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Celebrating Our Freshwater Research Initiative
Susquehanna University
Susquehanna University

April 23, 2018

State Secretaries Honor University Research, Conservation Work

Susquehanna University recently celebrated the accomplishments of its Freshwater Research Initiative (FRI).

Among those in attendance to honor the FRI's work were Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, and Ben H. Grumbles, Maryland's secretary of the environment. They offered their thoughts on the challenges facing the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Since the opening of the Freshwater Research Laboratory in 2015, the FRI has supported research endeavors of Susquehanna faculty and students, as well as others throughout Pennsylvania and beyond. It has awarded approximately $209,000 in collaborative grants—leveraging over $858,000 in matching funds—to like-minded partner organizations whose work is also focused on the health of the river.

Six percent of the university's totally student population—133 students—have participated in various faculty- and staff-led research projects through the FRI. Over the past three years the number of ecology majors applying to Susquehanna has tripled, said Jon Niles, director of the FRI.

Other activities underway at the FRI include:

  • The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Unassessed Waters Initiative, for which Susquehanna faculty, staff and students have surveyed more than 700 of the nearly 6,000 stream segments assessed.
  • Studying the impacts of flooding on brook trout populations in the Loyalsock Creek watershed.
  • Fish, stream insect, nutrient studies of 16 stream restoration sites with Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the state Fish and Boat Commission and local county conservation districts.

Precision Conservation Efforts Benefit Landowners

In addition to the research underway at the FRI, we've partnered with the Chesapeake Conservancy on precision conservation efforts. The initiative uses geospatial analysis to better target and implement on-the-ground agricultural and conservation practices.

"We've been able to use students as ambassadors for this program," said Adrienne Gemberling, Susquehanna technical coordinator for the Chesapeake Conservancy. "This has allowed us to expand from one county to four counties since launching this work in September 2016."

Students have participated at events such as the Centre County Grange Fair, where they promoted the conservancy's Restoration Reports tool that generates a customized report for a property that includes:

  • The watershed of which the property is a part 
  • The wildlife species that may already or could potentially live in the area
  • The proximity of the property to a designated trout stream

Landowners can select management priorities—supporting agricultural land uses or improving hunting and fishing—to hear more about opportunities on their parcel. The tool generates a confidential report that includes contact information for specific restoration specialists that serve the area and fit the landowner's interest.

Students have also worked with the conservancy and landowners to install restoration practices, such as riparian buffers, to improve water quality. Partners also monitor water quality before and after the project to record possible changes in nutrient load, sediment, invertebrates and fish populations over time.

Susquehanna students are also growing 1,000 trees for use along restoration areas in Center, Clinton, Huntingdon and Lycoming counties.

What's Next?