Instead of digging dirt and hauling logs, several Friends of the Dillon Ranger District volunteers found themselves wading knee deep into Straight Creek netting fish from the water.
Forest Service fisheries technician John Hare joined the group at the Straight Creek watershed in Dillon on Wednesday, Aug. 6. He taught the citizen volunteers how to gather important information regarding the health and biology of the creek.
“It allows us to observe and document trend data as to whether stream health is improving or decreasing,” Hare said.
The survey will also inform watershed management within the Dillon Ranger District by providing reference data for streams with similar characteristics, he said. FDRD project coordinator Alex “Doozie” Martin was on hand to help volunteers with data collection.
“This project is a little out-of-the-ordinary compared to our trail-maintenance projects,” he said. “It was neat to see the process of collecting data for the benefit of the watershed and the habitat it provides.”
The first task volunteers embarked upon was scrubbing organic material, including macro-invertebrates, from rocks and pebbles in the creek. The material they collected was put into bags and sent to a taxonomist, who will provide the Forest Service with species identification and a population density of the bugs.
“Macro- invertebrates are a management indicator species for the U.S. Forest Service,” Hare said.
Declines in bug densities could correlate to diminished stream health. Improvements could indicate robust, healthy stream characteristics. The matter collected from the stream can also indicate the pollution level of the water.
“Looking for trends in bug densities and populations helps to determine if we are seeing improvement or decline in habitat,” Hare said.
After plunging their hands into the water to collect bugs, volunteers helped install two nets, which stretched from one side of the stream to the other. These nets temporarily confined the fish found in the 100-meter section of the creek. Hare put on a piece of equipment called a backpack electrofishing unit. This allowed him to put up to 700 volts of electricity into the water.
“When a fish comes into contact with the electrical current, it is momentarily stunned and floats to the surface,” he said.
Volunteers carrying fishnets surrounded the technician, ready to quickly scoop up the fish from the creek.
“After we have them in the net, we put them in a temporary holding tank,” Hare said.
The crew worked to pluck fish from the section of creek. Then, they helped measure and identify each species and observed the fish’s general health, looking for gill lice and checking their mouths to see if the fish were carrying around a hook or fishing line. Volunteers recorded the information and released the fish back into the river to go about their routine.
The fisheries survey took a “hands-on” approach to collecting data.
“Everybody left the project smelling like fish,” Hare said.
This is the third year FDRD has sponsored a “fish shocking” project at Straight Creek. The work completed by volunteers, along with accompanying studies made by Forest Service biologists, has indicated that despite the impacts of nearby development (including Interstate 70) this area of Straight Creek supports a diversity of fish, amphibians and macro-invertebrates, Hare reported.
Hare said he enjoys teaching members of the public about his job and including them in his studies.
“It’s important that the Summit County community is aware that this level of scientific data is happening through federal, state and local land-management agencies,” Hare said. “I also think it’s beneficial for the youth who participated in the project to appreciate the aquatic resources available locally and give them a window into the type of work done by professional fisheries biologists.”
Martin said he appreciated the opportunity to learn about, and contribute to, watershed restoration in Summit County.
“It was great to have Jon out there as the expert and to be able to bounce questions off of him,” Martin said.
The FDRD project coordinator said he also appreciated the opportunity to attract volunteers with a variety of interests.
“We get a lot of cyclists and hikers on our projects. I liked that this project provided a platform to attract a group of volunteers with other interests — like fishing and being out in the water — and show them that FDRD does more than trail work. We are involved in Forest Service efforts in numerous ways.”