September 07, 2017

Nearly 100 streams are set to come before the commissioners of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) for designation as wild trout streams. Forty-eight of the 99 streams were sampled by Susquehanna University faculty and students through their work with PFBC’s Unassessed Waters Initiative.

There are more than 86,000 miles of streams and rivers in Pennsylvania, more than in any state in the country except Alaska. Prior to the Unassessed Waters Initiative, the PFBC had no data on the small streams and creeks that Jonathan Niles, director of Susquehanna’s Freshwater Research Initiative (FRI), and his students are now surveying.

Since 2010, with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and boosted by additional funding from granting agencies outside of the PFBC and NFWF, Susquehanna has surveyed more than 700 of the nearly 6,000 stream segments assessed.

“We’ve been lucky to have students who really get behind this,” said Niles. “If I say we’re doing 50 streams, they want to do 75. They just push themselves to do more and more.”

Niles and his students are specially trained by the PFBC in the organization’s quality controls and data collection and entry protocols.

When out in the field, they test water chemistry, and utilizing the FRI’s electrofishing equipment, they collect fish and record their species, length and weight. Students also sample aquatic insects under the direction of Mike Bilger, program manager with the university’s FRI who is certified in aquatic insect identification by the Society for Freshwater Science.

The presence of wild trout indicates exceptional water quality. Data collected by Niles and his students enables the PFBC, if appropriate, to designate streams as supporting the natural reproduction of trout. That designation provides additional protection in the permitting process for proposed development in those watersheds.

“Beyond the concrete research and scientific skills our students gain as a result of participating in this work,” Niles said, “it also shows them the direct effect scientific research has on government policy.”

Streams proposed for designation as a wild trout stream by the PFBC can be found here.