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Shocking study in Shade watersheds

OGLE TOWNSHIP – Local conservation groups are working to document the health of a number of streams that face potential impact from both future wind turbine and mining projects.

A study focussing on three high-quality trout streams, Clear Shade Creek, Piney Run and Cub Run was started by members of the Kiski-Conemaugh Stream Team assisted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Monday.

They gathered near the southeast edge of Gallitzin State Forest near an old iron bridge, pulled on waders and armed themselves with nets. Doris Mason and John Sloyer measured out a 200-meter stretch of the shady and soft-running creek while Jennifer Kagel, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fishery biologist, readied fish capture equipment.

A mix a pine and leafy trees overhead dappled the water with only the occasional splash of sunlight while Melissa Reckner, Amanda Love and Larry Hutchinson fanned out behind Kagel in the knee deep water.

“It’s going in,” Kagel said. A beeping similar to that of a dump-truck backing up sounded from her Ghostbusters looking backpack as she dipped the metal detector-like wand into the water.

Shortly after, the first of 192 fish was scooped out of the water, stunned by the electrical pulse emitted by Kagel’s rig. Among the catch were 21 trout, some so small they were indicative of natural reproduction, said Reckner, the program director for the stream team.

Finding that sections of Piney and Cub Run sustain the natural reproduction of trout species has led to them being classified as exceptional-value by the state.

The study, which started last March, was sponsored in part by a $5,000 grant received from the Westsylvania Heritage Corporation and administered in part by the Coldwater Heritage Partnership Program.

The overall goal is to record and examine the health of the runs and also determine the economic impact healthy streams can have on the region.

The slow wade upstream took more than two hours as Kagel waved the halo-tipped end of the wand under every rock and clump of water-soaked brush.

Brown and rainbow trout, fantail and muddled darters, sucker fish, black-nosed dace, sculpin and chub all went into the bucket. At the 100-meter mark, the group encountered a small dam shaped like an “S”. In front of the dam, the water has pooled to a depth of almost three feet.

“I know they mean well,” said Kagel. “But this disturbs the sediment transport system in the stream.” The structure also keeps fish from getting downstream, said Sloyer, a stream restoration technician.

While Kagel waded on, Sloyer started pulling rocks off the dam. “I could do this all day,” he said.

Fixing the dam was easier than bringing back several of the fish, however. Stress and shock killed more than a dozen of the captures despite efforts to revive them.

After weighing, if the fish was still weak and unresponsive, both Reckner and Sloyer pulled them backwards through the water in order to put more oxygen on the gills. “Nurse-maiding,” Kagel called it.

Despite that, organizers called the survey a success. “This section should recover quickly. It’s important we gather this information. I was pleased to see there was reproduction,” Reckner said.

By Dan DiPaolo

Daily American

17 July 2007