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Guided by a hand-held GPS, Bucknell University Professor Steve Jordan, biology, and Riley Schwengel '15 spent a hot afternoon in August bushwhacking their way through a half-mile of heavy Pennsylvania woodlands in search of a stream — one they hoped to find brimming with trout. The presence (or lack) of the fish was to be recorded among pages and pages of data the pair (along with Miles Silva '16) spent the summer collecting and submitting to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) as part of a project called the Unassessed Waters Initiative.
They had been at it for months — this would be stream No. 40 for the Bucknell team. But after all that work just to get to the water, they arrived to find the streambed dry, so they started the half-mile hike back out. Par for the course, really, in this project that seeks to get a grip on the state's 56,000 undocumented streams and classify more water sources. Partly funded by the Department of Biology and through a McKenna undergraduate research grant, this could lead to better protection of wild trout populations and their cool freshwater homes — work that's especially important as natural gas drilling pushes further into Pennsylvania's wilderness.
Although he has previously published research on fish, Jordan is mostly a bug man, a molecular systematist and entomologist. Specifically, he studies damselflies of the Pacific islands and stoneflies in the Rockies. He's pretty familiar with those regions, where he grew up and did his master's and doctorate research. But Jordan wanted to get to know Pennsylvania better, and when two students approached him looking for summer fieldwork opportunities, the trio latched on to this project. Jordan wanted to mentor these students, help the PFBC and discover new parts of Pennsylvania — something that's easy to do that when you traverse the mountainous areas around Lewisburg seeking access to state and private property.
The students met Jordan early in the morning several days a week throughout the summer. In a truck stocked with GPS systems, waders, boots and buckets, they headed for the hills to trout hunt.
There was plenty of independent work, but Jordan was there to help plan and to mentor the students as they researched everything from equipment to the proper ways to shock a trout in order to get measurements without hurting it.
"I think students are arriving at college hungry and ready to be trusted to do something meaningful," said Jordan. And he loved the fact that he was able to help them earn real-world experience out in the hills of Pennsylvania. "A bunch of state biologists are saying to them, 'We need your data, and we need to have those data done well.' Thirty-year wildlife biology veterans are doing the same kind of work."
For many other biologists working on the Unassessed Waters Initiative, that work will go on, but for now, this group is wrapping up their project and filing their data with the PFBC. This April, they'll present their findings in poster form at Bucknell's Kalman Research Symposium.
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