Sunday, July 6, 2014

Idaho, its Anglers, and the Satisfaction Survey

Although I've spent some time in this area of the country with my family before, when starting my internship with the Henry's Fork Foundation, I was instantly astounded by how friendly and laid back people are in this tucked away section of America.  This summer, one of the main tasks the interns have been assigned is conducting angler satisfaction surveys.  Each day of the season, a few of the interns can be found at locations throughout Harriman State Park asking anglers to complete a survey for the Foundation on fishing conditions that day and how it compares to years past.  Interning in Washington, D.C. last summer, I was given a similar task of interviewing people about environmental issues on the National Mall.  The friendliness and eagerness of the anglers who devote their summers and falls to fishing the Ranch are the exact opposite of what I encountered last summer.  Thus far, the majority of anglers have been willing to complete the roughly 5 minute survey and many have stayed after completing the survey to chat with the interns, whether it's asking us about school and where we're from or giving us pointers on fly fishing and some spots we absolutely need to check out this summer.  Being from Virginia and going to school in New York, I was a bit worried about the transition into Idaho life and whether I would be able to connect and relate to the anglers, some of whom have been fishing the Ranch for 40 or more years.  Everyone's passion for the area and their genuine concern about the health of the Henry's Fork and its renowned rainbow trout have made my transition remarkably easy and have made me feel absolutely at home here in Idaho.  I've never met a community more eager to share, friendly, or passionate about helping an area, and it's made me incredibly excited to go out everyday and see the familiar, friendly faces of anglers I've already met this season and to make new connections with anglers, some of them experiencing the beauty of the Harriman State Park for the first time, just like me a few weeks ago.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Water, Cows and Stars

Author: Minh Chau N. Ho

 It’s hard to believe this is my last week in Idaho.  It wasn’t that long ago when I drove into Ashton at 10:30pm, trying to figure out the turn to the intern’s summer home from US Highway 20.  This summer is my first time in Idaho, where the skylines are magnificent, the river runs swift, and the eagles call.
You’ve heard about many of our summer projects from my fellow interns, so I’ll write about a project that started after most of us had left.  As the summer progressed, the water reservoirs draw lower and the river risks sedimentation as outflows skim closer to the sediment bottom.  As a result, the Henry’s Fork Foundation started sampling water quality to monitor outflows from the Island Park Dam.  Almost daily, we wade out in the Box Canyon and Coffee Pot to sample for suspended sediment concentration (SSC), total phosphate concentration, and turbidity.  Samples in the Coffee Pot, above the Dam, are used for comparisons.  Phosphate and sediment samples are sent to the Bureau of Reclamation while we run turbidity samples in the office.

Results of the study won’t come in until after I’ve left.  By now, there’s only Chris and I left and Matt, the intern coordinator, accompanies us most days.  The boys have been getting ready and excited for the hunting season, which starts in September.  As we work, they trade tips on guns, shells, tags, hunting spots, boats, hunting dogs and more.  I chime in now and then about dogs, but otherwise the topics are foreign to this California urbanite.  My knowledge of the sport has skyrocketed, and I can appreciate their enthusiasm.  It’s a part of the Idaho culture I’ve come to love.

Once in a while we float the river searching for our tagged fish in preparation for habitat surveys in the fall.  Most of our fish were detected in the Harriman Ranch where they were first tagged. 
The Foundation will survey fish habitats in Harriman again in the fall to compare with early and late summer observations.  Sadly, I’ll be gone by then.  Sometimes, we would find cattle loosed from their pastures on our floats.  Someone would call into the office, and we would spend the afternoons checking for broken spots in our fences.  Needless to say, I’ve added cattle herding to my list of first experiences this summer.
I wanted to close with my list of first experiences, in thanks to this extraordinary summer internship.  Driving around the area has been an experience, and I like to take morning joy rides around Mesa Falls in search of wildlife.  This summer, I saw eagles for the first time.  My longer trips have taken me to the Grand Teton National Park, West Yosemite, and Bozeman, not to mention idyllic airport trips to Idaho Falls and Pocatello.  The East Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot serves as my first true state fair experience.
In Ashton, I tried the famous huckleberry milkshake at the renowned Frostop.
(The interns still argue whether it’s pronounced Fro-stop or Fros-top). 
A friend taught me how to ride this summer, and I attended my first rodeo and Dutch oven BBQ – line dancing included, and I sadly (not really) don’t have any photos to share.  I caught my first fish here, picked and tasted my first huckleberries here.
And the stars.  Lack of urban areas make the night sky less light polluted, so I like to contemplate the constellations.  The Perseid meteor shower peaked on August 12th, and Ashton was one of the best places to see it.  Here, for the first time in a long time, my sense of wonder grew.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Electrofishing on Duck Creek: lots of fish, cows, and horses… 0 ducks.

“You know who would be really good at electrofishing?” I asked the crew as we sat down in the grass, peeling off our thick rubber gloves in the 85-degree heat.
            “Who?” Jeff asked as he let the 50(ish) pound electrofisher off his back and joined us in the grass.
            “A professional lacrosse player!”
            We all laughed at my little nerdy joke, and started to guzzle water before our final e-fishing pass of the day. It was hot outside, and dressed up to the nines in our long pants, waders, and shockproof rubber gloves was certainly not cooling us down. 
            Now, you might be wondering what exactly e-fishing is. (I certainly was before I came out here!) Anne Marie was careful to assure me yesterday that we were not electrocuting any fish (that would imply fish-murder. Definitely not something the foundation supports). Rather, e-fishing is a way to collect data on fish populations in any given area of a stream/river. An electrofisher has two ends: an anode, and a cathode. A current travels between the two ends (both of which are placed in the water, several feet apart). Fish that are within reach of the current are lightly stunned – as they rise to the surface of the water they are scooped up in a net, and placed in a live-well where they can happily swim around until re-released into the stream after the survey is complete. Two or three “netters” follow behind the person who is electrofishing – the netters must deftly position themselves in the optimal place for catching tiny, stunned fish… hence the lacrosse joke. (Perhaps the strong sun weakened my humor?)
Setting up the electrofisher before heading out to the creek - this bad boy is probably
the most expensive piece of electronic equipment I will ever handle. 

            This summer the Henry’s Fork Foundation is taking part in a statewide survey of rivers/lakes/streams/tributaries in order to assess the population and health of native cutthroat trout. This survey was last done in 2002, and the new data will be used to compare the status of cutthroats over the last decade. Yesterday we assessed a tributary of Henry’s Lake – it quickly became one of the most interesting, exciting, and rewarding days of my summer.  Duck Creek is a lovely little stream, surrounded by a herd of cattle and many horses. Overgrown in several sections by thorns, trees, and sagebrush, the stream can be a little bit difficult to navigate while holding an e-fisher or nets, but it was complete worth the struggle. Duck Creek’s challenging sections were gorgeous; even after my third time up our 100-meter reach (each stream must be e-fished 3 times for our surveys); I still found it to be quite beautiful. I am still struck by Idaho’s beauty every day I am here.
The cows wanted to e-fish too, but we didn't have waders big enough for them...

            Yesterday I got to be a professional lax player/e-fishing netter, along with Bess and Chris. For his last day with HFF this summer, Jeff got the chance to don the e-fisher. (He did a great job – I was quite impressed with his ability to hold his body upright under the weight of the e-fisher AND handle the anode/cathode ends at the same time. While wearing waders, in the heat, on the slippery rocks, amid the thick sagebrush. 10 points for Jeff!) Netting, as it turns out, is a job that requires a competitive drive, good eyes, and quick reflexes. Bess, Chris and I soon turned our job into a little tournament (though no winner was crowned, I would like to believe I caught the most fish!)
The crew e-fishing Duck Creek

            So, what did we find? Hundreds of fish – mostly brook trout and sculpin… and nine cutthroats. It is hard to assess our data without comparing it to data from the rest of the state. However, it is a relief to see that there are at least some cutties still in the tributary. Brookies are more aggressive than the cutties, and hatch earlier too. The question is – will the cutties be able to make a comeback, or have the non-native brookies and rainbows taken over? It seems cliché, but perhaps only time will tell. Rainbows were introduced several decades ago because it takes more athleticism to fish for them – but nowadays we also know the value of a thriving native species. It seems to be a battle between what is best for nature and what is best for humans – a common struggle for environmentalists.
One of the cutthroat trout we caught while e-fishing

            An internship is meant to expose students to a potential career path, and to give them the opportunity to gain new skills. How many college students can say that they have spent a day electrofishing in rural Idaho, participating in field-research with some of the best scientists in the field? So often an internship turns into an opportunity for a corporation to exploit an unpaid college student – but an internship with HFF is the exact opposite of that. I am so grateful for this experience; my summer with the Henry’s Fork Foundation has been the perfect way to actualize the lessons I have learned in the classroom at Colgate University as an Environmental Studies major, reinforcing my passion for sustaining, conserving, and protecting the environment for its own sake and for the sake of future generations. 
Checking on the fish at the live-well at the end of the day

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ode to the 'Burb

           When I first arrived in Idaho, I called Matt to let him know I had made it to Idaho Falls. He cheerily replied that he would be there soon; he’d just picked up the Suburban from the shop and was running a little late. That, ladies and gentlemen, was the first time I learned of the infamous ‘burb. As I sat on the curb outside the bus stop, a “well loved” 1994 Chevrolet Suburban rolled up. Little did I know, this car would whisk me away to my new home for the summer, and also become one of the intern crew’s closest acquaintances.
            The ‘Burb, or Bruce, as she is sometimes known, has been with us almost every day this summer. We’ve had many thrilling adventures together, almost too many to count. Many days, Brucey would give us a challenge: “Go ahead, open my back doors. Bet ya can’t.” Ten minutes later, one of the two doors would be open. As Matt explained to me on my first day, “it’s a push, then a pull. Kind of all one motion.” At this point in the summer, I’m happy to say I’ve almost mastered the technique. But sometimes, our adventures weren’t as fun for playful ol’ Bruce.
The 'Burb kindly allowing Anne Marie, Zach, and Matt take some telemetry and fish surgery gear she was hauling around.
            In her old age, the ‘Burb sometimes struggles overcoming the behemoth of a land mass we call the Ashton Hill. Bruce would hiccup and cough her way to the top, then coast down until the next rise. Somehow, even with a trailer or on triple empty, we still always made it (regardless of the odd smells creeping in to us from Bruce’s innards) with country music blaring. Luckily, the ‘burb recently underwent extensive non-invasive surgery to fix her, shall we say, “asthma” problem.
            For a while, Bruce insisted on not using her turning signals while braking. Because of that stubborn habit, the crew learned all of the hand signals that you laugh at when you first hear of them during driver’s ed. When the ‘Burb wasn’t suffering from medical issues or dolling out life lessons, she silently did any tasked asked of her, with no qualms whatsoever.
            The ‘Burb is the crew’s noble steed, our faithful friend who never lets us down, no matter what the circumstances. Bruce has taken us thousands of feet up mountains, down washboarded forest roads, and carted more gear around then ever though possible. The crew would like to thank that wonderful vehicle that we are so proud to call a friend. 
The man, the myth, the legend: the 'Burb.

Keep on truckin’,


P.S. A message to Bruce: if you could please return the sunscreen, hemostats, nippers, and socks you “borrowed” from me, that would be most appreciated.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Memories That Make Up A Summer

When I return home and think back on my time out in Idaho, I am going to remember the hilarious, fun, touching moments that sum up my summer. My main inspiration for pursuing this internship was the opportunity to gain invaluable field-research skills that I couldn’t learn in an academic building, but I am coming away with much more. Each intern here has helped make my summer special in a variety of ways. Together we have seen the entire watershed from the top of Sawtelle mountain, watched three season of How I Met Your Mother, and floated the river by Bear Gulch in car tires. We have recorded the size of hundreds of fish at the Buffalo fish ladder, put up miles of cattle fences to protect the river, and listened to hours of country music while piled into our lovely Suburban. These guys deserve individual shout outs though, so here goes.
Summer Field Crew 2013!
(from left to right:) Chris, Bess, Arielle, Jeff, Chau, & Will 

My favorite moments of the summer so far, by intern (and grad student):

Jeff: Jeff is the lead adventurer of the group, planning excursions tough enough to challenge even the bravest hiker. (Okay, maybe that is a little dramatic. But still – he loves a good hike.) Jeff, Bess, and I went backpacking a few weekends ago at Palisades Creek, and Jeff was super excited to try out his emergency shelter tent, which is essentially a large garbage bag held up by a long piece of string. Even though it was literally freezing outside (Jeff’s water-bottle froze overnight), he slept in his bright orange emergency tent, despite the fact that there was plenty of room in mine and Bess’s tent. He wanted to prove to himself that it worked and that he could do it – and even though I tease him for sleeping in a garbage bag, I love how committed Jeff is to being a true outdoorsman/backpacker.

Chris: watching The Lion King on my laptop - which we propped up on a tree stump - at Henry’s Lake on July 4th. (A little background: once or twice a week a pair of interns heads up to Henry’s Lake to do boat inspections on behalf of Fremont County Weed Control, a government agency whose mission is to prevent invasive species from destroying the gorgeous and important natural resources in the area, including the water in Henry’s Lake. The biggest threats to the lake are zebra and quagga mussels, which have the potential to wipe out an entire ecosystem. They can be transported on boats, so we do inspections to make sure that boats from out of state aren’t bringing in any of these evil little buggers). While waiting for boats to come for inspection, Chris and I entertained ourselves by singing along to the soundtrack and reciting the memorable lines of this classic movie. Each time a car pulled up I would laugh while wondering what the driver thought of two twenty-something-year-olds watching a Disney movie outside in the 80 degree heat on July 4th.

Will: Will and I spent one of his first days here working together as a team, putting up a cattle fence on the river by Mesa Falls. At the end, we met Matt and Chris who had done their half… wearing work gloves. Will and I just looked at each other and said that we were too hard-core for work gloves. After all, the fence was only a little rusty. This started a whole series of Arielle and Will adventures, and we have since dubbed ourselves “team A/W-esome” – also known as the “Dream Team”.

Bess: A group of us went to Five-11-Main for lunch one day, and Matt (our field-crew leader) and his lovely wife Paige ended up joining us. After a story Matt told, Bess and I both said “oh my GOD” at the same exact time, with the same sweeping hand gesture. This is constantly happening to Bess and me, and it always leads us to say that: “we are just the same person”, which is ironic because Bess and I are actually very different. Somehow, though, we tend to always say the same things at the same time, and it always makes us giggle.

Chau: Chau was the last of the group to arrive, and we were all excited to welcome the last member of Henry & The Forks to our little blue house. The moment she came in the door, we all crowded around introducing ourselves and offering to help move her things into the house. It was so great to have the whole group finally together, and even though we probably overwhelmed her a ton in that first five minutes, she was a total champ and didn’t seem fazed at all.

Zach: One of the first nights I was here, Zach somehow got rope-a-doped into playing a Ke$ha song on the guitar. Needless to say, it was hilarious. (Jeff did “interpretive dance” which is also a truly special memory!) Zach and I have spent several evenings at the breakfast bar in the kitchen, playing/singing along to any country song Zach can find the chords to online. We both like 90s country, and its so nice to sing along to these songs that sound like my childhood – with a new friend.

I am only ½ way done with my summer, and I can’t wait to make a whole new bundle of Idaho memories. 

love and trout...

Mountains and Storms, Oh My!

            When the workweek finally comes to an end, Henry and the Forks are always excited for the adventures that the weekend is sure to hold. Some recent escapades have included floating the Warm River and Henry’s Fork, hiking around by Sawtelle Mountain, backpacking in the Caribou Range, and exploring the towns and cities around Ashton (and of course a bundle of fishing). This past weekend, Bess and I went for a hike to the very popular Table Mountain in the Teton Range. Little did we know, this trip would prove to be far more exciting than we thought.

A lovely day for a hike!
            With daypacks slung over our shoulders, we left the Teton Camp Ground around 10:00AM for the ~6 mile trek to the summit of Table Mountain. We talked with a number of people on the way up, and all assured us that the views of the Tetons from the peak would be marvelous. Talking with folks was wonderful, until one guy coming down the trail warned us “watch out, there’s a big storm up ahead.” This wasn’t exactly what we’d hoped to hear. As we ascended some final switchbacks to reach a plateau 1.5 miles from the summit, we saw the dark grey and purple thunderheads heading straight for us. After discussing our situation with an awesome man sporting a “Fear Grandpa” tee shirt, we decided to press on and see if we could make it to the top before the storm unleashed its fury. And boy oh boy, did things get interesting.
            A mile from the peak, the storm set in. We were more or less above tree line, standing in the open at 10,000 feet. If I were a bolt of lightening, I would have loved to strike us. Accordingly, we flew down the trail as fast as we could and took shelter from the hail and lightening in a small grove of trees, layering up as the temperature dropped 20 degrees in a matter of minutes. We were a bit discouraged, but even more determined to make it to the summit. Forty-five minutes later, the storm had passed and we set out once again.
...not as lovely of a day...
           Of course, another storm decided to mosey on in and say hello. Now past the point of no return, we went off trail to a stunted copse of trees and sat out this storm, the hail not reaching us through a thatched roof of pine. A half hour later, we opted to make another dash for the summit, passing a few groups that were up there hiding in rocks when the storms hit (they could feel the static electricity building up around them).
            This attempt was rather short lived. Almost completely above tree line, a third storm rolled in and forced us to hide under some gnarled tree/shrubs. The temperature dropped even more, and we didn’t have nearly as much protection from the storm as we huddled together for warmth. But deterred we were not! We emerged from our lair and stared defiantly at the peak, perhaps a quarter mile away, beckoning for us to climb to its precipice. Then we glanced across the mountains.
            Storm numero quatro was also staring at the peak. It decided to make itself known by sending down from the heavens a fiery stab of electricity, right to the top of the mountain. A moment later, a repeat strike had Bess and I turning our backs on that fine looking mountain. After nearly three hours of playing cat and mouse with storms that shouldn’t be reckoned with, we decided it wasn’t worth it. We made our way down trail (a mighty steep trail, might I add), stoked to have made it out alive (we had our doubts at some points), and even happier to have seen some wonderful scenery and met a number of rad people (we had a nice chat with “Fear Grandpa” man again at the trailhead). This hike may not have been what we were expecting, but it was still a great time!

Still alive! (yay)

Checking the weather is for squares,


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

5 am: Magic on the River

If, one month ago, someone had told me that I would soon be excited to wake up at 5 am, it is highly likely that I would have been quite skeptical. But the thing is… they would have been right. There is something truly wondrous about waking up before the sun rises and hopping into a canoe for a full day of field research. With freezing cold fingers and two layers of pants under my Simms waders, we launch into the river from the log jam or from the bank of the river by Millionaires, searching out the next point on our map of spots that we must cover to complete habitat surveys. It’s best to be on the water as early as possible. This way we can avoid disturbing fishermen during peak fishing hours, and the wind is far weaker in the morning – making for easier rowing. For the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of spending several days on the water with Zach Kuzniar (a grad student at Grand Valley State University in Michigan) who is conducting research on adult rainbow trout habitat use in the ranch portion of the Henry’s Fork. Part of this research involves a series of in-depth habitat surveys: at 200 points on the river we measure water velocity, temperature, dissolved oxygen levels, water level, substrate, and a whole slew of other variables. And it is always an adventure.

A green drake that landed on our boat during habitat surveys - fishermen's dream!

I had the special opportunity to help conduct surveys on the water before the ranch portion was open to fishing, when herds of elk and other animals that are native to that area had not yet been permanently frightened into the woods by the presence of too many people. On my first day on the water, Zach, Chris and I watched an enormous herd of elk running across the river. It was absolutely gorgeous, and I was completely entranced by the natural wonder before me. I felt like I was in an incredible National Geographic TV special. Now that the ranch is open, I have seen far fewer animals, and none in herds. This is a pity, because it is a truly awesome experience to be that close to something that seemed so primal, but which is simply a part of everyday life in the wilderness. It was torrentially down-pouring that entire day, but it was one of my favorite days of the summer because I spent it on the water, in good company, in the name of science. I really don’t know what more I could ask for (perhaps a touch of sunlight, but then again… the rain added to the experience. Plus I get to brag about how hard-core my field research experience is to all of my friends back home!)
Measuring water velocity
(p.s. Check out my Simms waders! They make me feel like a true outdoors woman)

Habitat surveys themselves can get a bit monotonous, but all I ever have to do is look up and take in the breathtaking sight of the Henry’s Fork and I am reminded of why I love being here in Idaho. After a month, the beauty of this place is still remarkable to me. I have never been anywhere so open in my life. I can see for miles, all the way to the crest of the caldera and far beyond it. How many people can say that they can see the Tetons all day while they work? The air here is fresh and my lungs are definitely grateful. After having spent the last five months of my life in London (a wonderful city… but a city with tons of gas-guzzling cars and pollution), the purity of this landscape is such a constant joy to me. Right now I am gazing into our backyard, where a beautiful black horse is grazing in the thick grass…which stretches for miles and miles… until the green blends into the bright blue of the sky, which is endless here. I can't dream of a better place to spend my summer.

:D Arielle