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Excerpts from Latino and Latina Leaders of the 21st Century

OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 02/12/2014 - 2:34pm

Latino and Latina Leaders of the 21st Century:

Ordinary Beginnings, Extraordinary Outcomes

by Kay (Kayla) S. García

Latino issues are everybody’s issues. The Latino and Latina leaders portrayed in this book have made valuable contributions to our social, legal, political and educational systems. This book provides comprehensive stories of courageous men and women who have defied expectations, overcome adversity, set precedents, and dedicated significant time and energy to helping others achieve their goals. Active locally, nationally, and internationally in a variety of professions, these individuals offer proof that ordinary or even humble origins can lead to extraordinary accomplishments. This collective biography expounds on well-known and otherwise Latino leaders who are at the front of their fields. It includes well-known individuals, such as Sonia Sotomayor, First Latina on the Supreme Court; Dolores Huerta, Union Organizer and Community Activist; Jorge Ramos, News Anchor and Advocate; John Haroldson and María Chávez-Haroldson, District Attorney and Leadership Facilitator; and Sandra Cisneros, Author and Activist. It includes, as well, many others, such as Julián Castro, Mayor of San Antonio; Nydia Velázquez, Representative for New York; Luis Gutiérrez, Representative for Illinois; Marco Rubio, Senator for Florida. It also comprises leaders in fields of education, community activism, and literary figures such as Cherríe Moraga, Advocate for LGBTQ, Latinos, and Indigenous People; and Elena Poniatowska, an Internationally known ally to Latinos.

Themes and messages of the book:

1)     How these people succeeded, in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

2)     Social justice issues.

3)     Multicultural identities.

4)     Solidarity among different groups and organizations.

5)     Contributions made by Latinos to U.S. society.  Positive role models.

6)    The importance of education.  Transformative education at OSU  (DPD, Learning Communities, Service Learning, Spanish for Heritage Speakers program, Ethnic Studies).  Outstanding educators at OSU.

 

Introduction

Latino issues are everybody’s issues. In Sandra Cisneros’ story Have You Seen Marie?, a character called “River” merges with all the waterways, lakes, and oceans of the world, “washing away the dead… bringing new life, the salty and the sweet, mixing with everything, everything, everything, everything.” Issues of concern to Latinos are like this river, since they are intertwined with every aspect of our society, and the advances made by Latinos have had multiple effects on our nation. Due to efforts by Latino activists, progress has been made in our social, legal, political and educational systems, as well as in protections for workers and consumers. Some of these improvements are obvious. For example, the boycotts and demonstrations organized by United Farm Workers (UFW) brought about better working conditions for agricultural laborers, including regulation of pesticides and access to toilets, soap and water near the fields. Thus, our nation’s food supply became healthier because of improved sanitation and a reduction in the worst chemicals sprayed on produce.

Another observable advancement has occurred in the area of immigration reform, due in part to the efforts of Latino politicians, judges, and advocates. The 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program improved the status of immigrants brought to this country as children, allowing them to study and work in the United States for renewable two-year periods. In 2013, some progress has been made toward a comprehensive reform that would improve the circumstances of undocumented immigrants and provide a stable workforce for industry, agriculture, and services.

In a manner less evident to the public, Latino activists have promoted the rights of minorities, poor people, women, the LGBTQ community, crime victims, defendants, and speakers of other languages. Latino educators have cultivated awareness of the benefits of diversity, social activism, and bilingual education. Latino volunteers at outreach centers have helped people connect to communities and services. Latina authors have raised consciousness and promoted the rights of their own communities and of all women. The ripple effects of all of these contributions are significant, since by improving the life of one person you can improve the condition of the entire family, then of the community, and eventually of the nation.

The term Latino does not refer to race, but to ethnicity, and it encompasses many different identities and cultures. Although most Latinos speak Spanish or descend from Spanish speakers, some of them have ancestors from European countries other than Spain. Many Latinos are related to one or more of the numerous indigenous and African communities represented in the Americas. Moreover, there are Latinos with Jewish, Arabic, or Asian heritage. With this book I would like to honor Latinos and Latinas of all colors and backgrounds. (See the “Terms and Acronyms” page for more information on terminology.)

All the leaders portrayed in this volume are currently active. They have had ordinary or even humble beginnings and have overcome adversity in many forms. Serving as representatives and role models for their communities, these individuals have set precedents, built legacies, and paved the way for future generations. All of them are proud of their heritage and remain connected to the Latino community. They are proof that one can effect change in any setting, and at all levels, since they include people who work in local, state, national and international organizations. In this book I analyze what factors made it possible for these leaders to succeed, how they overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and what lessons can be learned from their experiences. I hope to inspire future activists, as well as to inform others about some noteworthy Latinos in our area and throughout the United States.

I have chosen to focus on positive aspects of these leaders and of the Latino community in general, as a counterbalance to the negative news that dominates our mass media. However, I have not whitewashed these stories. All of these leaders are ordinary human beings, complete with flaws, but somehow they have managed to channel their energies in such a way that they have achieved extraordinary outcomes in their lifetime.

My own perspective is that of a natural ally to Latinos. I lived in Mexico for many years, and I have interacted with Latino communities in the United States for decades. I have taught hundreds of students to speak Spanish and to appreciate Latino and Latin American culture. I am related to some Latinos, even though I have no Spanish-speaking ancestors. Therefore, I am careful to use the third person when speaking of Latinos, and I have made a concerted effort to let them speak for themselves as much as possible by using quotes or by paraphrasing their ideas.

In the first five chapters of this book, I present detailed stories of individuals: Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court justice; Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union; Jorge Ramos, news anchor and advocate for immigrants; John Haroldson, district attorney, and his wife María Chávez-Haroldson, leadership facilitator; and Sandra Cisneros, author and activist. My sixth chapter presents a wide variety of Latino leaders in different fields, who have made connections to each other and to various causes. This final chapter will help convince the reader that Latino issues are connected to everything, everything, everything, everything.

Categories: OSU's Global Impact

French Conversation Group

Upcoming Events - Tue, 02/11/2014 - 5:11pm
Tuesday, February 11, 2014 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM

What is Café-Rencontres Francophones?

An initiative of the OSU French Department, Café-Rencontres is a casual French conversation group open to members of the OSU and greater-Corvallis communities. We welcome all levels of French from beginner to native, and we enjoying speaking French in a laid-back atmosphere. It's not a class, but we help each other as we go along.

We meet upstairs at Nearly Normals - come by anytime between 4:30 and 6pm on Tuesdays.

GE Winter Session 2 Orientation

Upcoming Events - Tue, 02/11/2014 - 5:11pm
Monday, February 10, 2014 - Tuesday, February 11, 2014 (all day event)

Move It Monday with Beaver Strides

Upcoming Events - Mon, 02/10/2014 - 5:12pm
Monday, February 10, 2014 12:00 PM - 12:45 PM

Join other students, faculty and staff for group walks around campus and the surrounding neighborhoods during the lunch hour. We meet at 12:00 p.m. each Monday at Student Health Services (Plageman Building) near the east entrance and walk for approximately 45 minutes. We walk rain or shine, so bring an umbrella or jacket if it's raining!

For more information about Beaver Strides, go to http://studenthealth.oregonstate.edu/beaverstrides

Coffee Hour

Upcoming Events - Mon, 02/10/2014 - 5:12pm
Monday, February 10, 2014 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Mingle with other OSU students while enjoying some cultural food and making new connections.

Crossroads International Film Festival

Upcoming Events - Sun, 02/09/2014 - 5:09pm
Sunday, February 9, 2014 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

The 2014 Crossroads International Film Festival features six engaging films from around the world. Screenings are each Sunday in February at the Darkside Cinema in downtown Corvallis, Oregon. Admission is $6 per film and discounted festival Passports are available for $30, each Passport entitles the holder to six tickets for the price of five. For more information visit our website: http://oregonstate.edu/international/crossroads/crossroads-international-film-festival

Crossroads International Film Festival

Upcoming Events - Sun, 02/09/2014 - 5:09pm
Sunday, February 9, 2014 4:00 PM - 6:15 PM

The 2014 Crossroads International Film Festival features six engaging films from around the world. Screenings are each Sunday in February at the Darkside Cinema in downtown Corvallis, Oregon. Admission is $6 per film and discounted festival Passports are available for $30, each Passport entitles the holder to six tickets for the price of five. For more information visit our website: http://oregonstate.edu/international/crossroads/crossroads-international-film-festival

Crossroads International Film Festival

Upcoming Events - Sun, 02/09/2014 - 5:09pm
Sunday, February 9, 2014 6:30 PM - 7:50 PM

The 2014 Crossroads International Film Festival features six engaging films from around the world. Screenings are each Sunday in February at the Darkside Cinema in downtown Corvallis, Oregon. Admission is $6 per film and discounted festival Passports are available for $30, each Passport entitles the holder to six tickets for the price of five. For more information visit our website: http://oregonstate.edu/international/crossroads/crossroads-international-film-festival

IDEA office CLOSED

Upcoming Events - Fri, 02/07/2014 - 5:09pm
Thursday, February 6, 2014 - Friday, February 7, 2014 (all day event)

IDEA office and OSU campus are closed due to significant snowfall accumulations

Please monitor the OSU Campus Alert page for updates: http://oregonstate.edu/main/alerts

GE Winter Session 1 Ends

Upcoming Events - Fri, 02/07/2014 - 5:09pm
Friday, February 7, 2014 (all day event)

Nonprofit & Volunteer Fair

Upcoming Events - Wed, 02/05/2014 - 5:10pm
Wednesday, February 5, 2014 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

Discover Service. Change the World.

Join us for the 8th Annual Non-Profit & Volunteer Fair! Meet representatives from over 50 local and national nonprofit and government organizations representing a wide variety of fields who are seeking OSU volunteers, interns, and employees. Network with people who share your interests and passions and learn more about the many opportunities available in the non-profit and public service fields. 

The Non-Profit & Volunteer Fair event is sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement and Career Services.

Where: OSU Memorial Union Ballroom

When: Wednesday, February 5, 2014, Break out sessions 10am-11am, 11am-12pm, Fair 12pm-3pm

10:00AM – 11:00AM, MU Journey Room, Pursuing a Nonprofit Career Workshop: Gain insight into the nonprofit industry. This session will include basics about nonprofit organizations and how to be best prepared for pursuing a nonprofit career.

11:00AM – 12:00PM, MU 206, Marketing Service Workshop: Learn how to market your service and volunteer  experience to potential employers both on your resume and during interviews.

11:00AM – 12:00PM, MU 208, International Service Workshop: Explore international nonprofit internships and service opportunities both during and after college

12:00PM – 3:00PM Nonprofit & Volunteer Fair

Visit the event website for more information:  http://oregonstate.edu/cce/fair

French Conversation Group

Upcoming Events - Tue, 02/04/2014 - 5:10pm
Tuesday, February 4, 2014 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM

What is Café-Rencontres Francophones?

An initiative of the OSU French Department, Café-Rencontres is a casual French conversation group open to members of the OSU and greater-Corvallis communities. We welcome all levels of French from beginner to native, and we enjoying speaking French in a laid-back atmosphere. It's not a class, but we help each other as we go along.

We meet upstairs at Nearly Normals - come by anytime between 4:30 and 6pm on Tuesdays.

Move It Monday with Beaver Strides

Upcoming Events - Mon, 02/03/2014 - 5:11pm
Monday, February 3, 2014 12:00 PM - 12:45 PM

Join other students, faculty and staff for group walks around campus and the surrounding neighborhoods during the lunch hour. We meet at 12:00 p.m. each Monday at Student Health Services (Plageman Building) near the east entrance and walk for approximately 45 minutes. We walk rain or shine, so bring an umbrella or jacket if it's raining!

For more information about Beaver Strides, go to http://studenthealth.oregonstate.edu/beaverstrides

Crossroads International Film Festival

Upcoming Events - Sun, 02/02/2014 - 5:09pm
Sunday, February 2, 2014 1:30 PM - 3:40 PM

The 2014 Crossroads International Film Festival features six engaging films from around the world. Screenings are each Sunday in February at the Darkside Cinema in downtown Corvallis, Oregon. Admission is $6 per film and discounted festival Passports are available for $30, each Passport entitles the holder to six tickets for the price of five. For more information visit our website: http://oregonstate.edu/international/crossroads/crossroads-international-film-festival

Crossroads International Film Festival

Upcoming Events - Sun, 02/02/2014 - 5:09pm
Sunday, February 2, 2014 4:00 PM - 5:35 PM

The 2014 Crossroads International Film Festival features six engaging films from around the world. Screenings are each Sunday in February at the Darkside Cinema in downtown Corvallis, Oregon. Admission is $6 per film and discounted festival Passports are available for $30, each Passport entitles the holder to six tickets for the price of five. For more information visit our website: http://oregonstate.edu/international/crossroads/crossroads-international-film-festival

Crossroads International Film Festival

Upcoming Events - Sun, 02/02/2014 - 5:09pm
Sunday, February 2, 2014 6:30 PM - 8:45 PM

The 2014 Crossroads International Film Festival features six engaging films from around the world. Screenings are each Sunday in February at the Darkside Cinema in downtown Corvallis, Oregon. Admission is $6 per film and discounted festival Passports are available for $30, each Passport entitles the holder to six tickets for the price of five. For more information visit our website: http://oregonstate.edu/international/crossroads/crossroads-international-film-festival

Cultural Exposition

Upcoming Events - Thu, 01/30/2014 - 5:10pm
Thursday, January 30, 2014 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Discover different aspects of different cultures or share yours! You can come sing, dance, say a cultural story, read a poem, play an instrument or show us a cultural garment, or a presentation about some aspect of your culture. If you'd like to preregister please email: ISOSU@oregonstate.edu You could also just sit and enjoy the cultural exposition put on by students like you!

French Conversation Group

Upcoming Events - Tue, 01/28/2014 - 5:11pm
Tuesday, January 28, 2014 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM

What is Café-Rencontres Francophones?

An initiative of the OSU French Department, Café-Rencontres is a casual French conversation group open to members of the OSU and greater-Corvallis communities. We welcome all levels of French from beginner to native, and we enjoying speaking French in a laid-back atmosphere. It's not a class, but we help each other as we go along.

We meet upstairs at Nearly Normals - come by anytime between 4:30 and 6pm on Tuesdays.

Like last year, we're collaborating with the Office of International Programs to organize une "soirée galettes des rois" (in honor of the French tradition of celebrating l'Epiphanie) this coming TUESDAY night (1/28/14).

Instead of meeting at Nearly Normals, we'll meet from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Women's Center on the OSU campus. The Women's Center is a small blue house located next to the music building. Here's a link to the campus map (below).
http://oregonstate.edu/campusmap/?zoom=16&type=normal¢erlat=44.56628772576665¢erlng=-123.28166484832763&layers=1,&locations=764

EVENT DETAILS:
- Tirons les rois pour l'Epiphanie!
(event co-organized with the OUS-France exchange program coordinator) - mardi, 28 janvier: 4:30-5:30 p.m.
In France, Epiphany (January 6) is another great "excuse" to gather around the table with family, friends and/or colleagues and EAT! :-) And the tradition (of sharing a "galette des rois") continues all through the month of January. A "galette des rois" is a special cake (there are different kinds) in that there is a "fève" (a small object) hidden inside. The person who receives the piece of galette with the "fève" is king or queen for the day! On the 28th, we'll provide the galettes and hope you will come celebrate with us!
**You can read more about this tradition (and even find a recipe) here: http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/2005/01/galette_des_rois.php

Coffee Hour

Upcoming Events - Mon, 01/27/2014 - 5:15pm
Monday, January 27, 2014 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Mingle with other OSU students while enjoying some cultural food and making new connections.

Survivors from the Depths of Time

OSU's Global Impact - Fri, 01/24/2014 - 5:00am

“Lampreys are delightfully bizarre fish — and vastly underappreciated for the role they play … in ecosystems.” — Center for Biological Diversity

 

In the Smith River in Oregon’s Douglas County, a Pacific lamprey holds onto a rock with its sucker mouth to rest as it swims upstream to spawn. (Photo: Jeremy Monroe)

 

Ask a random sample of Oregonians what they know about Pacific lamprey, and you’ll likely get one of the following responses:

“Um, not much. Aren’t they some kind of eel?”

“Ooo, yuck! They’re parasites, right?”

“Oh, yeah, I saw those on River Monsters.”

These answers ordinarily come with a wrinkled nose or a shudder of disgust. To most people, lampreys seem icky or scary or both. It doesn’t help their image that one of the world’s 40 lamprey species, the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), is invading and imperiling the Great Lakes. Nor does it help that Animal Planet’s “extreme angler” Jeremy Wade recently did an episode of River Monsters titled “Vampires of the Deep.” During his hunt for lampreys in Oregon’s thunderous Willamette Falls, he cranked up the drama with a script worthy of a low-budget horror movie. Amidst the churning, roaring waters, he shouted about the “slimy, serpent-like vampires!” and “primordial bloodsuckers!” he was soon to bag.

Wade did get one thing right when he said, “Lampreys are survivors from the depths of time.” For eons, Pacific lampreys (Lampetra tridentata) by the millions have scaled Willamette Falls — a 40-foot-high natural waterfall between Oregon City and West Linn — to reach their spawning grounds in the Santiam, the Pudding, the Long Tom, the Marys and the other tributaries of the Willamette River. A black-and-white photo taken at the falls in 1913 shows a Medusa-like tangle of lampreys — thousands of shiny, serpentine creatures packed together on a rocky ledge — as they thrust upward against the torrent.

A child peers at lampreys in a tank during an educational outreach event sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Photo: Dave Herasimtschuk)

For millennia, Northwest tribes harvested lampreys from those very same watery ledges, plucking them from the rocks by hand. Then, early in the last century, pioneer families began dining on lamprey, and European-American fishermen joined in the harvest, collecting the three-foot-long jawless fish at Willamette Falls by the boatload for processing into fishmeal, vitamin oil and livestock feed. The yearly catch hit a high of 185 tons — a half-million lampreys — in the 1940s, according to a 1999 report of the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority.

Once upon a time, before European settlement, the tribes had bountiful places to catch Pacific lamprey, a sacred staple in native diets. Back then, lamprey dwelled throughout the Columbia River Basin. But in a few short decades, the ancient fish have disappeared across most of the watershed. Today, the Willamette River is the last stronghold of an animal that biologists describe as an evolutionary marvel. Having survived at least four of Earth’s major extinction events, the Pacific lamprey is collapsing, defeated by dams, pollution, habitat loss, dwindling host fish and factors yet unknown to scientists.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” says Oregon State University fisheries biologist Carl Schreck.

The English term “lamprey” derives from the Medieval Latin word lampreda. Translation: “stone licker.” The weird name comes from the fishes’ curious ability to climb vertical rock faces with their mouths — suck on, wriggle up, suck on, wriggle up. The amazing functions of their suction-cup mouth, which scientists call an “oral disc,” also include latching on to other fish. Certain websites have dubbed adult lamprey “aquatic hitchhikers” for riding along with salmon, cod, flounder and even whales while feeding on their body fluids.

Oregon State University fisheries researcher Mariah Mayfield lunges for young lampreys with a dip net during a sampling study on the Marys River, a tributary of the Willamette. (Photo: Chris Becerra)

Their mouths play a key role, too, in building spawning nests (“redds”). By sucking onto large river rocks, lampreys can scoot the stones along the riverbed and arrange them in a circle on the gravelly substrate. The rocks form a protective barrier against currents that might wash away the eggs — as many as 100,000 per female fish.

Sucking Up

One morning in May, two Oregon State fisheries biologists wearing Polarized sunglasses quickly spot at least a dozen such redds in the Luckiamute River, a Willamette River tributary northwest of Corvallis. Velcroed into their Simms “Pro” stocking-foot waders, researchers Luke Schultz and Mariah Mayfield are standing in an alder-shaded pool. Sunlight flickers through the leaves and glints off the riffles. Trees leaning lazily over the water catch the reflection on the underside of their trunks.

“See that speckled dace?” Schultz says, pointing down at the pebbled riverbed. “It’s hovering right inside a redd.” The finger-sized fish rests over a rounded depression the size of a pizza. Schultz points out another depression and another, noting the large stones rimming each hollow. As the female lamprey deposits her eggs by fanning her body across the nest, she grips a rock with her mouth for stability. “A month ago, we saw a lot of adults here,” Mayfield reports. “We saw a lot of carcasses, too.” Like salmon, lampreys die soon after egg laying. Their bodies nourish other riverine species.

Schultz and Mayfield, who work in Carl Schreck’s lab in Oregon State’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, are documenting Pacific lamprey spawning grounds as part of a three-year study funded by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “The goal of our research is to first ensure the persistence of lamprey in the Willamette Basin and, second, to restore population levels sufficient to meet historic human use,” says Schreck. “To do this, we need to have some understanding of the reproductive capacity of the Willamette population, and bottlenecks to reproduction need to be identified.”

For at least two decades, the tribes have been leading the charge on behalf of lamprey, which the Grand Ronde Indians call skakwal and the Umatillas call ksuyas. As one of the “first foods” of Northwest Indians (along with salmon, elk, huckleberries and camas bulbs) lampreys hold a place of high honor in tribal culture. The fish’s seven gill slits have religious and cultural significance that echoes through many native traditions (see “To Bring Back a Native Fish,” by Gabe Sheoships).

But outside Indian culture, Pacific lampreys have a PR problem. “The Euro-American perception (is) that lampreys are pests,” David Close, a fisheries biologist and member of the Cayuse Nation, wrote in a 2002 report for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla. “We suggest that cultural biases (have) affected management policies.”

Close, who now leads the Aboriginal Fisheries Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, offered some staggering statistics to bolster his critique of lamprey management. In 1966, nearly 47,000 lampreys were counted in the Umpqua River at Winchester Dam. By 2001, the count was 34. In 1963, more than 49,000 lampreys were counted in the Snake River at Ice Harbor Dam. In 2001, the number was 203.

“If you had to identify one smoking gun,” says Schreck, “it would be dams.” The stair-step fish ladders in the Columbia Basin’s vast network of hydroelectric dams were designed for salmon, which are powerful jumpers. But lampreys, whose suction-cup mouths are not adapted to right angles, are stymied. According to Schreck, it wasn’t an oversight. “The fish passages were built deliberately to exclude lampreys,” he says. “Back then, people thought lampreys were outcompeting salmon.”

Carrying on a centuries-old tradition, Northwest tribal members harvest Pacific lampreys by hand in the churning waters of Willamette Falls near Oregon City. (Photo: Dave Herasimtschuk, Freshwaters Illustrated)

Deliberate poisoning also decimated Pacific lamprey in the last century. “From the late 1940s through the 1980s, the Oregon Fish Commission used rotenone in basins throughout the state to eliminate non-game species including Pacific lamprey,” reports a 2004 Northwest Power and Planning Council document. “This practice no longer occurs today, but with up to seven year-classes of Pacific lamprey present in freshwater at any one time, the intentional fish kills of the mid-1900s likely severely impacted Pacific lamprey populations.”

The Oregon Hatchery Research Center in the Alsea River Watershed recently built one of the Northwest’s first lamprey-friendly fish ladders. And a standing-room only crowd at the OSU-sponsored International Conference on Engineering and Ecohydrology for Fish Passage in June heard from Northwest scientists who are studying new designs for lamprey passage.

Bacon Cheeseburger

Even as wildlife conservation groups make herculean efforts on behalf of charismatic species — the majestic Chinook salmon, the adorable panda bear, the mysterious blue whale — the Pacific lamprey has drifted ever closer to the endangered species list practically unnoticed — except by the tribes and a few OSU fisheries biologists. David Close, who was a researcher at Oregon State in the 1990s, was one of the first scientists to sound the alarm in the fisheries community. Ever since, researchers have been scrambling to learn as much as possible about the primordial survivor before it’s too late.

Luke Schultz, Gabe Sheoships and Mariah Mayfield do the “lamprey shuffle” as they sample young lampreys. (Photo: Chris Becerra)

For the Pacific lamprey, the “pest” perception couldn’t be further from the truth, these scientists stress. Unlike the invasive sea lamprey, which is overtaking native trout in the Great Lakes, the Pacific lamprey is exquisitely adapted to the Northwest river ecosystems it has shared with salmon, steelhead and rainbow trout for thousands of years. In fact, compared to lamprey, the more charismatic aquatic species are planetary newcomers. Modern fish — the jawed kind — don’t show up in the geologic record until the Devonian Period late in the Paleozoic Era (“Paleozoic” derives from the Greek, meaning “ancient life”) — about 400 million years ago. Lamprey, on the other hand, made their appearance 100 million years earlier, during the Cambrian Period at the very dawn of prehistory. And dinosaurs? Next to lamprey, the fearsome reptiles seem positively modern, not lumbering onto the scene until the Jurassic Period, 250 million years after lampreys first plied the primordial seas.

Schreck notes that lamprey parasitism is rarely fatal to the host. And there’s another side to the story, one that actually makes lampreys beneficial to salmon: lampreys are a sought-after delicacy for sea lions, seabirds, otters and other animals that eat salmon.

“Lampreys are a buffer against salmon predation,” says Schreck. “They’re the most energy-laden fish, very, very rich in oil, which makes them the preferred food of salmon predators. They’re sort of like the cheeseburger — the bacon cheeseburger — of the food web.”

A hungry sea lion will eat 30 lampreys to every salmon, studies have found. Caspian terns, which have been gobbling up juvenile salmon on the Lower Columbia, also prefer to feed on lampreys — when they’re available. “As the lampreys disappear, predators eat whatever’s around, and that happens to be salmon,” says Schreck.

Buffering salmon predation, however, is only one ecosystem talent of the Pacific lamprey. After hatching, young lampreys dwell unseen in river-bottom muck up to eight years or more. Blind and nocturnal, about half the size of a No. 2 pencil, these lamprey larvae play an important role in stream ecology — a role that has earned them another nickname, the “river worm.”

“They churn up the soil in the river, just like an earthworm would in your garden,” says Schreck. “This allows for cycling of nutrients up through the food chain.”

“Right, they burrow in fine sediments,” adds fish biologist Lance Wyss, a former researcher in Schreck’s lab who now works for the Calapooia, North Santiam and South Santiam watershed councils. “They feed on fine organic material, adding to the transfer of nutrients between the water column and the substrate. It’s good for the entire riverine food network.”

But within those fine sediments, pollutants lurk. In urban corridors, especially, contaminants from cars and industry — manmade chemicals that run off freeways and parking lots into the watershed — create a toxic brew for streambed-burrowing organisms. In one study, baby lampreys were introduced to sediments from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Super Fund cleanup site at the Port of Portland. The larvae quickly burrowed in. Even more quickly, they burst back out, coughing up the sediment, Schreck says. They refused to burrow again.

Tickling Baby Lampreys

A trio of OSU researchers line up shoulder-to-shoulder on the edge of a quiet pool in the Marys River, which tumbles eastward out of the Coast Range. It’s early summer, 2013. The guy in the center, grad student Gabe Sheoships, looks like a character from Ghostbusters strapped into a battery-powered electrofishing backpack the size of a small suitcase. In each hand, he holds a long metal pole with an electrode at the end. Lowering the probes into the stream, he delivers a mild zap near the river bottom, where fine sediments provide nourishment and hiding places for lamprey larvae. “To the fish, it just feels like a tickle,” says Sheoships, whose Cayuse and Walla Walla ancestors fished the Columbia long before white settlers came across the Oregon Trail. That tickle is enough to startle the fish into popping up from the mud.

Researchers measure young lampreys in the Marys River for a study of lamprey populations in the Willamette Basin. (Photo: Chris Becerra)

His two companions, Luke Schultz and Mariah Mayfield, flank him, gripping dip nets. Then they begin the “lamprey shuffle,” a sideways scoot across the pool that looks a lot like a country-and-western line dance.

“There’s one!” calls out Schultz. Mayfield lunges, thrusting her net into the stream and scooping up a four-inch brown baby lampreys, the larval form that scientists call an “ammocoete. “

“Got ‘im!” she announces triumphantly. Turning her net inside out, she releases the tiny fish into a water-filled bucket on the bank. After zigzagging across the pool until they’ve sampled every likely hiding place, the three researchers — who call themselves the “Lamprey Posse” — weigh and measure each of the 100-plus larvae they’ve caught and return them to the stream.

As a tribal member, Sheoships has a personal stake in the research. “The lamprey is a cultural keystone for the tribes of the Columbia Plateau,” he says. “Lampreys have gotten a bad rap. The terms ‘parasite’ and ‘bloodsucker’ get thrown around a lot.” Then he jokes, “It’s not the lampreys’ fault that they got hit with the ugly stick.”

Schultz, who hails from the Midwest where the invasive sea lamprey is decimating sports fisheries, hears similar terms of disparagement when he tells the folks back home that he’s trying to save the Pacific lamprey. “They think I’m a maniac,” he says. “They don’t understand that the situation is completely different here. Our lampreys are native. They play an important role in ecological functioning, and also in cultural preservation.”

The researchers’ data on Pacific lamprey populations in the Marys, the Luckiamute and several other Willamette River tributaries will give scientists and tribes a better picture of the fishes’ status in order to inform conservation efforts. The findings also will fill in data gaps needed for a possible listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“We don’t want another snail darter or Devils Hole pupfish — a species nobody’s ever heard of till it’s endangered,” says Corvallis filmmaker Jeremy Monroe of Freshwaters Illustrated, whose recent short documentary, The Lost Fish, portrays the Pacific lamprey’s plight. Pacific lamprey will play a leading role, too, in Monroe’s upcoming feature-length film Willamette Futures about “the fate of Oregon’s big river.”

Ecosystem Yardstick

After years foraging in the muck, the little lampreys in quiet tributaries will emerge to undergo a metamorphosis. Schreck likens the transformation to the better-known tadpole-to-frog changeover. The larvae will acquire eyes (beautiful blue eyes the color of tropical seas). They’ll grow razor-sharp teeth and a rasping tongue and ride the river currents out to sea. By the time they return to freshwater to spawn, they’ll be 500 times bigger, having ballooned from pencil-length to yardstick-length in two or three years.

Scientists like Schreck hope research can help these emissaries of the Paleozoic survive the Anthropocene.

“Thirty-five years ago when I started my career, there were zero papers on lamprey presented at meetings of the American Fisheries Society,” he says. “These days, there are whole symposiums on lamprey.”

All the attention just might be making a difference. “So far this year, 908 lampreys have passed Winchester Dam on the Umpqua, where only 34 passed a dozen years ago,” Schreck reports. “Maybe something good is happening for lamprey.”

 

Categories: OSU's Global Impact