Research at Angelo- Dr. Sarah Kupferberg

Dr. Sarah Kupferberg’s research is focused on food web ecology, amphibian population biology, and conservation of aquatic ecosystems in California. A particular interest of Dr. Kupferberg is the effects of dams and diversions on the physical and biotic conditions for wildlife. To investigate these issues, she conducts field research and experiments in rivers with hydroelectric projects, drinking water reservoirs, and flood control projects. Dr. Kupferberg is also applying her extensive knowledge of aquatic ecosystems at the policy level, reviewing stream restoration plans and working with engineers to facilitate designs that are compatible with hydraulic and biological needs.

Angelinos and Eel River Recovery Project volunteers have worked together with Dr. Kupferberg to count (and rescue!) egg masses of Foothill Yellow-legged Frogs (Rana boylii).  R. boylii lay their eggs at traditional oviposition sites in the river every spring.  The size of tennis to soft balls, these black-speckled jelly masses are more conspicuous than the adult frogs. What do you notice first in the photo below?

Conveniently for biologists interested in conserving this species (which is currently under review for protection by the Federal and California Endangered Species Act), adult females lay one clutch of eggs each spring. So one egg mass = one breeding female frog.  A census of clutches thus provides an index of the total size of the breeding population. Repeating the counts annually can indicate if populations are growing or declining. In the case of the Angelo Reserve, the population has fluctuated over the last 25 years, but remains basically stable. In contrast, since 2012 we have been observing a growing population along the banks of the South Fork Eel- this is where the California State Parks stopped operating the Benbow Dam in 2016 to impound the river and create a summer lake.  In the Spring of 2016 in advance of the de-construction of the Benbow Dam, ERRP volunteers ( and Angelinos relocated 100’s of egg masses (10,000’s of thousands of tadpoles!) out of harm’s way. Now that the high flows from winter 2017 have reconfigured the gravel bars at the restored dam site, we will monitor how the frogs respond.

The Willits Hub Fish & Aquatics Restoration Day

Sarah Kupferberg, Bill Dietrich, and Mary Power participated in a Fish and Aquatics Day celebration as a kickoff of the “Willits Hub” on Sunday, March 19th 2017.   The Willits Hub is being launched as a meeting place and headquarters for several non-profit environmental groups in the Willits area, including the Eel River Recovery Project.

Pat Higgins (ERRP’s Managing Director) invited Sarah to give a talk on her 20+ years of research on Rana boylii, i.e. the Foothill Yellow-legged Frog, a native frog that breeds in the Eel River.  Bill talked about the Critical Zone (the thin, water-exchanging skin of the Earth between the top of the vegetation and the bottom of the weathered bedrock beneath the soil) and why the geology of this zone matters for water storage and resilience to drought in the forests and grasslands along the California North Coast.  Mary told a bit about the history of the Angelo Reserve—the stories of the Angelo-Steel families who protected this land, and some of the adventures that students and scientists have had in studying its creatures, plants, soils, river food webs, and landscapes. In addition, Pat gave brief talks about sediments and river bugs, and Park Steiner reported on his very long-term studies of chinook carcass trends in the upper mainstem Eel and Tomki Creek.  A meeting highlight was the remarkable footage shown by filmmaker Shane Anderson as a preview of his forthcoming movie about the Eel: “A River’s Last Chance”.

We felt fortunate to meet old friends and new ones at the Willits Hub who share our concern over the future of the Eel River ecosystem, and look forward to future get-togethers, some at the Angelo Reserve!

Credit to Pat Higgins for the photo collage.

Mary Power and Gabe Rossi, and the stalwart student teams doing Eyes on the Eel surveys: The Movie.

Here’s a link to the movie (released in mid May 2017) on our Eyes on the Eel surveys.

Shot by Amy Miller and Josh Rosen, Spine Productions, the movie features Gabe Rossi, myself, and many of the stalwart students that do this survey at 8 river reaches along the S. Fk Eel and mainstem Eel.  The film was funded by Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which has realized that the Milieu Exterieur affects the Milieu Interieur.

It was a huge pleasure to work with Josh and Amy, who also have filmed canopy research by the Dawson Lab, and a movie on Hydrowatch featuring Inez Fung, Todd Dawson, and Bill Dietrich explaining their life cycle of water work in the intensively monitored Rivendell basin draining to Elder Creek.


Left to Right: Gabe Rossi, Keith Bouma-Gregson, Victoria Uva, Nick Lapaglia, Robbie Gould at the mainstem Eel River, Summer 2016