Field warriors: TU’s Citizen Science

In Oregon by Shauna Sherard

By Dean Finnerty,

In early February, members from the Redsides and Coastal Cutthroat chapters joined forces with members of Project Healing Waters and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife to begin several week’s worth of volunteer work as part of Trout Unlimited’s “citizen science” effort. 

Volunteers are working in the West Fork of the Smith River (Oregon’s Umpqua tributary) to bolster data on winter steelhead abundance. This data will add to the immense data already gathered over the past 18 years in the “West Fork Smith life-cycle salmonid study” and be used in the broader calibration study that ODFW is conducting at a variety of watersheds across Oregon’s coastal steelhead range.

TU volunteers got an opportunity to watch ODFW staff work at the trap processing adult steelhead. The captured fish are measured, sexed, scale samples are taken and each fish receives bright colored floy tags in the dorsal area of the fish, before being released above the trap to continue their migration.

Volunteers then received training and instruction on conducting the surveys from ODFW staff lead, Pat Burnes. 

“We’re thrilled to have the TU volunteers lend a hand in our field work. We have a lot of surveys to conduct here and the help your folks provide will help the staff with their work, and even allow more work to get done” said Burnes. 

Volunteers conducted surveys along the West Fork of the Smith as well as several tributaries.  Burnes pointed out that previous surveys tell us that about 75 percent of winter steelhead spawn in the mainstem west fork, while about 25 percent utilize the tribs for their spawning efforts.

Each year about 600 adult steelhead spawn in the West Fork Smith and the trend has been increasing in recent years.  A lot of restoration work has gone on in the basin and juvenile escapement numbers have really improved, owing to the restoration work.

The Redsides, Coastal Cutthroats and Project Healing Waters volunteers will continue working with ODFW on these surveys every 7 to 10 days through April.

“It’s a great way to introduce family and friends to the great field work TU does and how much fun being a member can be” said TU staff member, Dean Finnerty from the Sportsmens Conservation Project – who helped organize this effort. “Today I brought my youngest son along to help out. He had a blast and learned a lot about steelhead and their behavior. It’s fun for me watching the ‘wheels turning’ as my son begins looking at various career opportunities and doing this kind of volunteer work exposes him to not only conservation work, but also scientific work for a state or federal agency as a possible career path.”