Meet the Staff: Carlin Girard

Carlin out ice fishing. Just kidding, that’s Astoria.

Carlin out ice fishing. Just kidding, that’s Astoria.

Carlin Girard is Teton Conservation District’s Water Resource Specialist. You might run into him taking water samples from Fish Creek, measuring suspended sediment on Flat Creek, teaching fourth graders about native fisheries, or at Teton Conservation District while you’re picking up a well test kit. Originally from northwest Massachusetts, Carlin headed west at the age of 18 to attend college in Arizona. After working in Utah, Oregon, and eventually in Jackson for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for a few years, he went to University of Wyoming for a MS in Aquatic Resource Management.  Carlin met his wife, Amy, while working on a field project in Randolph, Utah in 2006. Carlin is teaching their two-year-old daughter, Astoria, to ice fish, ski, and chase off aggressive moose. Carlin is joyful, thoughtful, and just about the coolest staff member we have. If you want to get to know Carlin better, read on.

What is the best part of your job at Teton Conservation District?

I like that I am able to work on many different water related tasks. I enjoy bouncing between projects because it keeps things interesting for me. I also like the partnership aspect and the mandate that we have to work alongside of other entities.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

A challenge in my position is that solving the type of problems we are working on takes time. While I am able accept the timeframes for success, these timeframes can be very hard for partners, and those affected by water issues, to accept.

I heard you recently published a few academic papers. Can you tell me about them?

When I was accepted into my graduate program with the University of Wyoming USGS Cooperative Research Unit, a stipulation was that I publish the findings of my research in peer-reviewed journals. I began my position at TCD before I had even defended my graduate work, let alone received a diploma and published. That meant I had to finish writing my thesis, defend my thesis, and complete two publications on nights and weekends. It didn’t take me long to graduate, but the publications were a different story. The good news is that four and half years later, I have completed all of these requirements. The two papers I published were quite different, although both relate to Oil and Natural Gas Development effects to aquatic ecosystems in the Labarge Oil and Gas Field in Southwest Wyoming. One was focused on fisheries and aquatic habitat. The other was more related to water quality and a comparison of different methods to assess oil and gas related water quality issues. Long answer, but I am proud and relieved to be done.

Why did you decide to decide to go to school for/pursue a career in natural resource/water management?

Great question, especially if you know me because I have disliked (understatement) school since I was 10 years old. However, I am very passionate about natural resources and knew that a master’s degree would open doors for my career, both in title and because I wanted to improve my analytical skills. Prior to my degree, my work experience was balanced between terrestrial and aquatic sciences. I chose water because it tends to be more unifying and less controversial than wildlife management. Also, my wife has more experience than I do in wildlife fields, and I did not ever want to feel a need to compete with her for jobs.

Astoria working on her paddling technique.

Astoria working on her paddling technique.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement is my wonderful little girl. Throughout my life, I have often had jobs that required I work long days, and for hunting and fishing, I often find myself putting the mission before sleep and comfort. But, never has it been so worthwhile to commit so much energy to one thing. I have many passions and I like to stay busy, but for me, my family does come first.

Carlin’s wife, Amy, and his Dad, Bill

Carlin’s wife, Amy, and his Dad, Bill

What’s your family like?

My family is great. We get along very well, even though we are very different. My three siblings and mom and dad are extremely supportive of me, and have always encouraged me to think for myself and chart my own course. I do miss them, and even though we only have a small rental here in Jackson, I always prefer when my family is here and staying with us, compared to when they leave and go home. This is true for my mother-in-law as well, and my cousin Luke who is currently living with us until he finds a place of his own. My family are hardworking positive people who have been able to lead happy and productive lives regardless of our financial standing. I think we went through a lot early on, but those hardships helped us keep what is truly important at the forefront of our minds.

My wife Amy, two-year-old daughter Astoria, and puppy dog Chihiro are my favorite companions. And, while it isn’t always possible, I wish that we could do everything together.

What is the coolest wildlife encounter you’ve had?

This is a hard list to choose from, because I have had a lot. But, one experience that stands out in my memory was from the White Mountains in East-Central Arizona. We were on a backpacking trip when we encountered two researchers working on the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Program. It was during a hail storm and temperatures plummeted. It turns out they had a wolf anaesthetized and were fitting a collar at a remote snare location, and they were very worried about the wolf’s body temperature because it had dropped due to the hail and temperature decrease. They did not have extra clothing to cover it, so they used a flannel shirt of mine. This was the first wolf I had ever seen, but what was so memorable was the very distinct smell that my flannel shirt took on for the remainder of the backpacking trip.

Carlin with the okay-sized winter kill he found.

Carlin with the okay-sized winter kill he found.

And, I have to mention a day of antler hunting when I found two huge winter kills and a backpack load of elk sheds. It almost killed me getting them out. It was just me and my dog and we followed grizzly tracks the entire day. I had taken my bicycle once the road became impassable due to snow. On the way out, my arms were so tired from carrying the skulls over my shoulders that I used my belt to tie them together, then hung my bear spray off of the horns. To get back to my bike, I had to do a pretty good high-water stream crossing. My pants fell right down, and I couldn’t pick them up until I got to the other side. I lashed the skulls to my bike, and pushed it the two miles through drifted snow to my truck. While some might not consider this a wildlife encounter, it was extremely memorable, and I will never forget how alert I was of my surroundings while walking that ridge.

Do you have a favorite fish?

Carlin with an okay-sized steelhead.

Carlin with an okay-sized steelhead.

I have many different favorite fish, depending on what you mean. I think my favorite fish to catch are steelhead, which are rainbow trout that are born in rivers and then move into the ocean to grow to adulthood before returning to their natal streams to spawn. They are very majestic, extremely powerful fish, each with their unique travels and life-history. Plus, they are about as big of a fish as you can land on a fly rod in rivers, so they make an excellent challenge. Fishing for steelhead is a lot like hunting, compared to fishing.

Halibut are my favorite fish to eat. Although locally, I prefer to eat lake trout because they taste good and are invasive in the Snake River system, so I feel good about keeping them.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Maybe reading minds. I think it would be fun. I believe that people think very crazy things, but put strong filters on what they portray to be normal. I know I do at least. I think it would be fun to see what other people are actually thinking.

Freezing and Flooding on Flat Creek

By Phoebe Coburn

On a subzero day in December, I joined Teton Conservation District staff members Carlin Girard, Elyce Gosselin, and Tom Segerstrom to check out some winter flooding just upstream of Smith’s on Flat Creek.

The creek overruns its banks during the coldest months of the year when ice dams block the flow. Frigid temperatures cause two kinds of problematic ice to form in Flat Creek: frazil ice and anchor ice. Frazil ice is created when turbulent water is supercooled (below 32⁰ F) and forms loose or disjointed ice chunks often seen floating down rivers and creeks on cold days. This type of jumbled ice stew is notorious for causing ice dams and flooding. Frazil ice can also solidify along creek bottoms—creating what’s called anchor ice—which causes flooding by displacing creek water upwards.

To help address winter flooding, the Flat Creek Water Improvement District (FCWID) formed in 2014. FCWID is a special district governed by a five-member Board of Directors who are under the supervision of the Teton Conservation District Board of Supervisors. The mission of FCWID is to explore and implement ways to prevent damage to private property due to winter flooding of Flat Creek with a commitment to honor water rights, represent the best interests of the district’s property owners and residents, while maintaining and improving water and habitat quality within the stream corridor.

Winter flooding is a naturally occurring phenomenon and has been recorded on the creek for decades. Flooding serves an ecological role, so the FCWID aims to protect private property from damage more so than they work to prevent flooding. With their members who own property along the creek, FCWID pursues best practices for preventing property damage according to their Emergency Wintertime and Spring Runoff Action Plan. During extreme winter flooding events, FCWID mitigates ice buildup by manually removing ice from the creek using machinery and by advising on the use of thaw wells that pump relatively warm ground water into the creek. They use machinery as a last resort as it presents consequences for the creek’s ecosystem and is a significant financial cost to FCWID members. Property owners along the creek also pursue more proactive measures such as sand bags, berms, and elevated landscaping. FCWID is actively researching ice formation and alternative mitigation tools, hoping to minimize disturbance to the creek.  

Though this winter may seem relatively mild for the old-timers in town, it’s the worst winter for flooding on Flat Creek that FCWID Chair Bill Wotkyns can remember. It’s hard to say why this is, but FCWID and Teton Conservation District hope to gain a better understanding of when, where, and under what circumstances ice forms in the creek through an ongoing study with Alder Environmental, the University of Wyoming, and Colorado State University. To see the findings of this study released in August of 2018, click here.

On the particularly chilly day I went to check out winter flooding on Flat Creek for myself, I was dressed like any local Jackson kid would be: woefully underdressed. After a mere minute or two of walking along the creek near Smith’s, I managed to fall through some crusty looking frazil ice up to my knees. Oops.  When the temperature is well below zero, falling into water will trigger anyone’s fight or flight instinct. Mine was flight. I post-holed my way out of creek and within seconds of reaching solid land, my not-so-trusty clogs instantly fused to my feet. I waited in the car for the rest of the field trip. Carlin was quick to point out the moral of the story: don’t bring clogs to a flood fight.

Projects to go before the Wyoming Water Development Commission

By Phoebe Coburn

Teton Conservation District staff spent a day in the field last week with Kellen Lancaster, who represents Area IV (which includes Teton County) on the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC). Kellen is one of ten commissioners appointed by the governor to “ensure the delivery of water to Wyoming citizens in an economical and environmentally responsible manner.” Kellen is a resident of Afton, husband, and father of six. He brings a wealth of experience having served on other boards, and through his experience owning and managing a sand, gravel, and rock crushing business in Star Valley. 

Kellen and TCD’s Executive Director, Tom Segerstrom, out in the field.

Kellen and TCD’s Executive Director, Tom Segerstrom, out in the field.

From dawn until dusk, Kellen visited five of six proposed water projects in Teton County that he and his fellow commissioners will vote on funding in March.  The six applicants are seeking funding through the Small Water Project Program (SWPP), which is a grant program administered by the WWDC in partnership with sponsoring entities across the state, including Teton Conservation District. SWPP aims to improve watershed condition and function, and benefit wildlife, livestock, and the environment. Past projects have included the construction and rehabilitation of small reservoirs, wells, springs, wetlands, solar platforms, irrigation works, windmills, and other related efforts. 

After spending a few hours in the field with Kellen, his genuine interest in and dedication to serving Wyoming was apparent. He paid great attention to each proposed project and asked thoughtful questions. If the commission does choose to fund any of the six proposed projects in Teton County, Teton Conservation District may also provide additional funding, depending on the project. Here is a summary of each proposed project:   

Fish passage restored during dam removal project phase.

Fish passage restored during dam removal project phase.

Looking upstream at Spread Creek Dam prior to project construction and removal.

Looking upstream at Spread Creek Dam prior to project construction and removal.

Spread Creek Irrigation Rehabilitation and Fish Passage: In 2010, the crumbling Spread Creek dam, located just outside Grand Teton National Park on Bridger-Teton National Forest lands, was removed. This partnership effort led by the Trout Unlimited Wyoming Water Project opened up over 50 miles of Spread Creek to migratory Snake River cutthroat trout for the first time in over 50 years. Since the dam was removed and replaced with a fish passage-friendly diversion structure and new water delivery system, project partners have documented successful fish movement through the new diversion. But they have also documented fish entrained in the Spread Creek irrigation system. The proposed Phase 2 of the Spread Creek Fish Passage project will reduce future losses of migratory cutthroat trout in the irrigation system by installing a fish screen that will return entrained fish to Spread Creek, and will stabilize and improve the diversion structure (which was damaged by flooding in 2011) for more reliable water delivery for irrigators.

Game Creek Irrigation System Improvement: This project aims to improve irrigation efficiency, stream function, and fish passage by constructing a permanent irrigation structure and headgate on a Wyoming Game and Fish Department property used to pasture horses critical to the job duties of the South Jackson Game Warden. Snake River cutthroat trout are abundant in Game Creek below the proposed project site and would have historically accessed habitats further upstream. In order for the fish to reach those upstream habitats again, connectivity during key time periods such as spawning, is of the utmost importance. The Wyoming Department of Transportation has already made substantial investments downstream in Game Creek that will allow for fish passage. This project will complement that component of the South Highway 89 reconstruction project and will showcase a working relationship between aquatic stewardship and agriculture.

A giant boulder that was displaced in the 2007 Jensen Canyon debris flow event.

A giant boulder that was displaced in the 2007 Jensen Canyon debris flow event.

Jensen Canyon Headgate Rehabilitation: In the spring of 2007, a debris flow event wiped out a diversion structure at the bottom of Jensen Canyon. The proposed replacement structure will divert the water from Jensen Creek into three separate waterways, which supply water to fifteen separate residential and agricultural uses downstream. This water project supports the preservation and stewardship of open space and agricultural heritage by improving the reliability of delivering adjudicated water rights to their corresponding agricultural and residential lands. Further, the public will benefit from continued agriculture and preserved views, and the project will lessen risk of downstream flooding of residences and roads.

South Flat Creek Fish Passage and Channel Restoration: This project demonstrates how goals of restoring aquatic ecosystems and persevering working ranch lands can intersect. This first phase of this project involves channel realignment of Flat Creek on Lockhart Cattle Company land. Construction of the new channel will restore ecological function by increasing bank stability, reducing erosion, and improving the availability and quality of native fish and riparian habitat. The project will also improve water quality through restoration of wetlands which filter sediments, nutrients, and pollutants.

Fall Creek Ranch Water Supply Improvement: Fall Creek Ranch, a remote subdivision surrounded by Bridger-Teton National Forest, plans to develop a water supply for fire suppression and irrigation purposes. The 3.66-acre grass pasture to be irrigated will be used to pasture livestock and will provide an irrigated ‘safe’ zone on three sides of one of subdivision’s the structures, reducing the risk of wildfire reaching the structure. This project will provide a source of fire suppression water not only for Fall Creek Ranch, but for Redtop Meadows and surrounding public lands as well.

Kellen and Tom heading out to look at the proposed 7 Mile Ranch Rural Community Fire Suppression project.

Kellen and Tom heading out to look at the proposed 7 Mile Ranch Rural Community Fire Suppression project.

7 Mile Ranch Rural Community Fire Suppression: This project serves to increase reliable fire suppression water storage and supply for a rurally located residential property and surrounding public land. The landowners plan to develop a surface pond and water delivery infrastructure, including a pump leading to pressurized fire hydrants. This parcel is located within Teton County’s Wildland Urban Interface mapped zone and fire suppression apparatus response time to this site is at least one hour by vehicle. This area has the potential to support a wildland fire posing a direct threat to homes, utilities, transportation corridors, communication sites, and other capital improvements.

If you have questions about SWPP grants or would like to consider applying for funding next year, contact Robb Sgroi at robb@tetonconservation.org or (307) 733-2110.  

Meet the Staff: Elyce Gosselin

Meet Elyce Gosselin, the Natural Resources Technician for Teton Conservation District. She holds degrees in Ecology and Conservation Biology and Mathematical Biology from the University of Idaho. She’s also on the Jackson Hole Juggernauts (our local roller derby league) where she’s known as “Bats Hit Crazy”.

Elyce loves bats. Before joining Teton Conservation District last fall, she worked in Grand Teton National Park studying the impacts of light pollution on bats. She has also traveled through the southern Ecuadorian Andes studying the impacts of land-use change on bat and bird communities.

Elyce is not just a bat expert though, she has evaluated elephant behavior and movement patterns in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, deployed National Geographic “Crittercams” and GPS collars on elephants, cape buffalo and antelope, investigated the impacts of phenological shifts on Arctic-breeding shorebirds and waterfowl in Alaska, compared the molecular and morphological fecal DNA sampling methods for coyotes, studied the impact of Owyhee harvester ant nests on sagebrush-steppe vegetation, completed Pygmy rabbit captures and burrow surveys, and captured and collared elk and mule deer in the West. Needless to say, she is just about the coolest and smartest staff member we have. Oh, and she speaks Spanish and some Portuguese too. Her resume is unbelievably impressive for being only 24, but don’t be intimidated; Elyce is humble, friendly, and always has a smile on her face.

Elyce grew up in Boise and she’s loving life in Jackson. She is learning to ski, mountain bike, and navigate Jackson’s complicated mail delivery system.

CWD: What can I do?

CWD: What can I do?

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been creeping towards Teton County for years. Now that it has officially reached our valley, it can feel like it’s too late and there’s nothing to be done. However, here are some things YOU can do (and not do!) to prevent the spread of CWD, and give deer, moose, and elk their best chance of survival through the winter.