Howdy, river family! What a wild ride it’s been this past year. I began my river season in Oregon in May before moving on to the Middle Fork of the Salmon and Rogue through summer and fall. Throughout the river season, I continued working on my research. 

For those of you whom I haven’t met, fun fact: I’m a geneticist in my other life! I use DNA sequencing technologies to conserve fisheries and forests around the globe. My research focuses primarily on salmonids (trout and salmon species), where I use genetic tools to help inform efficient and effective conservation and management strategies. I start by investigating different populations of the same species: are coastal cutthroats from the Nehalem River genetically the same as those from the Quillayute River? Are Lahontan cutthroats hybridizing with rainbows in the Truckee River? From there, I can investigate a multitude of additional questions, helping mitigate declines across fisheries.

My research has included international travel, including to Mongolia and Russia. Mongolian (or Siberian) taimen represent the largest and second most ancient salmonid in the world, reaching lengths over 60 inches and weighing up to 200 pounds. These fish earned their nickname, the “river wolf,” voraciously pursuing anything that happens to be in the water (e.g., ducks, muskrats, etc.). Exhibit A: our team once found a 55″ taimen with a 36″ taimen in its mouth. (Cleary, they’re not shy eaters!) Another fun fact: the only way to capture taimen is on the fly, which makes my job as a geneticist really, really fun. Using a 9- or 10-wt rod and flies sometimes the size of tv remotes, we catch taimen, taking a small fin clip from a pectoral fin before releasing them. I then sequence DNA in the lab, learning a tremendous amount about how and where taimen utilize the riverine ecosystem, all from a small fin clip the size of a pencil eraser. After a couple of research trips and a rugged 1500-km expedition from the headwaters of Lake Baikal, I began guiding for taimen each fall. 

But Mongolia gave me so much more than fishing. The people, the food, the culture, the strength. My first trip genuinely changed my being, helping me reconnect with why my research is important to me, something that I feel is often lost in science. This is why I focused in applied research, to make positive changes for the future of our world’s river ecosystems using boots-on-the-ground approaches. It’s focusing on the intersection of people and their environment, the cross-cultural conversation and integration. It’s helping people understand why we want to promote conservation rather than forcing it upon them. To understand how it’s all connected, and how we can cooperate to conserve river ecosystems while still understanding realistic needs (e.g., ranching, electricity). To conserve the natural world in which we live, of which we are a part. To remember that we are not separate or mutually exclusive of our environment; rather, we were meant to be integrated as a part of it.

Following the end of the Rogue season, I made the big move to Tucson, where I began a new position as a postdoctoral researcher working for the University of Arizona. I’ll continue my research here, starting new projects on Yellowstone cutthroat trout, Sonoran suckers, and Lake Tanganyika cichlids. The desert is a big change from the Rogue, but it sure has its own personality and allure. Admittedly, though, I can’t wait to get back behind the oars. I hope to see you all on the water this year, sharing big stories and BIG canyons. 

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