“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.”

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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.

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