic thermometer, and a smart phone for taking photos and storing data in the field. If successful, I’ll bring the fish back to the lab and collect life history information from them: lengths, weights, sex, maturity, and ear bones (otoliths) used for age determination and input the data into a spreadsheet.

When I’m not in the field, I check and respond to emails and phone calls, and search for publications to support the reports that I’m writing.

What interesting projects are you working on currently?

Writing “Enhanced Status Reports” (ESRs) as part of the implementation of the 2018 Marine Life Management Act Master Plan for Fisheries. The ESRs describe the individual species or species groups, habitat, research and management, and the state-managed fisheries that they support.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I was the project lead person that coordinated the purchasing process for building a custom research boat for the Pacific Herring Project. This was the first for the Marine Region in many years. The process from the funding proposal to delivery of the boat took about three years. It took a team of CDFW staff, consultations with commercial fishermen, boat builders and naval architects and engineers to pull it together and deliver a boat that is still in service after 20 years.

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

During the 1997 El Niño storms when levees in the Delta broke and caused widespread flooding, it was not unusual to see random items drifting around in San Francisco Bay while doing surveys — a travel trailer, dead cattle, snakes, a refrigerator.

What are the best – and most challenging – things about being a fish and wildlife scientist?

I appreciate feeling “dialed in” with the fish species through field work and seeing fish in the flesh. Fish and fishermen are more than numbers in a table or points in a graph and observations sometimes can’t be captured on paper or camera.

The most challenging aspect is presenting information that you know won’t be popular to a group of people and trying to remember that you’ve done your best despite their reactions.

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

A statewide quantitative survey of surf species using fishing rod castable armored cameras and a fleet of four-wheeled ATVs.

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

Fishing somewhere — on a tropical flat, a coastal river for steelhead, or the Delta for striped bass. I’m happy fishing anywhere for just about anything.

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

I played competitive volleyball, which resulted in two surgeries and broken fingers.

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

Realize that it’s a very competitive field these days for jobs, prepare accordingly, take opportunities to meet those working in the field that have taken similar career paths and volunteer to determine if a job/career is what you really want. Keep an open mind — we never know it all.

CDFW Photos courtesy of Ken Oda. Top Photo: Ken Oda at work collecting surfperch in his Sandy Beach Surfperch Research and Management project.

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
  • August 16, 2018

Woman in green shirt and green fishing hat holding up burned electronic box with fallen tree and trees in background.
One of several burned trail cameras Martinelli lost in the Knoxville Wildlife Area as a result of the County Fire in July 2018.

Woman in blue shirt and black vest with green ball cap holding bagpipes.
Martinelli on the bagpipes

Woman in straw hat, sunglasses, and green shirt holding up a brown and cream colored snake.
Martinelli holds a kingsnake from the Santa Rosa Plain Vernal Pool Ecological Reserve in Sonoma County

Stacy Martinelli is CDFW’s wine country wildlife biologist. An environmental scientist based in Santa Rosa, Stacy is assigned to Napa and Sonoma counties where she has worked the past 10 years conducting wildlife research, resolving human-wildlife conflicts and helping manage CDFW’s properties.

Stacy was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. She earned an undergraduate degree in wildlife management from Montreal’s McGill University and a master’s degree in wildlife ecology, also from McGill. For her graduate research, she studied black ducks in Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s Maritime provinces on the Atlantic Coast.

What brought you to the United States?

Work – like every immigrant. I just couldn’t find work in Canada so I answered an ad in an ornithological newsletter looking for help on a waterfowl research project down in Los Banos. I was like, “I’ll do that. That’ll be fun. I’ll just start building my résumé.” It was a six-month contract helping a graduate student from the University of Missouri with some research. The project ended and I thought, “I like California.” That was in 1995.

How did you get to CDFW?

After Los Banos, somebody knew somebody that needed a biologist for the Suisun Resource Conservation District (SRCD) in the Suisun Marsh. I spent three years in that job. I lived out in the barracks on Grizzly Island alongside CDFW employees. It was really a lot of fun. At SRCD, we worked closely with the department as well. So I knew people and how the department worked and I thought I would love to work for the department. I applied for a Habitat Conservation Program job in San Diego in 1988 and spent a year down there as an environmental scientist reviewing projects and issuing permits. I got a transfer and promotion to our Bay Delta Region and worked in our Timberland Conservation Program until 2008 when I got my current job.

What’s kept you in this job for the past decade?

It’s such a great job. I am so thankful for this job. It’s so variable. It’s a good mix of field work, research and monitoring. There’s a lot of hands-on work. Sonoma and Napa counties are really exceptional because there is just high biodiversity here and there is still a lot of open space. I am a little worried about the housing crunch and all the talk to build more housing but there’s still a lot of great wildlife habitat that’s out here. We’ve got the coast in Sonoma. In Napa, we’ve got the beautiful east side with the Knoxville Wildlife Area that’s still pristine. And even here on the west side of Santa Rosa, we’ve got (endangered) tiger salamanders. We’ve got neighbors around them, but they’re still here and that’s really cool. We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure they don’t disappear.

Last October, this region experienced some of the most devastating wildfires in U.S. history. You’ve had more fires this year. What’s been the impact to wildlife?

There was high mortality for sure, especially with the Tubbs Fire last year, which burned so quickly. The species that live here – bobcat, coyote, gray fox, blacktail deer – they’re fairly resilient and adaptable. I don’t worry about them on a population level. They are going to be fine.

I am working on two projects right now looking at fire effects. One of those is in the Knoxville Wildlife Area. This is year three of a camera trap study. It’s a way of measuring the wildlife community with cameras in terms of abundance and presence of different species and the balance among those species.

I’ve got 23 trail cameras spread out there in a grid pattern about a kilometer apart. I’ve got half of my cameras on the west side of the wildlife area and half of my cameras on the east side. The east side burned in July in the County Fire and I lost a bunch of cameras. They just melted. But some survived and I’ve got photos of the flames and the smoke and everything.

The cool thing is I have three years of baseline data so I know what the wildlife community looks like pre-fire and now we get to see what the wildlife community looks like post-fire. We actually talked to Cal Fire at one point about doing a prescribed burn to study this exact thing, and now 6,000 acres are gone as a result of the County Fire.

My hope is that we see a rejuvenation of the chaparral community because that stuff just gets super woody. Deer browse those shrub species and as they age and become woody, they lose their nutritional value. All the new growth is going to provide a wonderful new food source for them. I’m pretty excited about the whole thing.

It sounds like the Knoxville Wildlife Area is a pretty special place.

It’s a very important piece of property. I’m so lucky I get to work on it. It’s huge. It’s 22,000 acres of mostly oak woodlands and grasslands with the chaparral component. There’s not a lot of other public hunting land around here. If you’re a Bay Area resident, Knoxville is the closest place to hunt deer.

The funny thing is when I first started working there I was like, “OK, nothing lives here.” I never saw any wildlife. Maybe I would see a deer or two by the side of the road but even when I explored the backcountry, I never saw much of anything. It was like a dead zone. What lives here? I have no idea.

But we’ve found all kinds of wildlife with our camera study. We found bears, which I thought was cool. We knew there were mountain lions, but we wanted documentation. There are more deer there than I thought. We never used to see bucks. But then I got some cameras up in the high elevations, the mostly inaccessible areas and it was like, “Aha! I know where you are now!” We saw badger. We found roadrunner. We found spotted skunk. These are all species that would be really tough to see in the field. So it’s been really exciting.

Is there a particular project you’ve worked on over your career that you’re especially proud of?

I’m not sure I’ve done that signature project yet. To me, land conservation is the biggest contribution that I think I can make and we as a department can make. They’re just not making any more land. If we don’t get the land, there’s always the risk of development. I’m pretty passionate about land conservation for wildlife. So I’m waiting for that opportunity to be part of locking up a piece of land for the wildlife community – and for the public, too.

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

I think the best thing is to do as much field work as you possibly can – especially during your undergraduate studies. Volunteer. Get an internship. Just be active in the wildlife community as best you can.

We have students call us quite often and we hire a bunch of scientific aides. I’ve done a lot of interviews and looked at a lot of résumés. Unfortunately, we see people who have graduated from college without a stitch of field experience. They’ve not done one thing. Start padding your résumé and just be prepared the next couple of years to travel around and do field projects throughout the state, throughout the country, throughout the world. Eventually you will get there. But be patient because you have to suffer some horrible pay and eating Top Ramen for a while before you can latch onto something permanent.

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

I play bagpipes in a bagpipe band. I play with the Macintosh Pipe Band in Larkspur, Marin County, and I go down and practice every week. We compete in the Bay Area, Monterey, and have played across the U.S., Scotland and Mexico. I learned how to play in Canada and I’ve stuck with it ever since. It’s a passion of mine.

Photos courtesy of Stacy Martinelli. Top Photo: Martinelli searches Mount St. Helena in Napa County for deer fecal pellets as part of CDFW’s statewide deer population survey, which extracts DNA information from the pellets.


Categories: Featured Scientist
  • April 4, 2018

Young woman in diving suit smiling and leaning on the starboard side of a powerboat overlooking kelp-filled bay
Christy prepares for a day’s work underwater at La Jolla.

Diver underwater in black diving suite taking notes surrounded by kelp and sea urchins. White calipers in us, gripping a sea urchin
Christy Juhasz works on an abalone density survey off the northern California coast.

CDFW Environmental Scientist Christy Juhasz works for the Marine Region’s Invertebrate Management Project, where she is primarily responsible for managing California’s Dungeness crab fisheries. Christy coordinates preseason quality and domoic acid testing for the commercial fishery, summarizes seasonal landings data and works on rulemaking proposals for both the commercial and recreational Dungeness fisheries.

A Southern California native, Christy earned a bachelor’s degree in marine biology, with a minor in oceanography, from the University of California, Los Angeles. Soon after graduating, Christy’s first paid position involved monitoring and trapping the invasive European green crab in several northern California bays and estuaries. Afterwards, she began working for CDFW as a scientific aid at the Shellfish Health Laboratory, located at the Bodega Marine Laboratory in Bodega Bay, where she spent several years testing quality control measures of a sabellid, polychaete worm that had been introduced at aquaculture facilities.

In 2007, she became a certified CDFW diver and began assisting in abalone density surveys conducted on the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts. In 2011, she was hired in her current position to work on Dungeness crab fisheries management.

What led you to a career in marine biology?

As a child, I spent an inordinate amount at the coast and particularly enjoyed exploring tidepools. I was always fascinated by the creatures that eke out an existence on the water’s edge, fostering my love of marine invertebrate species. This only grew after taking an invertebrate taxonomy course, becoming certified in scientific diving and volunteering at a small, local marine aquarium while in college where I was able to share my love of native California marine life with the public.

Not many people can say they get to dive as part of their job duties. What’s that like?

Before coming to work at CDFW, most of my diving experience was in the warmer waters of Southern California and the Bahamas for training and research, respectively. Diving in the colder and rougher northern California ocean waters has been interesting. My job has taken me to some beautiful underwater habitat where diverse and colorful kelps, invertebrates and rockfish species abound, while also making me a much better diver.

One interesting CDFW dive location includes the site of Mavericks, although not at the height of the surfing season. We were there to assess the red abalone population within the Marine Protected Area and I was able to observe firsthand the effects of the intense wave action that had eroded away the subtidal rocky reef promontories.

How frequently do you get to dive?

Recently, I had my first child so have not been able to get back underwater as intensely since before I was pregnant. Prior to this, I was an active CDFW diver, primarily assisting with monitoring red abalone populations in the summer months. Diving and field work, in general, are always fun to go out and do in coastal locations, but they do require a lot of planning and preparation. Actual collection of data while SCUBA diving really teaches you to be in the moment, as you have multiple tasks to complete underwater. Obviously safety is paramount and you have to pay attention to the air you consume while you’re working, which ultimately limits the amount time you have underwater.

Today, most of your work relates to Dungeness crab. What do you find interesting about this particular fishery?

The Dungeness crab commercial fishery is one of California’s highest valued fisheries and is also one of the state’s oldest fisheries. In fact, regulations governing take of legal-sized males around a set seasonal period date back to the turn of the 20th century, and are known as the 3-S management principle (sex, size and season). The fishery does widely fluctuate from season to season, but with California landings dating back to just over 100 seasons, there have been no observable, long-term crashes in catch history. In recent seasons, the fishery has experienced some record landings in both management areas of the fishery, especially in the central region, which in the past decades rarely contributed to the majority of statewide landings.

I enjoy and thrive in my job under the dynamic and varying responsibilities and tasks that support the operations of the fishery. Whether I’m working on rulemaking packages, meeting with constituents for various issues or incorporating new or more extensive sampling procedures – it’s all very interesting.

Do you work with species other than Dungeness crab?

Yes. Some of my monitoring and rulemaking work involves other invertebrate fisheries in California, which have been increasing in importance (see link to journal article below). This raises new challenges for fisheries managers, especially considering the many invertebrate fisheries we oversee and the various life history strategies characteristic of each species.

For instance, red urchin and red abalone have to be relatively near one another for successful fertilization after they release their gametes into the water column. This is in contrast to Dungeness crab, which mate during the period when females molt, and brood eggs before they hatch. These differences just reveal how each fishery requires a unique set of regulations to effectively manage them.

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

I have been collaborating with other CDFW staff to monitor the arrival of the Dungeness crab megalopae – that’s the last pelagic, larval stage of crabs before they molt and settle to the bottom as juveniles – to California’s bays and estuaries. The study aims to determine if there is link between their relative number and size, and perhaps predict commercial catch three to four years later, which is about when these crabs would grow into the fishery. Work on this is still preliminary, but in the time we have been observing, we have noticed big differences in total numbers and average size. This may be driven by optimal ocean conditions since the planktonic larval stages spend an average of four months total in the water column during the winter and spring months.

I’m also involved in the rulemaking process for the Dungeness crab commercial fishery. One current development is the creation of a formal statewide program for incentivizing the retrieval of lost and abandoned Dungeness crab traps at the end of each season. The fishery has rules in place such as the use of a destruct device that wears away, to allow escapement and prevent a lost or abandoned trap from continuously capturing organisms. However, traps attached to a buoy with vertical lines in the water column that remain in the water past the season pose additional hazards to marine life and vessel traffic. The industry has been piloting local programs for the past several seasons. A formal program is expected to be in place by the end of the 2018-19 season.

Recent seasons of the Dungeness crab fishery have been plagued by high domoic acid levels and low quality, leading to season delays. How has this changed the nature of your work?

The pre-season quality testing has been conducted for the northern portion of the fishery for many years in concert with Washington and Oregon testing. Although procedures have been modified over the years, the scheduled delays are built into the current operations of the fishery. The fishery cannot be delayed due to quality issues past January 15, whereas with domoic acid season delays are unpredictable.

Our efforts to monitor Dungeness crab are more extensive before the start of the season. Dungeness crab fishermen are key players in this task, as I call and email with them to collect and retrieve samples throughout the fishery’s range statewide (this is similar to how the quality testing is conducted as well). I also coordinate with staff from the California of Department of Public Health to ensure that samples collected are properly received by their laboratory testing facility. During the 2015-16 delayed season, CDFW staff worked tirelessly on this sampling effort while navigating the problem under current regulations and effectively communicating the latest information on the status of the delay and potential opening of the season. This was especially important in light of lost revenue due to the unforeseen delays.

Do you expect that domoic acid will continue to be a problem in future seasons?

Domoic acid is a neurotoxin produced by a unicellular algal organisms that thrive in warm water. The domoic acid problem that caused the severe delay of the 2015-16 season was thought to be a direct effect of the anomalous (unusual) ocean warming from the “warm blob” that developed off of US West Coast in 2014. As these anomalous warming ocean conditions persist, so does the problem of harmful algal blooms that cause domoic acid. This has become a top priority for discussion between industry, the Dungeness crab task force and other affected fisheries and agencies. 

CDFW Photos. Top Photo: Christy measuring a dungeness crab.

For Further Reading:

Categories: Featured Scientist
  • March 9, 2018

A blonde woman standing on a dry grass plain holds a large bobcat wearing a gray transmitting collar, under a partly cloudy, bright blue sky
Alisa Ellsworth holds a newly-collared bobcat for the Eastern Sierra Bobcat Project.

A tall man with a gray beard stands arm-in-arm with three shorter women, all dressed in jeans and T-shirts, on a dry grass plain
Alisa Ellsworth and crew working on Fish Slough Ecological Reserve restoration project.

CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Alisa Ellsworth supervises the Inland Desert Region’s Northern Lands Program. Based out of the Bishop office, Alisa oversees 10 employees who perform a wide variety of activities including land acquisition planning, coordinating mitigation for incidental take, and managing over 120,000 acres of state ecological reserves and wildlife areas in Inyo, Mono and San Bernardino counties.

A Central Valley native, Alisa grew up in Visalia. She attended both undergraduate and graduate school at Fresno State, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in botany in 1993 and a master’s degree in biology in 1995. Her thesis focused on vernal pool ecology in Madera County.

What inspired you to become a biologist?

My interest in science first started in high school when I had to do an insect and plant collection for my biology class. I really enjoyed learning how to identify things in nature. When I started college, I was naturally drawn to biology courses and my path was set. I met a group of people that liked to go out botanizing and birding on the weekends and a whole new world opened up for me.

My first wildlife job was in 1992 with Pacific Southwest Research Station, estimating the density of spotted owls in Sequoia National Park. This is where I learned how to hike at night using a compass and topographic map, as there weren’t GPS units back in those days. The work also involved gathering vital rate data (reproduction and mortality) as well as characterizing diets from regurgitated pellets. In 1993, I spent an amazing summer working for the US Forest Service. I hiked all over the Sierra National Forest, mapping vegetation types and looking for rare plants.

How did you come to work for CDFW?

I worked as a scientific aide for the Habitat Conservation group in the Central Region for a year and a half when I was in college. After I graduated, I began working as a private consultant until 1996 conducting rare plant surveys, wetland delineations and revegetation projects. Around that time, I caught the travel bug and applied for a research assistant position focused on field studies of the guanaco, a South American wild camelid related to the llama. This took me to Torres Del Paine National Park in the Patagonia region of southern Chile, where I worked on guanaco reproductive strategies, spacing strategies and movement. We radio collared young guanacos (called chulengos) and monitored for survival and cause-specific mortality. This involved watching a mother give birth to her baby and then soon after running in and grabbing the baby and quickly putting a radio collar on it. Most of the mothers were pretty mild mannered, but one tried stomping on us and spit all over us, which was quite smelly!

Afterward, I joined the Peace Corps and stayed in Ecuador until 1999, working on environmental education projects in schools. When I returned to the United States, I worked briefly as a consultant again, and then took an associate biologist position with Caltrans in Fresno. When a position opened up in CDFW’s Bishop office, in the streambed alteration agreement program, I jumped at it. I was hired in 2001 and have never wanted to leave Bishop since.

Over my career with CDFW, I have managed the X9B and X9C deer zones, the Owens Valley tule elk zones and the White Mountain bighorn sheep hunt zone. I have collected and analyzed wildlife population data for upland game birds, mule deer, tule elk and Nelson bighorn sheep. I’ve provided harvest recommendations and direction for population management of those game animals. Since 2008, I’ve been with the Lands program, working on acquisition projects, writing grants and working with the Wildlife Conservation Board and other non-governmental organizations on projects of shared interest.

We sometimes say that the Eastern Sierra is “the most beautiful part of California you’ve never seen.” What is unique about this ecosphere?

The Eastern Sierra is comprised of mostly public land with very little development compared to many other areas around California. This allows for intact wildlife populations to exist in vast expanses of native habitat. For example, the federally endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep can be found in the high alpine environment in the summer months. They then move downslope in the winter to take advantage of available food not buried under snow. More than 600 bighorn in 13 occupied herd units can now be found in the Sierras, compared to 1995 when there were only 105 left after being devastated from diseases transmitted from competing domestic livestock in the high alpine meadows.

The sheer beauty of the tall mountains and the abundance of wildlife make it a truly special place. I enjoy hearing the tule elk bugling in the fall evenings near the Owens River. If you really want a treat, you can wake up before the sun rises to go observe the greater sage grouse congregate on their leks (meadows or barren areas with little cover) during the spring breeding season. The males put on quite a display in hopes of attracting a female by puffing out their chest, inflating air sacs and making unique sounds that I equate to drops of water.

What kinds of projects are conducted on the reserves and wildlife areas you manage?

Our activities are quite diverse, including managing water rights and grazing, controlling invasive species and performing various wildlife surveys. I serve as the lead for the Eastern Sierra bobcat study, which was initiated in 2014-2015 as part of a three-year project to assess current populations in Inyo and Mono counties. Specific data collected during the study include bobcat population size, density and age structure, as well as home range size, habitat selection, prey base and reproduction.

I also am also the lead for the low-elevation mesocarnivore survey project. This involves the use of remote cameras to capture detailed images of wildlife species such as bobcat, coyote and gray fox. The surveys help us estimate the percent of the study area that a species of interest occurs by placing one camera within a 10.4 Km cell and surveying 100 cells over multiple weeks. The data collected provides occupancy of the species surveyed. Capture-mark-recapture surveys can be done using this method with species such as bobcats that can be identified because of their unique coat patterns.

Inyo and Mono counties have been divided into eight study areas using geographical boundaries that the mesocarnivore surveys will be rotated through. Initially, these surveys will provide occupancy and abundance of individual species within each study area. Over time, data collected from the surveys can be useful to identify population trends.

What has been the most satisfying part of your CDFW career?

I really enjoy working with outstanding people who are focused on managing and conserving the state’s most important places and wildlife. I’m particularly proud of the conservation work that’s been conducted for the benefit of the Round Valley deer herd. We purchased several important properties within its winter range in Rovana and Swall Meadows, with the goal of protecting an intact migration corridor for them to move up and down in elevation to and from their winter and summer ranges.

What projects would you undertake if you had unlimited money and resources?

I am passionate about conserving natural areas for the perpetuation of healthy ecosystems and the wildlife populations they support. California is an incredibly biologically diverse state and these places are truly unique. By protecting them, we will allow them to be enjoyed generations to come. My most recent focus has been working to conserve the greater sage grouse through land acquisition and conservation easements. Funding all of the proposed actions in the Bi-State Action Plan for Greater sage grouse would be a dream come true.

CDFW photos.
Top photo:
Alisa Ellsworth works a Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep capture.

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.

Categories: Featured Scientist
  • January 25, 2018

A man with a dark goatee, wearing black with an orange safety vest, kneels among dead reeds and low vegetation, holding a field notebook

Morgan Knechtle is an environmental scientist with CDFW’s Northern Region in Yreka. He works on the Klamath River Project, which has a primary focus of estimating the return of adult salmon and steelhead to the Klamath and Trinity rivers. He is responsible for multiple field projects that manage salmonids in the Klamath River Basin, such as operating adult salmonid counting stations and coordinating adult spawning ground surveys on the Shasta River, Scott River and Bogus Creek, three highly productive salmonid tributaries to the Klamath River in Siskiyou County. Knechtle also assists with adult recovery efforts, which involve collecting biological information from returning adult salmon at Iron Gate Hatchery, and serves as one of CDFW’s technical representatives for the Klamath Dam Decommissioning Project, which involves the proposed elimination of four hydroelectric dams in northern California and Southern Oregon.

Knechtle earned a Bachelor of Science degree in freshwater fisheries from Humboldt State University and got his first job with CDFW as a scientific aide in the Russian River watershed. He was hired permanently in 2000 and spent four years working on salmonid life cycle monitoring stations on the Mendocino coast. Since 2004, he has worked with salmonids in the Klamath Basin, both on the Trinity River and in the tributaries to the Klamath River in Siskiyou County.

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?

My love for rivers inspired me to become a scientist. During college at Humboldt State University, I was spending all of my free time fishing for salmon and steelhead and came to the realization that I could study these animals and make a living working with them.

The ability to be an advocate for fishery resources brought me to CDFW. CDFW is one of the only places a scientist can work with fisheries and truly be an objective voice for the resource. Many other organizations do not have this luxury.

What is a typical day like for you at work?

It depends on the time of year. During the fall and winter when adult salmonids are returning to the Klamath River, my world is extremely busy running and participating in multiple field projects monitoring the return of these amazing species. During the spring and summer, I spend much more time in the office crunching numbers and writing reports.

My Chinook salmon work focuses on providing information that can help accurately forecast abundance. This enables us to provide fishing opportunities while maintaining enough fish in the river for future generations. My coho salmon monitoring work focuses on providing accurate abundance information to track the status and trends of this endangered species over time.

As a technical expert on the Klamath Dam Decommissioning Project, in cooperation with other technical experts from other state and federal agencies, I help minimize effects to aquatic species inhabiting the Klamath River during the decommissioning phase of the project. Additionally, I participate in post-dam removal planning projects, including creating plans on how to implement the Iron Gate Hatchery post dam removal and coordinate with Oregon scientists on the reintroduction of salmon above Iron Gate Dam, with a goal of ensuring the recovery of salmonids and aquatic species above the project area.

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

Although the project is not yet complete, the Klamath Dam Decommissioning Project has the potential to be the most rewarding project I have worked on. It stands to be the largest river restoration project to ever be completed in North America, and given that status, as one can imagine, the project has a lot of moving parts. The potential benefits to salmonids in the Klamath and the improvements to the health of the river itself could be enormous. The long-term predicted improvements to water quality, habitat availability, natural flow dynamics and restoration of natural processes to the Klamath River will improve conditions, for not only anadromous salmon and steelhead but also the rest of the plant and animal community that depend on the river for part or all of their life history.

What is the most challenging aspect of your career as an environmental scientist?

It is extremely challenging when social and political concerns get mixed in with natural resource management. Working with coho salmon in the Klamath Basin has been very challenging due to its listed status and the fact that their abundance is extremely low.

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

With unlimited funding, I would like to track and monitor the recovery of spring Chinook in the upper Klamath River post dam removal. They are nearly extinct and they are thought to once have been the most abundant species in the Klamath River Basin.

What aspect of working on the Klamath River is particularly challenging or rewarding?

Multiple stakeholders -- which include Native American tribes, federal and state trustee agencies, and freshwater and ocean anglers -- in the Klamath Basin make some aspects of salmon management challenging. However, when progress is made to restore the river, it is also extremely rewarding because you know that groups with very different perspectives have come together, negotiated agreement and reached consensus on difficult issues.

What is your favorite species to interact with or study?

Steelhead trout are my favorite species to work with. Steelhead are the most elusive of the Klamath salmonids and their complex life history make them a very difficult species to study. They are also my favorite fish to catch.

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

The most obvious is for folks to stay in school and graduate from college. In addition, volunteering and interning in their field of interest early in their education is a benefit to get a taste of what the career might really be like.

CDFW photos of Morgan Knechtle working along the Shasta River.

Categories: Featured Scientist
  • November 28, 2017

a woman wearing a green, thermal jumpsuit stands in shallow water, pulling a fish net from the marsh
Stacy Sherman conducts fish sampling at Liberty Island in the north Delta.

a man and a woman pose for a selfie
Stacy and her husband, Marcus, a biology teacher at Stockton’s Stagg High School.

a woman holding a black labrador retriever poses with three young boys, with Emerald Bay behind them
Stacy and her three stepsons – Owen, Jack and Charlie – pause for a photo overlooking Lake Tahoe.

Stacy Sherman is an environmental program manager based in the Bay-Delta Region’s Stockton Field Office. She heads CDFW’s Fish Restoration Program Monitoring Team, a group of eight scientists and staff charged with one specific but important task: monitoring and supporting efforts to restore 8,000 acres of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Marsh to tidal wetlands.

The restoration was mandated in 2008 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help at-risk fish populations in the Delta as a condition of operating the Central Valley and State Water Projects, which send water to the Central Valley and southern California.

Stacy joined CDFW in 2014 from the University of the Pacific in Stockton where she was an assistant professor of biology for seven years. She was born in Nebraska but raised in Baton Rouge, La. She holds a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Louisiana State University and a Ph.D. in marine biology and fisheries from the University of Miami, where she studied billfish larvae – baby sailfish and marlin – for her dissertation.

Fill us in on the Delta restoration efforts. Where are we in meeting the goal of restoring 8,000 acres to tidal wetlands?

It’s all in the pre-project planning phase. There are a lot of moving parts. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) is the lead agency and it’s DWR’s responsibility to actually do the restoration. Our team is relatively new. We exist to determine whether the restoration is effective and to provide the biological expertise.

DWR has acquired several sites. These are all on public land or properties purchased from willing sellers. Prospect Island in Solano County is one. Bradmoor Island is another. Many already have some marshy areas. DWR will dig out some more and punch some holes in the levees. The first project will probably be breached next year.

What’s so important about making these lands accessible to the tides and tidal influence?

Back before the Gold Rush, all of the Delta was wetland. After the land was reclaimed, we lost something like 97 percent of the marsh. The idea is that the tidal marsh is incredibly productive and our changes to it probably affected the food web. So the requirement to restore so much acreage to tidal wetlands is to increase the availability of food and habitat for listed fish species, particularly the Delta smelt but also salmon. When I talk about it publicly, I try to bring people back to what was here in the past and how productive it is and how a healthy environment is good for everyone.

Did you develop your passion and expertise in wetlands growing up and going to school in Louisiana?

I spent a lot of time on the water growing up, but not necessarily the marsh – mostly lakes. My family started going to this one little lake outside of Baton Rouge when I was like 4. It’s called False River and it’s an oxbow lake off the Mississippi River. We sailed and fished and swam there all the time.

When I was in college, I did some undergraduate research on the coast in the marsh. And my post-doctorate work is all in the marsh. That was actually in South Carolina.

What brought you to California and CDFW?

I decided to try the academic track and ended up in Stockton at the University of the Pacific teaching biology. The university is heavily skewed toward pre-dental and pharmacy so it wasn’t a great fit for me.

One of my former master’s students, Phillip Poirier, who is now my colleague here in the office, sent me this job ad and said, “Do you know anyone who would like to apply for this?” And I said, “That sounds really nice. I will apply for it.”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy getting together with smart people here who care about the estuary and want to see it improved. I get the chance to work with people within CDFW and across other agencies, nonprofits, consulting firms, and it’s really nice to see people working together toward the same goal. We might have differences of opinions but we are all trying to get to the same place.

California’s education leaders are concerned about the lack of girls and young women studying science and pursuing science and technology careers. Do you have any advice for them?

I think the key for any kid is to get them engaged, get them outside. Don’t give them answers. Give them a chance to work things out – some of the inquiry-based science.

My husband actually teaches high school biology at Stagg High School in Stockton and we talk about this a lot. He takes his students out to the Calaveras River, which runs right through Stockton. Experiences like that for me – hands-on, getting outside, answering questions, being able to be creative – is what made this field really attractive.

When I was in middle school, the public school I attended offered marine biology and that was my first time to a marine lab and an overnight field trip. And then at LSU, I had all of these great field experiences and a really great ichthyology professor who kind of nudged me and encouraged me along the way.

You have a unique perspective as an educator and now as a CDFW manager trying to hire scientists. Are universities doing enough to prepare the next generation of natural resource scientists?

I think it’s variable. There are places that do have strong programs that really do prepare students well. I’ve had some amazing staff. We had a scientific aide here, Sunny Lee, who graduated from UC Santa Barbara and he came in with just so many skills – good writing and he already knew a bunch of invertebrates. He caught on to our process really quickly so that was great. On the other hand, you see applications from those who graduated with a degree in environmental studies – environmental science majors even – who say, “This will be a really great job for me. I really want to do this and get outside.” And I don’t think some of those applicants necessarily grasp the rigor involved – that this is serious science and it’s not just playing around outside.

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

Talk to people in the field before you make a decision about your school or the program you want to study. Go out and volunteer if you can. Make contacts. I would recommend they pay a lot of attention to math and statistics especially. Get used to working hard. Be the hardest worker in the room as that’s what’s going to get you along.

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

Most people are surprised to find out I’m part Cajun. My mom is Cajun. I get a lot of questions about my lack of accent.

All photos courtesy of Stacy Sherman

Categories: Featured Scientist
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