Science Projects Receive Awards; Spring Chinook Endangered

Sierra Club North Group header logoFor the 13th year, North Group sponsored an award for the best project relating to environmental issues at the annual Humboldt County Science Fair in mid-March. (The projects were so competitive in 2019 that second and third prizes were given.)
The first-place award went to John Gerving, an 8th grader at Jacoby Creek School, for a project entitled “Predicting Wildfires with Neural Networks: An Approach to Preventing California Fires.” He investigated whether it is possible to train a neural network—a machine learning algorithm that can perform some tasks better than humans—to predict whether a wildfire will occur in a given area within a given month, by giving it the temperature, amount of vegetation, and evapotranspiration value retrieved from satellites. John hypothesized that the neural network would be able to predict wildfires with 75 percent accuracy, a rate that would increase with the addition of more data to the network. Despite running 18 iterations (epochs), the accuracy stayed around 76 percent, with a validation accuracy (percentage the network predicts on a set of data it hasn’t seen) in the 55-65 percent range. This means that the network did not generalize very well from overly specific training data, thus predicting inaccurately for new data. John that he may not have had enough parameters in his data. His project was among the fewer than 20 selected to represent Humboldt County in the state science fair competition held in late April.

A second-place prize was awarded to Meadow Pinto, a 6th grader at Northern United Charter School. Her project “HAY! What’s the Scoop on Oil Spills?” examined three types of hay—alfalfa straw, rice straw, and alfalfa grass mix—to determine which would be best to use in an oil spill emergency. Meadow, who lives near the Trinity River where cotton pads or oil spill diapers likely aren’t available for a spill, predicted that alfalfa grass mix would collect oil from water the best because it has more area coverage than regular hay and has a finer structure. Her hypothesis was not born out, however, as the grass mix absorbed 97 percent of the oil from water in 1 minute, vs. 98 percent for alfalfa and 99 percent for rice straw. But she did demonstrate that any of the three hay types represent a reliable, sustainable, and available resource to clean oil spills near a river.

A third-place prize was awarded to Josiah Rojo, a 7th grader at Redwood Prep. His experiment, entitled “Now That’s What I Call High Quality H2O,” looked at whether a homemade water filter made with common materials could purify undrinkable river water. Josiah used water samples from a creek in Fortuna and the Eel River to test his filter made of sand, charcoal, gravel, small rocks, and fabric in a plastic bottle. He measured pH, alkalinity, chlorine, hardness, iron, copper, two forms of nitrate, and harmful bacteria in the control samples and filtered ones. Filtering changed the pH of the creek and the river water to 6.5, decreased alkalinity, removed nitrate, and allowed the samples to pass a harmful bacteria test.


Spring Chinook Endangered but Fishing Continues

by Felice Pace

On February 6, the California Fish and Game Commission (F&GC) declared Upper Klamath-Trinity River spring Chinook salmon a candidate species for listing under provisions of the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). Subsequently, the Commission closed the Klamath and Trinity Rivers to sport salmon fishing from February 28 to August 14 in order to protect spring Chinook returning to these rivers.

On May 6, however, the Commission voted to allow sport fishing for salmon in the Pacific Ocean from Horse Mountain north to the Oregon border, the area known as the Klamath Management Zone (KMZ). From May 25 through September 2 sport fishermen can keep two salmon per day in the KMZ. Commercial salmon fishing is also allowed in the KMZ from June 1 to June 30 with a limit of 2,500 Chinook and from July 1 until July 30 with a 2,500 Chinook quota.

Meanwhile, the Yurok Tribe has modified its fishing regulations to only allow gill net fishing on weekends during the spring Chinook migration period. Tribal members can, however, continue to take spring Chinook via dip net or hook-and-line throughout the springer migration period.

The Hoopa Tribe also allows fishing for spring Chinook. However, as confirmed by Department of Fish and Wildlife data, most of the spring Chinook returning to the Trinity River are hatchery origin fish. According to DFW’s Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook Megatable, 6,438 spring Chinook salmon returned to the Klamath and Trinity Rivers in 2017 (the last year that data was published). Of that number, almost 4,000 returned to the Trinity River with the vast majority being hatchery origin fish. Hoopa Tribal Harvest in 2017 was 420 spring Chinook while Yurok Tribal harvest reported 889; in-river sport fishermen took 557 spring Chinook in 2017.

It is unknown if the amount of Klamath River spring Chinook take authorized by the F&GC for 2019 together with take by tribal fishermen will bring the fish closer to extinction. A better approach might be to close the Klamath Management Zone to all salmon fishing during the spring migration period and only allow subsistence tribal fishing in-river before August 15.

Another proposal would mark all hatchery fish with a fin clip and only allow take of hatchery-origin spring Chinook. With so many native, sport and commercial fishermen eager to take Klamath springers and a Fish and Game Commission eager to accommodate them, however, the path to recovery for Klamath-Trinity spring Chinook appears uncertain.


Please Join Us!

The North Group’s Executive Committee meets on the second Tuesday of each month in the first floor conference room at the Adorni Center on the waterfront in Eureka. The meeting covers regular business and conservation issues, beginning at 6:45 p.m. Members and non-members with environmental concerns are encouraged to attend. When a new person comes to us with an environmental issue or concern, we often place them first or early on the agenda.