Monday, January 12, 2009

Fish fry

Caution: The following subject still may be controversial!

Pictured below is a Sierra-Nevada yellow-legged frog named "Bertha," a female who came to hang out at our lake after a substantial portion of the fish were removed. Bertha: find a mate, and tell your friends!

I had a really great time in the back country of the Sierras. I learned valuable wilderness survival skills, made great friends with two other scientist-hardcore-backpacker girls, and got to live in the most beautiful wilderness area of California for months on end! 

In the end, the most important lesson for all of us is that sometimes we must go to great measures to reverse previous policy mistakes and restore the natural conditions of our environment, even if it is at the expense of rainbow beauties. Yes, they eat frog tadpoles, but no, it's not their fault. We are the ones who planted them in the lakes! Alas, now we must take them back out again (which I will tell you is not as easy as flying overhead with a plane).

Sidenote: In my expert opinion, I think we should hire some freshwater dolphins that specialize on trout and plant them in the lakes for a few days... or maybe bull sharks or something. That would take care of 'em. 

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Trout slayer

Caution: The following subject may be controversial!

During the summer of 2008 I participated in a removal project in the High Sierra to battle the forces of biotic homogenization and restore habitat for the endangered mountain yellow-legged frog. 'Twas a grueling job in one of California's most breath-taking wilderness areas. Below is a picture of my work commute to a lake basin at 10,000 feet where I spent the better portion of July and August removing non-native rainbow trout. The purpose of removing the fish is to restore the lakes to their natural condition (a.k.a. fishless) for the benefit of the frogs. The fish can decimate frog populations by eating the tadpoles and out-competing the survivors for food.

Many people that I met in the area were perplexed by the project. At first, when I was asked what I was doing in the back country I would say that I was conducting an aquatic restoration project and studying predator-prey interactions. Then an onslaught of questions followed to my dismay and forced me to explain the part about 'removing' the fish. "Well, whatdya mean yer taking the fish out?" questioned one avid fly-fisherman. I tried my best to explain the ecological significance of frogs in the Sierras. They're endangered, currently numbering at 5% of their historical population, and are what ecologists call an 'indicator species,' because if the habitat is disturbed, then their population will respond by declining, which indicates poor environmental conditions. The S.N. yellow-legged frog is also subject to stressors such as climate change and a rampant Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or "chytrid fungus" that has deleterious effects on the remaining populations of frogs in the Sierra. 

Most accounts written by John Muir describe the constant chirping of frogs at high-elevation lakes. (They were the most abundant animal in the Sierra, as it turns out). For anglers this usually wasn't much of an argument, however, because most of them like to think there are untouched fishing oases that meet every fishing adventurer's dream. What did I want to say? "Dude, I'd like to see you carry your fat *&%^#@! self over that pass with fishing tackle and a case of beer... don't worry about it..."
Note: one time an man around 70 years old told me that he planned on a visit to our site with his shotgun so he could shoot a frog; yes... shoot... a... frog.

Alas, the ardent fishermen are only a symbol of the widespread reverence of harvestable resources in our wilderness areas. What purpose do frogs serve, anyway? Trout don't naturally occur in the Sierras? Wait, don't you like fish? And the occassional question: how do you transport the fish out from the lakes?

These are all completely valid questions. It is surprising when one learns that historically the only fish to have evolved in the Sierra is the southern-sierra golden trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita), which is also facing extirpation by the introduced brook trout. Yes, I love fish, but I am also dedicated to habitat restoration, conservation and well, hey, I still spent the whole summer with fish... even if... well, let's just rip the band-aid off if you haven't already realized that most fish you see in these pictures were only moments from the cold touch of a hunting knife. Mmm, makes for some good eatin's out in the back country!

See, as a management strategy, the fish were pushed out of planes into the high-mountain lakes to create recreational opportunities for anglers. And yes, there are various studies that demonstrate the success of removing non-native trout from high-elevation lakes to allow the amphibian populations to re-colonize the area. 

If you want to read scientific papers about the subject, I suggest looking up peer-reviewed journal articles available on google scholar. 

Anyway, I spent 10 days field 'tours' in the wilderness with one other crew member, living in my tent and out of my backpack. During my five days off I stayed in a tent cabin and often drove to my uncle's condominium in Mammoth Lakes for showers, comfortable beds, and yes, restaurant food. It's hard eating well for 10 days when you have to carry everything with you 20 miles into a project site! 

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Ichthys is the greek word for "fish," is the name for the son of Derketo, the Goddess of the Sea, and is a representation of fertility and sexuality. Ichthyology is the scientific study of fishes. I am a goddess who studies fishes, so here is my blog. (For those of you who don't know me, I am being facetious... I am probably more like the son).

Anyway, I'm fed up with everyone's ichthyophobia and I am here to tell you that fish are cute! and to document my adventures with fish.... enjoy!

"I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling." - Jack Kerouac