Submitted by Paul Dunn, for the Chehalis Basin Lead Entity
Joe Kalisch enjoys the “popping” sound most of all.
That’s right: Give the 31-year-old a weed wrench, some ornery scotch broom and enthusiastic workmates, and he’s likely to be in seventh heaven.
At least for a couple of days a month.
That’s when the Cosmopolis man leads his hardy troop of Grays Harbor Stream Team volunteers as they clean trash, plant trees and, yes, rip out invasive plant species such as scotch broom along the county’s rivers and streams.
“It’s fun,” Kalisch said, “and rewarding in a visceral kind of way.”
“When you pull scotch broom with a weed wrench it makes a popping sound, and it’s the most awesome sound you have ever heard,” he said with a laugh recently. “It’s very satisfying.”
Kalisch, who was born in Aberdeen and has lived in Grays Harbor County his whole life, was hired in September to coordinate events for that county’s Stream Team. He works about 17 hours a week while pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in biology at The Evergreen State College. He graduated from Grays Harbor College in 2016.
With TESC degree in hand, he hopes to become a fish-health specialist or work in fish genetics — those interests arising over the past couple of years as he volunteered in the Grays Harbor College Fish Lab.
The fish lab — which raises Coho and Chum salmon — is a volunteer-based program that focuses on educating students and the community on fisheries and environmental science. It offers students such as Kalisch hands-on opportunities to learn about their local aquatic environments.
“I learned about the different stages of salmon, the suitable habitats for them, and how we can impact these without even knowing it,” Kalisch said. “It gave me a appreciation for salmon and what they have to go through to survive.”
Kalisch was, in fact, one of the original fish lab volunteers.
Amanda Gunn, who oversees the fish lab and teaches microbiology as well as biology and chemistry survey courses at the college, worked closely with Kalisch during his student days and continues to participate in Stream Team events with current fish lab volunteers.
“Joe has played a major role in restoring our aquaculture building for its current use, and he has spent an enormous amount of time volunteering,” she said. “Joe cares deeply about educating both himself and his community about how we can promote healthy fisheries.”
As a Grays Harbor native, Kalisch has never strayed far from his roots by the water. As a lifelong avid fisherman, he’s spent many a day with pole in hand doing what he loves most — but he also knew his aquatic expertise was limited. And that’s where his fish lab experience proved invaluable.
“I’ve been a fisherman my entire life, but catching fish doesn’t mean you know the fish,” he said. “And I wanted to know more about them, so I began volunteering in the fish lab.”
It’s that kind of enthusiasm that has allowed Kalisch to thrive in his Stream Team role, Gunn said.
“Joe makes an effort to create events that are accessible to our community, and he also respects the living knowledge and experiential learning of the local fishermen,” she noted. “He’s able to build a bridge between a love for fishing and a need to protect and preserve our ecosystem.”
As Stream Team events coordinator, Kalisch is building other bridges, too — mainly in his quest to offer volunteers the most diverse experiences possible.
“I like seeing volunteers having fun at the events, but I also like knowing they are learning something, too,” he said. “You see the smiles on their faces and how happy they are contributing and that keeps me pushing forward. It’s important to me to give them what they need to succeed.”
Reaching out to other area environmental organizations is key to Kalisch’s success, said his Stream Team supervisor Christie Barchenger, who is director of science education for the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority.
“Joe is very thoughtful and proactive in his collaboration with different organizations to bring volunteers and resources to a variety of projects in Grays Harbor County,” Barchenger said, noting his partnerships with the college fish lab, Clean Streams and Memes and the Chehalis Basin Fishery Taskforce.
“The projects to which he has focused on bringing volunteers impact the waterways that salmon currently (or historically) have run through.”
The waterways include Alder Creek in Aberdeen that nourishes Chum and Coho salmon, Alder Creek — which ties into Lake Swano at Grays Harbor College and ultimately returns salmon to the fish lab — Wilson Creek near the Aberdeen Log Pavilion, Fry Creek —which meanders through industrial, commercial and residential zones — and McDonald Creek in Elma.
Kalisch, an emergency medical technician who for the past five years has helped fight fires for the Cosmopolis Volunteer Fire Department, credits Barchenger for easing his transition from fish lab novice to professional events coordinator. The Stream Team position, Kalisch freely admits, has motivated him to polish his communication skills.
“I never had to do a lot of formal writing before this position, and Christie has helped me fine tune what I write and make it less wordy,” Kalisch explained. “She has also helped me figure out how to introduce the educational aspects of the Stream Team events, and that has guided me on how I can help other people.”
Kalisch’s transformation, Barchenger said, is moving along quite smoothly.
“Joe is a Harborite and an up-and-coming leader to watch in restoring salmon habitat and improving fisheries,” she concluded.
Especially when he’s wielding a weed wrench.
To volunteer with the Grays Harbor Stream Team, contact Joe at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Facebook page. To learn how you can be a part of other salmon recovery efforts, visit the Chehalis Basin Lead Entity website: www.chehalisleadentity.org.