BLM biologists search Wild and Scenic Rivers in Oregon for three special species

Story by Jeanne Panfely, Public Affairs Officer. Photos by Jonas Parker, Hydrologist; and Lee Templeman, Wildlife Biological Technician.

The first step in any habitat conservation project is to understand the land and the species you’re working with. Recently, a team of fisheries biologists in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Northwest Oregon District did just that. They set off to collect data on the newest BLM-managed Wild and Scenic River segments in Oregon and the sensitive species that call these rivers and creeks home.

5 people standing or kneeling in large stone next to a stream. One of them is handling a device.
A team of BLM employees and Freshwater Trust volunteers collect eDNA on the Molalla River in Oregon. (Photo by Jonas Parker)

To collect this data, BLM employees Jonas Parker, Hydrologist; Cara Hand, BLM Wild and Scenic River Coordinator; and Cory Sipher, BLM Northwest Oregon District Fisheries Program Lead, teamed up with the Freshwater Trust, an Oregon non-profit committed to restoring rivers through science and technology. Lauren Pidot, National Conservation Lands Program Lead, joined in as their contact from the BLM Oregon State Office.

5 people standing in large boulders next to a stream. A man is holding a cord that connects to a white device.
The crew collects eDNA on the Molalla River in spring 2022. From left to right: Cara Hand (BLM Wild and Scenic River Coordinator); Erin Pfuntner, Mark McCollister, and Daniel Baldwin (Freshwater Trust volunteers); and Cory Sipher (BLM Northwest Oregon District Fisheries Program Lead). (Photo by Jonas Parker)

Together, the team searched for information on three native species: the western ridged mussel, the Pacific lamprey, and the northwestern pond turtle. The search took place on all of the newest Wild and Scenic River segments in Oregon: Lobster Creek, Nestucca River, Walker Creek, Quartzville Creek, Elkhorn Creek, Molalla River, South Fork Clackamas River, Clackamas River, Salmon River, and Sandy River.

“Aquatic species can have complex life histories,” said Sipher. “They change form throughout their lives, which makes them hard to count. So, we use eDNA to identify and monitor local populations.”

The information the team collects will help them describe the “outstandingly remarkable values” that the Wild and Scenic River designation seeks to protect.

Why are these species important? According to Sipher, Pacific lamprey transport nutrients from the ocean to inland stream ecosystems.

“They are also a fat-rich food source for other inland animals,” he said.

Freshwater mussels are filter feeders, which means they help to clean water and stream sediments. The northwestern pond turtle is one of Oregon’s only two native turtle species.

“They contribute to biological diversity, water quality, and the overall health of our ecosystem,” said Lee Templeman, BLM Wildlife Biological Technician, who works with them closely.

3 turtles on a log in a stream.
The northwestern pond turtle is one of Oregon’s only two native turtle species. (Photo by Lee Templeman)

As part of the project, a few Northwest Oregon District employees also helped train a volunteer survey crew from the Freshwater Trust. They began collecting data in spring 2022 and will send a report on their findings in fall 2023. 

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