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Committed Citizen Scientist Turns “Pro”: Congratulations and THANK YOU to Jeff Jenkins!

Jeff Jenkins, an all-star volunteer for SSI and a graduate of the 2016 Cal Naturalists class, has landed a new position as Fish & Wildlife Scientific Aid with the California Department of Water Resources. He will be working in the northern area of the Delta collecting field data for many species that call that area home, from fish to amphibians to waterfowl, as well as checking water quality and monitoring invertebrates – all things he first got hands-on experience doing with SSI.

“I am super thankful for all the great people I’ve had the opportunity to learn from through SSI,” says Jeff.  “Great organization, great people, great projects. I’m hopeful that we can all stay connected. And if there’s anything I can do to stay involved, I would really like that.”

Everyone at SSI would really like that, too! Jeff has only been volunteering with SSI for a couple of years but in that time he’s really covered the waterfront, helping tremendously with virtually all of our field science programs. He was instrumental in the inception of SSI’s amphibian monitoring program in 2015, surveying sites throughout the Deer Creek watershed with SSI Americorps River Scientists Julia Berkey and Harrison Goldspeil. Jeff helped provide baseline data on amphibian diversity and abundance at SSI’s water quality monitoring sites and helped increase our knowledge of several species’ local geographic distributions, including foothill yellow-legged frogs, Sierra newts, California toads, Sierra chorus frogs, and the non-native bullfrog.

In 2016 and 2017, Jeff helped expand our amphibian monitoring to the Bear River watershed with SSI Americorps River Scientist Alex Lincoln, SSI Wildlife Biologist Kristen Hein Strohm, and SSI Amphibian Program Field Leader Rick Wachs. In both watersheds, Jeff proved himself to be a skilled frog catcher, which enabled us to test local frogs for chytrid fungus, an emerging disease affecting many amphibian species worldwide. By swabbing the frogs’ skin with a Q-tip and sending out the samples for genetic PCR analysis, we discovered that chytrid is present in the lower Deer Creek watershed (both above and below Lake Wildwood) and the upper Bear River watershed (above Rollins Reservoir, including Greenhorn and Steephollow Creeks and the Bear River). This finding underscores the importance of restoring and stewarding riparian habitats to benefit native amphibian species and assist their resilience to this disease and other impacts.

Jeff has also been an invaluable support to this year’s launch of SSI’s successful ringtail surveys in the Bear Watershed, with SSI Americorps Chloe Tremper and fellow volunteer Taylor Davis. Jeff’s skills in recognizing signs of mammal presence, such as small trails created by wildlife, tracks, and key habitat features helped the team discover numerous sites occupied by this elusive species, as well as to document additional location details on the distribution of other species such as bobcats, gray foxes, mountain lions, and black bears.

In 2016, he assisted former SSI Lab Manager Aviva Fiske in setting catch-and-release traps for small mammals such as deer mice and woodrats to look for potential changes to their populations over time, in connection with habitat restoration projects at Hirschman’s Pond and the Deer Creek Ranch.

Jeff’s passion for learning about all forms of wildlife has also led to discoveries of special pollinator species en route to amphibian monitoring sites, and he has developed a knack for quickly learning to identify birdsongs, including challenging and highly variable songsters like the Bewick’s wren. Jeff has assisted data collection efforts for the Nevada County Breeding Bird Atlas with its expert leaders Steve and Diane Rose, and serves the community as a member of the Nevada County Fish and Wildlife Commission.

As a citizen scientist of local aquatic ecosystems, Jeff has collected monthly water quality data for SSI on Squirrel Creek (an important Deer Creek tributary) for years with SSI Lab Managers Kaitlyn Hacker and Mo Loden, and he joined SSI’s inaugural Bear Watershed team in 2016 with monthly water quality monitoring of the Bear River near its headwaters. In the words of Jeff’s water quality monitoring partner Rich Miller, “Jeff has been a terrific monitoring partner, completely dedicated and reliable. I will really miss working with him.”

Jeff’s has also collected benthic macroinvertebrates with SSI Americorps River Scientists Karin Emanuelson and Leah Campbell, sampled stream algae, and characterized the physical habitat of Deer, Squirrel, and Oregon Creeks with SSI River Scientist Justin Wood.

And fully rounding out his service to local ecosystems, Jeff has helped SSI Restoration Ecologist Denise Della Santina and the California Native Plant Society with surveys for the endangered Stebbins morning glory.

Clearly, there is no end to our appreciation of this remarkable volunteer, who will be greatly missed. We wish him all the best in his new career and all of his future endeavors!