Eight months of climate change research (and a Eight months of climate change research (and a
27 July 2023

Eight months of climate change research (and a surprising number of fish)

Written by: Ben Newman

Where do I start… First off, sorry for the extended intermission in blog posting. One of my new year’s resolutions is to post blogs more consistently, so here’s to documenting more of the unique experiences I’ve been having. It’s been eight months since I last wrote a blog post, and over those eight months, I’ve grown, failed, been exhausted, and yet had some of the most inspiring and formative experiences of my life. The opportunities this fellowship has provided thus far have been enriching and grounding. I’ve had the chance to dip my toes in a wide variety of subjects, all of which have had some tie-in to ecological transformation and climate change research/planning/adaptation. With each month, I feel that I am learning new skills and sharpening my knowledge in a multitude of other fields that I had initially only scratched the surface of using. Just from the experiences I’ve had so far with this fellowship, I feel more confident about where my passions lie and where I want to go with them. This is not only a product of the dynamic work and experiences I’ve had but also the amazing mentors that have helped guide me through it. 


Something notable that I have genuinely enjoyed with this fellowship is how multi-dimensional the work is. Few aspects of the work get siloed into one area but rather get expanded and evolve into other areas of research and planning. 


During the past eight months, I’ve had some field experiences that have nourished my passions and others that have pushed me out of my comfort zone. For the latter, doing invasive common carp (Cyprinus carpio) removal at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was a tiring but perspective-shifting experience. Up until the point of doing the invasive carp removal (late October), I thought of “habitat restoration” as a term that mostly meant pulling weeds and planting native species. However, removing common carp from the Donner und Blitzen River (also referred to as the Blitzen River) by hand via electroshocking gave me an entirely different definition for the term. 


To give some background, common carp are an introduced fish species that negatively impact water quality via bottom-feeding, which disturbs sediment at the bottom of waterways, and in turn, impacts native fish, wildlife, and plants that depend on the Refuge’s aquatic resources. Like many invasive species, they have no natural predators in areas where they are introduced, so their populations grow exponentially. 


To reduce carp population numbers and manage their ecological impact, a couple of methods are used, the most common of which is a chemical-based reduction method that involves using rotenone, a chemical that poisons the fish in stream/river systems where it’s introduced. However, a species of freshwater mussel, called the western ridged mussel (Gonidea angulata), resides in the Blitzen River and is currently undergoing a 12-month petition finding to determine if listing is warranted to protect it under the Endangered Species Act. Because of this, refuge staff decided to use electroshocking, which utilizes an electrical generator that emits a non-lethal electrical current through the water, which stuns fish that touch metal rods emitting that current. 


Once the fish were stunned, we had about a 30-second window to grab them out of the water, either by hand, net, or gaff, and toss them to shore. This was a challenging task considering the vast majority of carp we removed weighed between 10-16 pounds. Although the river was only about ~15-25 feet wide and ~2-3 feet deep in most parts, there were a surprising number of carp. In a half-mile stretch of river, we removed over 2,000 carp in a single day! I can’t say it was the most fun I’ve had doing fieldwork, but at the end of the day, it was a genuine lesson on what the term “habitat restoration” truly entails and the tireless hours that are put in by refuge staff to complete it.


Thanks for reading, and feel free to reach out if you have questions about my work! 


(Image description: Image 1- Blitzen River meandering through Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Image 2- River otter poking its head above the water on a rainy day at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge).

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