First Week with SFEG by Taylor Schmuki

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Kyle Koch (left) and Taylor Schmuki using dip nets to remove juvenile salmon from the dredge zone.

“Start being comfortable with being uncomfortable” perfectly describes my first week with Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group (SFEG).  The week started out with me stumbling through an explanation of why a desert rat wanted to work with fish and ended with a stroll down a river spotting salmon.  It definitely has been a few hectic days with early mornings, hard work, lots to learn, and a smile that can’t seem to leave my face.

I became very aware of my shortcomings with my tour around the SFEG nursery.  My background in plant identification is based in the salt flats and sagebrush steppe—quite different from Skagit’s riparian-wetlands and subalpine habitat.  So as Rachael and I wandered around the plants, I was able to confidently identify Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchnesis) and Washington’s state tree (Western Hemlock, Tsuga heterophylla). Our nursery has at least ten times that number of species.  In other words, I don’t just have fish species to catch up on.

That brings me to my second training of the week: spawner surveys!  The whole day was spent learning about our five species of Pacific salmon which also happen to live within the Skagit Watershed.  The other volunteers and I learned how in the past twenty-five years SFEG has worked on hundreds of miles of habitat, engaged at least 11,000 students in education, and had over 145,000 donated hours of work.  Even though there has been a decline in salmon populations, SFEG and those associated with them are truly making a difference.  Within my first week, I even helped make a difference for a small community called Concrete.

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juvenile salmon relocated from the dredge zone.

This town of seven hundred citizens may just have as many salmon as it does people.  Yet, every year Concrete suffers a severe salmon spread as they flood into streets and peoples’ backyards from a stream that most mistake for a ditch.  As a temporary fix, Concrete received approval to dredge this stream until a more permanent solution could be achieved.  SFEG assisted by relocating the fish upstream so they would not be squashed by the excavator.  I tagged along and stood in waist-deep water, waving a net back and forth, catching juvenile fish.  In that moment, I could not imagine any other place I’d rather be. My whole life I wanted to save and protect animals and here I was doing it! One fish at a time.

My first week was busy, crazy, difficult, and quite uncomfortable at some points.  It was also enlightening, fun, interesting, and everything I could hope for.  Just proving the point that even though “it may get tough [being uncomfortable]… it’s a small price to pay for living a dream.”

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