Up a Creek with Chinook Salmon

John Stumbos University of California, Davis
Swapping vacation for valuable experience

Alyssa Obester downloads temperature data from Butte Creek to take back to a laboratory at UC Davis

In 2013 Alyssa Obester was a senior majoring in Environmental Science and Management who chose to spend her summer gathering vital information to help a threatened strain of Chinook salmon.

She worked as a field assistant to UC Cooperative Extension specialist Lisa Thompson, who was studying the habitat of spring-run Chinook salmon in Butte Creek. Water diversions and other environmental factors have reduced the Central Valley spring-run Chinook population, which numbered 1 million historically, to about 10,000. The Sierra Nevada creek near Chico, Calif., is home to the largest remaining stock of the fish, receiving about 6,000 spawners each year.

Getting to the field site meant negotiating tough terrain in a wet suit on hot summer days, then walking and swimming a mile up Butte Creek to deep pools where data loggers record information about water temperature and the aquatic environment. The study results could help improve survival for spring-run Chinook in the warming waters of a changing climate.

“It was a valuable experience because I had the opportunity to apply skills from various classes in a real-life experience,” Obester said. “It definitely gave me insight into how much work goes into one study, and an appreciation of the effort that goes into every paper that I read.”

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