“We’ve overtaxed the system,” he says. Baxter officially retired from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife last August, but still works two or three days a week as a “reemployed annuitant”—a big change from supervising a staff of 14 studying the threatened longfin smelt and other native fish. The reduced schedule gives him more time to fish, in California and on British Columbia’s Skeena River, and tend his orchids and carnivorous plants. Chicago-born Baxter grew up in Pacifica with San Pedro Creek in his back yard; watching fish from the creek bank sparked a lifelong interest that led him to a bachelor’s degree from Humboldt State University’s fisheries program and a master’s thesis on salmon spawning behavior. An early focus on salmonids broadened into research on flatfish, Sacramento splittail, and Delta and longfin smelt: “In retrospect, it was much more interesting and stimulating to work with a variety of organisms other than just Chinook.” He’s proudest of a paper for Transactions of the American Fisheries Society (a collaboration with Jon Rosenfield), one of the first publications on longfin smelt in the Estuary. Baxter says that if he could change one thing in Estuary policy, he would release more water. “The system is spiraling down but we’re looking to take more. The policies we’ve implemented are bandaids that only cover a portion of the wounds we’ve inflicted.”

Pearls in the ocean of information that our reporters didn’t want you to miss
 

A career spent monitoring imperiled fish has given Randy Baxter a strong sense of the vulnerability of aquatic ecosystems.

“We’ve overtaxed the system,” he says. Baxter officially retired from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife last August, but still works two or three days a week as a “reemployed annuitant”—a big change from supervising a staff of 14 studying the threatened longfin smelt and other native fish. The reduced schedule gives him more time to fish, in California and on British Columbia’s Skeena River, and tend his orchids and carnivorous plants. Chicago-born Baxter grew up in Pacifica with San Pedro Creek in his back yard; watching fish from the creek bank sparked a lifelong interest that led him to a bachelor’s degree from Humboldt State University’s fisheries program and a master’s thesis on salmon spawning behavior. An early focus on salmonids broadened into research on flatfish, Sacramento splittail, and Delta and longfin smelt: “In retrospect, it was much more interesting and stimulating to work with a variety of organisms other than just Chinook.” He’s proudest of a paper for Transactions of the American Fisheries Society (a collaboration with Jon Rosenfield), one of the first publications on longfin smelt in the Estuary. Baxter says that if he could change one thing in Estuary policy, he would release more water. “The system is spiraling down but we’re looking to take more. The policies we’ve implemented are bandaids that only cover a portion of the wounds we’ve inflicted.”

About the author

Joe Eaton writes about endangered and invasive species, climate and ecosystem science, environmental history, and water issues for ESTUARY. He is also "a semi-obsessive birder" whose pursuit of rarities has taken him to many of California's shores, wetlands, and sewage plants.

Related Posts

Of Mice and Marshes: Surveying Salties to Save Them

It’s five in the morning, and Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge remains in the tight velvet grip of night. All is peaceful and quiet, despite the fact that the toll plaza of the Dumbarton Bridge is less than a quarter-mile away. By 5:15, car dome lights and...

California will spend big bucks on beavers to try to boost their numbers and reap some of the benefits—including slowing wildfire—these ecosystem engineers can provide.

After years of advocacy by beaver “believers,” the state has allocated funding for a beaver restoration program. The $1.67 million in license plate funds for fiscal year 2022-23 and $1.44 million the following year represents a new way of thinking about beaver management in California, says Kate Lundquist, of the...

Climate change is heating, salinizing, and expanding the San Francisco Estuary, a review of nearly 200 scientific studies concludes.

Sea level rise, changing snow and rainfall patterns, and warmer waters are some of the changes already observed in the Estuary and expected to continue through the rest of the century as greenhouse gas concentrations rise. Changes to water are at the heart of the documented and further expected impacts;...