On the Road Again

This post was created by Allison Lutz and edited by Chris Grant.  Allison is a 2015 graduate of the Juniata Biology department.  She is a co-author on one peer-reviewed journal publication and is lead author on a second, recently submitted publication from her senior thesis.  Allison was recently accepted into a graduate program at Georgia Southern University set to begin this fall.

On the Road Again

Anticipation for the arrival of summer and ensuing field work on the Marcellus project had been building up to this week.  We left for the first site at 8:00 in the morning and arrived at the top of the trail around 10:30. The first hike was down a trail and then across a log bridge through a verdant field of green ferns. We crossed a few smaller tributaries to Stone Run along the way to the exact sampling point. The hike went well and didn’t take much longer than 30 minutes. We then set up our equipment and started electrofishing the stream, however, as we are preparing to sample the stream we could hear the ominous sounds of thunder all around us-but we were spared a thorough soaking. We finished electrofishing and started to process fish but we realized we forgot anesthetic in the van…so I proceeded to hike back to the van to pick it up. Once I returned we processed all of the fish and everything went well considering a few new tasks when processing fish this year. We first anesthetized fish to take pictures for a morphometric component (which uses a computer software to measure parts of the fish for further analysis), then we collected the blood of the fish for later determination of endocrine disrupting contaminants, then a small piece of liver was collected for an RNA component, and finally a fin clip was taken for an ongoing population genetics component of the Marcellus project.  The process requires a lot of hands and careful attention to what is going on at all times but it’s really fun to be a part of this process.

morpho example

Example of pinning anesthetized fish for morphometrics

We then packed up for our hike out, and Brandon went down to the stream to release the fish we did not keep back to the stream.  In the process, he knocked over a dead tree, and a small resident was forced out of his home, it was a flying squirrel! It posed for pictures and then we were on our way to the next stream.

Flying squirrel at Stone Run

Flying squirrel scared out by Branden

We arrived at Coldstream and dark clouds were starting to roll in behind us, but we decided to head down to the site despite the moderate length hike to the stream. We made it down the hill and into the small hemlock forest that surrounds Coldstream, but we were not spared from the thunderstorm this time. We continued on to the sample point but it was pouring at that point so we could not begin electrofishing due to the danger of electrical shock from the electrofishing backpack (not to mention the danger of getting struck by lightning). We initially waited for enough breaks in the thunder to collect macroinvertebrates (which can be done in the rain) but every time we went to put on our waders the thunder decided to announce itself. We waited it out and eventually the rain slowed down (and the thunder stopped) enough for a quick photograph of the drenched researchers and then we began sampling.

coldstream group rain

Researchers soaked after heavy downpour at Coldstream

We finished collecting fish and brought them back to process them under a makeshift rain coat tent strung across overhanging branches, which proved enough to keep out a lot of the rain. Even though we got soaked we still had a great time; nothing beats a day in the field even if it ends with everyone getting rained on. I hope you all stay tuned for the next blog post!



Holy Water

Hello all, we have the distinct pleasure of including this essay on wildsonfrack.  It was written by Kimi Cunningham Grant this past summer and published in the most recent issue of the literary magazine, Whitefish Review, and just released earlier this month.  I hope you enjoy it!

Holy Water

Beneath where we stood, there was disruption, activity deep below the ground, the outcomes of which are still not fully known.

I’ve always wanted to love fishing. As a girl, I’d go with my father, who found no shortage of opportunities for my brother and me—sunfish at his friend’s pond; bass from his boat on the lake; trout along the skinny, twining streams near our home in central Pennsylvania. When I was a teenager, I even took fly-fishing lessons, and, with my instructor along an open pond in Colorado, I learned the technique of back casting fairly quickly. I loved the way you could train your arm and wrist to learn such precision: the motion, the acceleration, the white line rolling across the water. There was music in that. I asked for a fly rod for my fifteenth birthday.

Unfortunately, despite my good performance at my fly-fishing lesson, back on the overgrown banks at home, back where there was real fishing, the truth became clear: I was no good. My father taught me to roll cast, but still, I caught my line in the branches that arced over the water. Often. After a while, I sensed that my father, despite his abundance of patience, was not particularly fond of having to scamper back through the dogwood to untangle me, again and again. When I was along, there was little time for him to fish.

Though I failed at fishing, my brother excelled. In those days there was little that maintained his attention the way fishing did; he’d rise early, come home late. He never grew tired of it. Having caught his limit for the day, he’d return, and in my parents’ kitchen, line his fishes up on thick stacks of newspaper to clean, their skin shiny and bright as Christmas bells, their smell thick in the house.

Maybe I was destined, then, to marry someone who loves fishing—or, more accurately, , someone who loves fishes. I’ve spent numerous vacations watching my husband, Chris, fish: red drum on the surf in the Outer Banks, cutthroat in the Sawtooths in Idaho. A fat, orange-fleshed lake trout in the Wind River Range. On occasion I’d toss in a line too, but mostly I’d watch, settled in the grass nearby, or perched on a rock, happy enough to observe.

Chris, a field biologist whose most recent research examines the potential effects of Marcellus shale fracking on stream ecosystems, disappeared for a few weeks each summer, heading to the remote Pennsylvania Wilds, where he and his team of student researchers shacked up in a homestead that had no television, cell phone reception, or internet. I’d never gone with him on these trips, where, among other things, he caught brook trout. Of course I’d heard the stories about these adventures; I’d seen the photographs of the black and tan rattlesnakes stretched across gravel, the bull elk who stood in front of the van once, chin raised, as if daring them to proceed. I’d seen plenty of trout photographs, too. “Look at this one,” Chris would say, pointing out the coloring, or the patterning, as if I should be able to see the difference between one brook trout and the next. “Isn’t it beautiful?” Though I couldn’t quite sense that beauty, I’d nod: “Sure is.”

Three years into this research, I finally had my opportunity to join him. We met up with the team of Juniata College student researchers at a district conservation office, where we shuffled seats and headed to our first stream. As we trundled over the wide, gravel road, the dust rocketing into the June sky behind us, we passed metal gate after metal gate, well pad after well pad, owned by various companies and painted different colors.

To my surprise, these well pads, now in their finished, working form, were relatively inconspicuous and tidy, each one a trio of metal tanks sitting atop a wide, cleared space with a few additional pump-like looking objects nearby. I guess I’d envisioned something more massive, something uglier and dirtier. And yet—out here, with the oaks towering and the ground thick with mountain laurel and huckleberry, with the boulders draped in moss and the loud hurry of stream water ringing—something about the abundance of the well pads, so many of them dotting public land, the state forest, and the Allegheny National Forest, too, with their warnings and phone numbers and locked gates, did feel, well, menacing.

We pulled the van off the road and parked in a patch of grass, where the students, with a military sense of order and focus, unloaded a vast amount of equipment—long white nets, an electrofisher, buckets, scales—all of which they reloaded onto themselves. We followed an old road, which was not much of a road anymore, but a swath where timeworn ruts held water from the abundance of May and June rain. Tadpoles scuttled as we came close. In a handful of these puddles, a gray-purple, oily sheen clouded the surface. We wondered: could that sheen be from one of those three stern green containers near where we’d parked? It seemed so out of place here, miles from where any motorized vehicles traveled. A student scooped up a sample in a clean bottle.

A mile in, we arrived at the 100-meter reach of stream the researchers were now assessing for the third year in a row. I slipped into a pair of chest waders and followed Chris and two students downstream, where I was then given safety instructions and a net.

The first fish turned up right away. “There! Right there!” the three of them shouted, pointing to a flash in the snarling white stream. I obliged, thrashing my net through the water, but the truth was, I hadn’t even seen it. My mind shot back to childhood, when my brother would reel in fish after fish, while I slumped along the shore, waiting for help, my line snagged in a branch. Clearly, regardless of the gear—fishing pole or net—I was not cut out for this.

But then I caught one. And another. Two small brookies. A big one. I scraped up crayfish, too, their brown claws raised like Pentecostals. When we’d finished the 100 meters, another student joined Chris to count and measure the trout. This year, there were half as many as last year.

I asked if I could touch one of the trout.

“Of course,” Chris said.

“Are the fins sharp?” I asked, remembering the razor-like fins of bass, the spots of blood on my brother’s hands.

“No.” (He seemed surprised that I would ask such a question.)

As I plunged my arm into the white bucket, the brook trout darted about the cold water, too quick for my inexperienced hands. It glided through my palms, cool and soft. Delicate and lithe, tigered fin on its top, burnt amber fin below, body spotted with red within blue circles, it was—there was no other way to describe it—beautiful. The team took their measurements, holding each trout carefully along the ruler, placing it onto the scale, and plopping it back into the bucket.

When they were finished, I asked if I could help release the fish. I clambered back down the steep bank, and it was there, kneeling along the stream, sinking my hand into that bucket again and grabbing one of those magnificent little creatures, that I felt I understood, for the first time, that fascination, that love, that had taken my father, my brother, my husband. As I held the trout, its body lissome and glimmering against my palm, my four fingers wrapped tenderly around its belly, as I then opened my hand to set it free, back into that stone-bottomed, glinting water, I could almost forget, for the briefest of moments, that just up the hill from this place of perfect isolation, hundreds of those tall metal cylinders collected waste. That a gray-purple sheen glistened in the puddles we’d passed. That beneath where we stood, there was disruption, activity deep below the ground, the outcomes of which are still not fully known.

But with my knees pressed into moss, ferns sighing, water singing, there was a holiness—and this is what I think my father, brother, and husband had all at some point felt, and loved—a holiness compelling enough that, in that instant when the trout shot off into the riffles, slipping back to where it belonged, all was right in the world.

Kimi Cunningham Grant

Brookies and Waxy Wool- What does it all mean?

Hello hello, I am Taylor Cox, a research technician for the Grant Lab. Before I delve into the research topic, I want to give away some information about what I do. When I am in the lab, I help prepare samples for analysis, write reports, organize and analyze data, and largely oversee most activities in the lab. I am a recent graduate of Juniata College with a degree in Marine Biology. I been involved with the Grant Lab for a year and a half now and one day, I hope to get a master’s degree in horticulture.

For two and half years I’ve worked on a project addressing the effects of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), an invasive insect species (eek!) that feeds on Hemlock trees, resulting in death of the tree. These trees are often near headwater streams, and these hemlock headwater streams have created a tailored ecosystem for brook trout. Hemlock stands create cool temperatures and shaded areas for the associated streams, which allow brook trout to thrive. These ecosystems have been a staple of the Pennsylvania Wilds for eons, but sadly this has been changing in the recent past.


“Waxy Wool”-evidence of hemlock woolly adelgid on hemlock

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I’m deeply worried as well. But it gets worse. Far, far worse!!!

HWA entered the important hemlock headwater streams about a decade ago. Since their invasion, they have caused the death of many hemlock stands, which may be impacting the associated streams, aquatic ecosystems, and our state fish, the brook trout. This study, which I have been a part of, began two and half years ago in a field biology class, called Field and Stream, taught by Dr. Grant and Dr. Muth (botanist).

During the first year, we studied approximately ten streams. In the riparian corridors of each stream, we collected information regarding the Health of Hemlock (HH) trees by measuring Uncompacted Live Crown Ratio (ULCR) and canopy density (CD). ULCR is a ratio of live branches to the total hemlock tree height, and CD is a measure of how dense the canopy of the tree is. Additionally, both biotic and abiotic terrestrial and aquatic characteristics were collected. We evaluated fish assemblages, diversity, and population estimates with electrofishing, and kick netting was conducted to determine the macro-invertebrates biodiversity. Stream water quality information was collected including conductivity, salinity, total dissolved solids, pH and the water temperature.


Picture of student collecting data

Before I get side tracked, I want to provide some information about the selection of the study sites. We wanted to study hemlock stands that had various degrees of death due to HWA. This would allow us to see if there was a correlation between hemlock decline, due to HWA, and the stream characteristics, such as brook trout populations. After assessing each of the streams, the ULCR and CD values showed us that our study sites fell into three distinct groups, a low (unhealthy), medium (intermediate health) and high (healthy). This information then allowed us to analyze if there was a correlation between the HH and the stream characteristics.

After that first year of data collection, Dr. Grant and Dr. Muth created an introductory biology lab based on the field research class. The students in the introductory lab learn about HWA and potential impacts on streams; especially fish and macro-invertebrate populations.

stream site

Study site used for freshman Bio lab and upper-level Field Biology class

This fall is the third year that data on hemlock headwater ecosystems has been collected by the the two research based classes and summer students. In general, our findings on the impacts of HWA on hemlock headwater ecosystems have just started to develop. With time, we are hopeful we can find out how HWA and a decline in Hemlock Health are affecting aquatic ecosystems. As the data set grows and correlations become clear, we will be able to develop conservation strategies for the wild brook trout and these important ecosystems.

Go Brooks Trouts Go Brook Trouts Go!

Taylor Cox


Bugs’ Breath


Greetings! This is Allison Lutz, a Juniata College student researcher for the Grant lab. Recently I’ve been working on a research project that involves aquatic insects (macroinvertebrates/macros) and their gills. I’ll be telling you all a little bit of what’s happening with the project currently and how it all got started.


A net-spinning caddisfly (roughly 9-12 millimeters)

So, this project started about a year ago when I read a scientific paper about macroinvertebrate gill deformities that occur in mercury enriched streams. I then thought it would be really cool to look at macros from streams that are considered ‘fracked’ and streams that are considered pristine to see if there were any deformities in the gills. After deciding what to research, a couple of my friends and I went to collect the macros from two of the sites (one pristine and one fracked) that we usually sample during the summer. We all kick-netted for macros at the sites and put the macros in ethanol to preserve them for later identification. At the pristine site we even kick-netted a small brook trout, which pretty much never happens due to the trout being evasive. After collecting the macros we brought everything back to the lab where the macros were identified to the family level.

a1 a2

I decided to use the family Hydropsychidae (net-spinning caddisflies) because of the gills on their abdomen that are easy (relatively) to remove. Along the way, I made sure to keep gills from each individual macro separate and once I removed all the gills from one individual using a pair of forceps, I mounted the gills on slides. It took me multiple tries to find a way to mount the gills; I just couldn’t get the mounting medium right until I noticed some clear nail polish. It seemed like too simple a fix, but I tried it anyway and it worked almost perfectly. I used a pipette to put the gills onto the slide then I waited until the ethanol dried, and finally I put a drop of clear nail polish on top of the gills and covered it with a cover slip. In total it takes about two hours to make ten slides. The next part of the process is using a light microscope.

I carefully carried the slides up to the microscopy lab and tried to decide on how to view the gills with the microscope. I finally settled on viewing the slides using dark phase which has a black background and the item on the slide is white/opaque. After viewing a few of the slides, I realized that trying to use statistical software to analyze percent deformities would be difficult and maybe there was a better way. I decided to take pictures of all of the slides and use a program to measure the widths of the gills and determine if there were any differences between the two sites. I took as many measurements possible on each slide at the midpoint of the gills visible on the slides. This process probably took the longest since I took pictures of the slides wherever I saw gills, so each slide had up to twenty pictures and each picture required multiple measurements.

Finally I got to the final part of the process: the data analysis. I used statistical software to analyze if there were differences between the two sample sites. There was a difference between the streams! The gills of the macros at the fracked site had significantly wider gills than macros from the pristine stream. From this point it was a lot of searching the internet for research papers in my search as to why the gills could be wider. I found a few papers that mentioned dissolved oxygen and its effects on gills. Everything I found seemed to point to dissolved oxygen (oxygen that is in the water), since lower dissolved oxygen levels can cause phenotypic plasticity (i.e. gills becoming wider) due to the organisms not receiving enough oxygen from the environment. Well that would be a slight problem because dissolved oxygen measurements weren’t taken from either site so there was no way to know if that was the cause of the wider gills. The finding was still very exciting though, because there was a difference between the fracked and pristine stream.

The initial study was meant to see if it was worth looking into macro gills and it was so the project moved forward. Macros and dissolved oxygen readings were collected from all of the sites we visited this past summer. Analyzing what was collected this past summer will be the majority of my work this semester and I am really excited to get this data analyzed to see if dissolved oxygen levels are playing a part in the gills of macros. There will be a few changes to the project and a major one would be using the same genus to compare between sites instead of the same family. The genus level is a lower level of classification and therefore it can’t be argued that the differences in gill sizes are just differences between the genuses that fall under the net-spinning caddisfly family. I also hope to measure the macros themselves to account for body length when I measure gill widths and use similar sized macros from each stream. I just to make sure I didn’t use larger macros from the fracked site and smaller ones from the pristine site because that could explain the difference (macros that are larger need larger gills to receive enough oxygen). I am very hopeful that this project will determine whether or not fracking practices might be affecting dissolved oxygen in streams. I can’t wait to see the results of this project!

-Allison Lutz


A Race Against the Clock

Hello readers! Justin Wright here, research assistant for the Lamendella lab at Juniata College, excited to offer you my perspective on our quest to obtain a seemingly impossible amount of water samples with a single weekend.

Crunch time doesn’t even begin to describe the mad rush that the Grant Lab underwent this past weekend. Due to an unfortunate error in packaging, we needed to re-collect water samples from 26 sampling locations scattered throughout the Central Pennsylvania area, transport these samples back to campus, and have them filtered and packaged for shipment to the U.S. Geological Survey for Mercury analysis… all within a 3 day period. In addition to the sheer amount of samples that we had to collect, we needed to use some finesse when it came to coordinating the time of sample collection with the time of filtration back in the lab. The reason being, water samples set for mercury analysis cannot remain idle in their bottles for longer than 24 hours. If a sample remains in its bottle beyond 24 hours, Hg can adsorb to the plastic potentially changing Hg concentrations in the sample. Therefore, not only was this weekend going to be a physically daunting challenge, but also a mental one, in terms of working out a plan to get all of the samples collected and returned to the lab so that they could undergo filtration without sitting in the freezer longer than 24 hours. To accomplish this task, our whole team needed to be on its A-game. Everyone had to know their role and be aware of their deadlines. Time was our enemy, and we were constantly racing against the clock. I felt like we were Keanu Reeves in a weekend-long version of the movie Speed, one mistake and everyone was in trouble. I It was beyond crunch time, it was “I don’t know how are we going to get this done in time”…time.

By Thursday (August 7th), our plan was set. Friday morning at around 830 AM, two vans, containing two researchers each, were going to collect 15 of the 26 samples we needed to obtain. One van’s route contained 9 sampling sites, the other contained 7, but with a greater distance to travel by van. It was decided that Dr. Grant and I would take the route containing 9 sampling sites, and Caleb and Allison would take on the route with 7 sampling locations. We were hopeful to get the samples back into lab by about midnight so that they could be ready for filtration the following morning. We were lucky enough to get in touch with former Juniata student and Grant Lab member Elliott Perow, to lead the filtering effort. Elliott, along with two other team members, Aaron and Abby, were prepped to begin filtration at 730 AM Saturday morning, beginning with the sample collected earliest the day before, to ensure no sample sat beyond the allotted 1 day period. The plan was set, but actually carrying it out was going to be the real challenge.


Dr. Grant and I were on the road by 830, fully aware of the physical and logistical challenge we were about to face. While some of the sampling locations were rather easy to access, most were a bit difficult. We decided to hit 6 of the 9 easier locations first, and then tackle the most challenging 3 last. Of the 3 difficult locations, the hardest site to access was Mocassin Run. Only being about a mile hike form the van, when it comes to distance Mocassin doesn’t stand out as difficult compared to the other sites. The trouble with Mocassin, is that after a flat ¼ mile hike, the remaining ¾ involves scaling a hill with a slope of more than 45o. The terrain is extremely rocky, with some of the thickest rhododendron bushes I have ever seen. As we were going through the first 6 sampling locations, Dr. Grant and I were continuously mentally preparing ourselves for the intense hike to Mocassin (see June 22nd post entitled “Mocassin Revisited” to see a video clip of an earlier trip into Mocassin).

This intense focus and mental preparation for the challenges ahead really benefitted Dr. Grant and I. Every sampling location went like clockwork, and seemingly out of nowhere, we had completed 6 sampling locations by about 230 in the afternoon. Needless to say we were pumped, but we still had to hop over our biggest hurdle, Mocassin. Upon our arrival our spirits were high, but physically I was beginning to feel a little weak. Being a 6 foot, 150 pound, out-of-shape microbiologist, the day’s hikes were beginning to take a toll on my body. But on we went. Upon reaching the ¾ mile downhill slope, I fell within a matter of seconds. Dr. Grant laughed and told me that: “If you only fall once at Mocassin then you are doing something right.” After falling 8 more times, I lost count. On we went, and eventually we made it too the stream. As we collected water samples and caught our breath, I suggested to Dr. Grant that he should give his research students badges for surviving some of the more difficult sampling locations. He said he would consider it, and if he does I am looking forward to obtaining my Mocassin badge because we did indeed survive the climb back to the van!

After completing Mocassin, our morale couldn’t be higher, and while the remaining two sites were challenging, we completed them with great efficiency. When the last water sample was bagged and put on ice, Dr. Grant and I were amazed to see that it was only 830. A trip that we had expected to potentially take us into the early morning hours of the next day was completed before nightfall. We rendezvoused with Caleb and Allison at the lab by 1030, as they had also completed their day’s work with extreme speed. We were ecstatic. Like Keanu Reeve’s we had beaten the clock, but the ride wasn’t over yet.


15 of the 26 samples had been collected, 11 remained. We decided to attack the sampling effort with the same strategy as the day before, 2 vans with 2 researchers to a van. This time, Caleb and I would sample 7 locations, and Dr. Grant along with his wife, Kimi, tackled the remaining 4 locations.

Again, both vans attacked sample collection head-on, and after the monstrous challenge that we had faced on Friday, obtaining these final samples came with ease. By 1030 PM Saturday night, Caleb and I were back in lab again with all 7 samples collected. We went to put our samples in the freezer and noticed that there weren’t any other samples inside.

“That’s odd,” I thought to myself. I had expected to see the 4 samples that Dr. Grant had collected with Kimi that same evening, since the filtration team’s job on Saturday was to filter only the 15 samples we had collected on Friday. Surely they couldn’t have been so ahead of schedule that they also completed the 4 samples Dr. Grant brought in with his wife? Well…they were. The filtration team had successfully filtered 19 samples for Mercury analysis in a single day. Not only were we getting the job done, we were ahead of schedule. The end was in sight.


On Sunday, Elliot, Abigail and I filtered the final 7 samples Caleb and I collected the day before. As I observed and carried out the filtration process, I realized how truly impressive it was that the team had gotten 19 samples done the night before. Each step required extreme focus, as there were many pieces involved in the filtration process, and avoiding contamination was of the highest concern. One thing I continued to forget was that, as the person deemed “clean hands” I could not touch anything besides the equipment involved with the filtration process. I must have burned through 10 pairs of nitrile gloves by the end of the day, as I continued to touch the countertop. Looking back, after the arduous days of sampling beforehand, my mind was not quite in the freshest of states. Nevertheless, we got through it. After filtration was complete, Dr. Grant, Elliot and I packed up the samples for shipment with extreme care to avoid making the same mistake with improper packaging. By 4 pm we had finished. Just like that it was over. The samples were sent, and we were spent. Everyone returned home for much needed rest.

Looking back on the entire weekend, I have realized how rewarding of an experience it was for me, as I hope it was for everyone else involved. It is truly amazing what we can accomplish as humans if we have passion for what we are working towards. When it comes to solving the environmental impacts and the unanswered questions behind fracking, the passion we posses here at Juniata is staggering, and I can say with confidence that it matches with any large institution in the county. While this work required intensive work, dedication and time, it was worth every second.

As Dr. Grant and I were on the road Friday evening, we discussed our motivations for taking on this project. We both agreed that we are not trying to combat fracking corporations, simply to prove that fracking is “bad”. Rather, with fracking being such a new but large-scale process with such huge potential environmental implications, it would be foolish and short-sighted to not be curious to investigate what these implications may be. Streams are the veins of our earth, and it is our duty as environmental researchers to ensure their overall health is being maintained. If this weekend proved anything, it proved that the Gramendella lab (Grant and Lamendella labs) contain individuals passionate enough to do anything to investigate the implications of fracking. I am convinced that with continued dedication, we will continue to answer some of the unanswered questions behind fracking. I can’t wait to get my Mocassin badge, and I look forward to getting many more.


~Justin Wright


Discovering Pennsylvania Streams and their Unknown Fish Assemblages

This post comes from Dr. Jonathon Niles, a colleague from Susquehanna University who is a biology professor and the director of the RK Mellon Freshwater Research Initiative.  I have worked with Jonathon for the past several years on the Unassessed Waters Initiative that aims to document fish assemblages in previously unassessed streams (for more information about the program look under ABOUT tab on wildsonfrack).  This program and its collaborators, like Jon, have allowed for thousands of streams to be classified and protected because of the discovery of wild populations of brook and brown trout.  Hope you enjoy – Chris Grant

Pennsylvania is fortunate to have a vast amount of streams and thus very important aquatic resources. We have large rivers like the Susquehanna, creeks and streams that are five to fifty meters wide, and we have streams and runs that you could easily step across. Each of these streams is an important ecological and economic resource for the Commonwealth. While, Pennsylvania has over 64,000 waterways, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission only have data on approximately 6,500 of these waters. Therefore, only 9 percent of the streams in the Commonwealth are being actively and properly managed. Of the waters remaining, many likely support wild trout populations. Trout whether it be rainbow trout, brown trout, or the native brook trout are an important economic resources for the Commonwealth, as their fisheries generate over a billion dollars of economic activity across the state each year. Trout are also the key indicator species in coldwater streams across the state. Brook trout in particular are only found in the highest quality streams. The native brook trout needs clean, highly oxygenated water of the highest purity. They have a narrow range of pH tolerance, and are sensitive to low oxygen, pollution, pH changes, temperature, and other human induced environmental effects such a sedimentation.

Created in 2010, The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Unassessed Waters Initiative is a collaboration between the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Pennsylvania colleges to visit headwater tributaries that have never been assessed to determine the presence and status of wild trout populations. An unassessed water is a waterway that has no biological data or information about which fish species live in that water. The goals of this program are to proactively identify and properly classify the most at-risk streams which support naturally reproducing trout populations in order to protect, conserve and enhance those waters as wild trout streams. Data collected from the Unassessed Waters Initiative is used by the Fish and Boat Commission to help correctly classify and protect high quality trout streams from environmental alterations and degradation. The primary threat to undocumented wild trout populations is inadequate water quality protection. The importance of adequately protecting our aquatic resources has increased dramatically with Marcellus Shale Gas extraction. Proper stream classification and protection is vital, as it is likely that streams will be impacted by human caused stressors with additional pressure for resource extraction.

Since 2011 my research team at Susquehanna University has been involved with the Unassessed Waters Initiative. Since 2011 we have surveyed 340 previously unassessed waters as part of this project. These streams have been across most of north central Pennsylvania in Snyder, Union, Centre, Mifflin, Northumberland, Montour, Lycoming, and Sullivan counties. The majority of the streams we have sampled are within Lycoming and Sullivan counties in the Loyalsock Creek drainage. We have found trout in over 55% of the streams we have sampled in those 3 years. During this time we have worked directly with many different stakeholder groups all of whom are concerned about protecting water quality and trout streams. We have worked with watershed associations like the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association who have provided in kind volunteer hours, donated many nights of overnight accommodations for our crews. Many private landowners, hunting clubs, and private companies like Dwight Lewis Lumber have allowed us access to sample streams on their property. Government agencies like DNCR’s Bureau of Forestry and the Game Commission have opened closed gates to gain us access to extremely remote streams that needed to be sampled. The cooperation from multiple entities has shown me that this program is extremely important for aquatic resource protection across the commonwealth.

Last summer my team of 4 students and I decided to focus on un-named tributaries for the Unassessed Waters Initiative. Un-named tributaries are the small blue line streams on a USGS topographic map that drain to the larger named streams. Un-named tributaries represent the largest amount of unassessed waters across the state with over 54,000 un-named tributaries still remaining to be assessed. During the summer of 2013 we sampled 168 un-Named tributaries across several watersheds including Loyalsock Creek, Lycoming Creek, Buffalo Creek, and White Deer Creek, of these 168 un-named tributaries we found that 80 of the un-named tributaries had no trout (61 had water but no trout, while 19 were dry). We found that 88 un-named tributaries had trout present with brook trout being present in 85 of those streams. Finding brook trout in 50.5% of the 168 un-named tributaries we sampled was surprising and shows that these un-named tributaries are important clean water resources. Our data indicated that 23 (26%) of these streams might even qualify for the best of the best qualification (Class A trout streams) from Pennsylvania Fish and Boat commission. That is a very high percentage of high quality waters which may indicate that these un-named tributaries are almost as important as larger named streams in terms of trout habitat and production.

This summer our field crews (1 research scientist Mr. Mike Bilger, 1 research technician Mr. John Panas, and 5 summer student interns) have again been focusing on un-named tributaries. We have been primarily sampling in the Schrader Creek watershed of southern Bradford County. This area around state game lands 12 and 36 is in the heart of Marcellus Shale gas development. Over the last few weeks we have made several overnight trips here and sampled 6 named streams of which four had trout, and 2 were severely impacted from acid mine drainage and had no trout. During this time we have also sampled 43 un-named tributaries in Schrader Creek watershed. We have found brook trout in a large number of un-named tributaries in the watershed. Our data primarily shows that un-named tributaries will be either dry or if the hold water they have trout present. Last week we were extremely surprised to find brook trout in an unlikely looking stream (Un-named tributary 64346) in the town of Laquin (see picture 1). After arriving at the stream we found the stream had lots of sediment and little water flow. (see picture 2). However, after taking water quality measurements, we found that the stream was cold, and had good pH so it may be fed by some springs and had good water quality that it might hold trout. We began to electroshock the 1st pool and to our surprise we found several small brook trout in that pool and throughout the rest of the 100m section (picture 3). All total we found over 20 brook trout ranging in size from 2 inches to up to almost 6 inches (picture 4). This discovery of just goes to show us that we should judge a stream by its outward appearance that we need to look at the water chemistry and actually sample a stream to determine if it is a good quality stream.


Picture 1. Location of Un-named tributary 64346 on a USGS topographic map

6 (2)

Picture 2. Un-named tributary 64346 in near the mouth of Schrader Creek in Laquin, Bradford County.


6 (1)

Picture 3. Finding brook trout in the 1st few meters of Un-named tributary 64346.


Picture 4. Completing our sampling in Un-named tributary 64346.


The Long Cold Days of Late July

On Tuesday of this past week, we revisited the Bells Gap Watershed as part of our ongoing work on a project trying to develop a conservation plan that addresses threats to the health and proliferation of newly discovered brook trout populations (for more info see Bells Gap Headwater Project under the about tab). The biggest threat is that a number of the sub-watersheds have abandoned and reclaimed shallow and deep mines land within their watersheds.

We visited two adjacent streams and their watersheds: Green Springs — with no abandoned mine drainage (AMD) within its watershed, and Tubb Run — which has significant AMD within its watershed.

Access to these sites is a little difficult and it required a decent amount of hiking and elevation change (see below map). We set out to sample 6 locations (labelled on map below) accessed via hiking a large loop (~5 mi.) through both watersheds (red-dashed line on map below). We arrived at our parking location (labelled VAN on map) around 930 AM. We then packed up all of our gear and Jen, Nicole, Allison, Brad and I headed towards Tubb Run.

Bells Gap topo

Topo map showing Tubb Run (on left) and Green Springs Run (on right) with six sampling locations denoted and hike route outlined in red-dashed line.

We first sampled Tubb Run and found (as anticipated) the pH to be quite acidic due to the influence of upstream AMD. Presumably as a result of acidic waters, we found no brook trout at sites (1) and (2). To our surprise, we did catch 6 brook trout at site (3) on Tubb Run where the pH was still 4.93 (a pH of 7 is neutral and the pH scale is logarithmic…so a pH of 4.93 is quite acidic).


Picture of Tubb Run at sampling point (3) where six brook trout were caught in a 100-m reach

After hiking past the confluence of the two streams, we arrived at our first stream site (4) on Green Springs Run. At this site we caught 21 Brook trout and found the stream pH to be much more neutral. Further upstream on Green Springs site (5) we caught even more brookies, 42 to be exact. At our final site on Green spring (6), we didn’t catch any trout (which we believe to be due to insufficient water-as flow was quite low).


Where’s Waldo? A Picture of Allison hiking between sites

While we collected quite a bit of other data (stream water chemistry, macros, collected samples for Hg analysis), differences are apparent from observing fish data alone. These adjacent watersheds are very similar (size, slope, forested, geographic location, etc.), except for AMD influence. Comparing fish across the streams, we caught a total of 6 brookies at Tubb Run to our 63 brookies at Green Springs. It is this kind of stark contrast that makes the ecological “cost “ of our past energy extraction (coal) in this area more real, and gives me pause projecting towards future ecological “cost” associated with Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction.

Upon arriving back at the van (at 11pm) and packing up for our drive home, I couldn’t help but reflect upon what part of this 16 hour day was most challenging to our team. At this point in the summer, everyone works well together, is very capable of carrying large/heavy packs, hiking long distances, working long days, sampling after dark, and surviving largely on snacks and “trout adrenaline” until we finish. However, one thing we aren’t accustomed to is working in the cold….and it was cold for July. The night before the weather said it was going to drop to 50 degrees F, and when we arrived to our first site for the day, it wasn’t much warmer. While things did warm up through the day, everyone kept their long sleeves on, and at our last site (which we sampled largely after dark), it was cold enough to see your breath and get chilled. Now this would be normal if it were early fall or late spring, but we are in late July when the weather is supposed to be hot and sticky, and that is what our bodies are anticipating. While the cooler weather made hiking between sites quite comfortable, it made the remainder of our long field day of in-stream work (in the 12 degrees Celsius stream water) a little chilly for late July.

Chris Grant



Yesterday started the first day of sampling stream water for Mercury (Hg) for the Marcellus and Mercury project. Three FIELD Teams set out to different locations of the state to visit 11 streams for the day.


Picture of sign showing 4.0 million gallon-average daily consumption of water (mostly for fracking) by Seneca Resources

Jenn and I ventured back into the “Lions Den” – an area of State Forest and State Game Lands Northwest of Emporium that is highly utilized by Seneca Resources for Marcellus shale natural gas extraction.

If you recall from previous posts, there is a significant presence from Seneca workers, truckers, and a security force in this area (e.g. kiosks and checkpoints along state forest roads), which hindered our progress. Last time we visited this area we were driving a van with “Juniata College” written on the side, which was effectively announcing that we were “outsiders” not involved in the Marcellus shale development/extraction. Once we passed one security kiosk and were asked who we were, where we were from, and what we were doing….all subsequent kiosks and many Seneca employees knew more about us, than we did about them or their works status.


Example of a security kiosk set-set up along state forest roads and at wellpads. We observed these units are moved around quite frequently, depending on activity in the area.

This time was different. Because we were going in multiple teams, I drove my personal vehicle. My vehicle happened to be a 16 year old full-sized pickup truck with a Wyoming front license plate. The difference in perception by everyone we encountered was almost unbelievable. Instead of questioned looks, we got nods and waves by employees, and security personal waived us through without a second look. As we drove past one security checkpoint with the window down, we were even told to “have a nice evening guys” as were leaving for the day.

So, what was the difference? Camouflage-I was driving a vehicle that matched the general description of most of the workers vehicles. We blended in, looked like we belonged, didn’t draw any unnecessary attention to ourselves, and as a result were quite efficient in getting to 5 streams largely unnoticed. In biology, mimicry (or more specifically mimesis) is when an organism uses camouflage to blend in with its surroundings in order to dupe its predators. For example, insects may look like twigs or branches, or brook trout have coloration patterns that help them blend into the bed of the stream.  In both cases, this allows the organisms stand a better chance of going undetected and surviving in their environment.

Greenlee Run Mouth Brook11

Picture showing brook trout camouflage

In some ways this is exactly what happened with us yesterday, we were using mimicry to help us remain undetected, survive, and thrive in our environment. I have to laugh at the irony that the very subject matter I teach about in the classroom played out with us in the Lions Den.

Stay tuned for more,

Chris Grant  



Looking back and moving forward

Looking back, over the past two weeks we have spent significant time visiting a number of streams in the Juniata River watershed as part of the Unassessed Waters Project. The aims of this project are to document fish assemblages in previously unassessed streams, in hopes of finding naturally reproducing brook/brown trout that would allow for reclassification of streams and long-term protection of these populations and watersheds.


Picture of a bucket of brook trout captured while working on the Unassessed Waters Project

Since the start of summer, we have assessed 70 streams across central and northern PA to date, and 22 of these we found wild trout populations; allowing for probable reclassification within the coming year. Our goal is to assess over 115 streams for this project by the end of summer.  To find out more details about this aims of this project, check out the description for “Finding Brookies” under the ABOUT tab.

Moving forward, this week we are starting STREAM WATER WEEK. Sounds harmless enough, but it is arguably the busiest few days of our summer work on the Marcellus and Mercury project. Over the course of 2.5 days we aim to visit 25 stream sites to collect water samples that will be analyzed for Mercury (Hg) concentration.


Picture showing team effort in the lab to filter and prep samples for Hg analysis

Solid teamwork, attention to detail, and collaboration are absolutely necessary to ensure success. More specifically, we start Monday morning with three FIELD teams going to different stream sites (at varied distances from Juniata). Teams return at varied times and an additional LAB team is prepped and ready to filter and preserve water samples for later analysis. The first FIELD team usually arrives back at the lab late afternoon, and successive FIELD teams arrive every few hours. Shortly before the first FIELD team arrives back at Juniata, the LAB team “starts” their day and they work into the wee hours of the morning (with help from the returning FIELD teams). We aim to keep this up for 2.5 days, so that we can process and prep all samples for overnight shipment (by end of day Wednesday) to our collaborators at United States Geological Survey (USGS) Mercury Research Laboratory in Wisconsin. This type of quick turn-around time is necessary to ensure quality samples and valid data.

field Hg

Picture showing sample collection by the by FIELD team


Picture showing sample filtration by the by LAB team

There are four different measures of Hg we look for in stream water. First off we are interested in both organic (MeHg) and inorganic (THg) forms of mercury in stream water (for more information check out previous post entitled Why Mercury?). We are also interested in knowing what percentage of these forms are dissolved in the stream water (like sugar in coffee) vs. particulate (like backwash in your coffee). This is done by using a filtration setup that separates out the particulate on a filter, and allows the dissolved to pass through. Then for each stream, we send a bottle and a filter to the USGS to be analyzed for MeHg and THg. Once there, the USGS uses different methods to determine concentrations among these forms (for more information: http://wi.water.usgs.gov/mercury-lab/)

In addition to the tight schedule, long hours, and field stories generated from this experience, there are also interesting terms associated with this work. Here are two:

clean hands dirty hands– I remember first learning about this methodology and thinking that this name was quite peculiar, and wondered whether I would get to be the clean or dirty hands in this procedure. In actuality, this is a simple, but important method of collection and preparation of samples that helps to keep contamination risk low. (http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2000/ofr00-213/manual_eng/collect.html#clean)

teflon– while most people have heard of this in reference to cooking eggs with a non-stick frying pan, for our purposes this is referring to a high density plastic that we use to ensure no contamination/alteration of Hg concentration in water samples.

Stay tuned this coming week for some short, but interesting blog posts at odd hours from the field and in the lab.

Chris Grant


Young of Year

While working on the Bells Gap Headwaters Project earlier this summer we were joined by two avid fly fisherman, Todd and Noah Davis, who spent the day working along side us. In addition to the significant help with our field work, they had a wealth of knowledge about this watershed, it’s history, and the best places to drop a fly in the water. Todd, an accomplished poet and English and Environmental Science Professor at Penn State, shared this poem entitled Young of Year (partially inspired by his time in the Bells Gap watershed) with us and has allowed us to post it on wildsonfrack. We hope you enjoy.


Young of Year



Salvelinus fontinalis



By the time you hold the native in your hands it is you who has been caught; you who shines, and feels like silver; you who came, long ago, from water; you who suddenly can’t live without this beautiful river.

                                                                                                            —David James Duncan



The water’s footsteps descend the stairs

of the mountain, digging pools

where native brook trout feed and lay down

their seed in redds, where even more water

forces its way up through gravel

ushering in the young-of-the-year.


Springs rise everywhere in this stream,

struggling to forgive us the mines we tunneled

and left behind in a century we try to forget.

Part way up the mountain acid mine drainage

seeps from the punctured side of the ridge.

Iron sulfate sweeps down and banks

its orange flames in a grotesque tongue

of deceit. Scientists call it a “kill zone.”

Nothing lives in its wake. We walk

more than a mile downstream

before we see the first crayfish

and further to find a lone brookie.


I spend most of my time searching

for these native fish. My wife asks

what I wish to do with them.

It’s not about hunger, although

a few times each year I build

a small fire in a ring of stone, melt

butter in a cast iron skillet. How easily

the pink and white flesh departs

from needle-thin bones and fingers

bring quivering meat

to the tongue, sweet muscle

that lashed the body to the current

and now fixes itself to the threads

of my flesh.



I suppose another kind

of hunger causes me to cradle

them, to long for a connection

with that life hidden

in rock-seams, the breach

of boulders, white foam

of oxygen fashioned by water

falling over downed beeches

and hemlocks.


At fifty my eyes have begun to fail.

Before it all goes dark

I want to take in

the dimensions of each fish,

arrange their bodies on moss beds

and capture what I’ve missed

in a photograph. I’ll return to

these pictures when sleep

offers no reverie as improbable

as the dream of creation

and the forever-shifting fantasy

of evolution that caused this Atlantic char

to convert, to become landlocked

in a creek most mapmakers ignore.


We all worship something.

I’ll take the beauty and strength

of these fish, holy and godlike,

with backs vermiculated

so you can’t see them as they fan

above strewn rocks at your feet.


I’ve caught myself praying to them,

hoping such prayers might help them

save themselves, and because I can’t

escape the religion of my youth,

I still believe God is one, or at least three-

in-one, the world drenched by the Holy

Spirit of this fish’s colors.



Stepping along the bank,

I crush wild mint with my boot.

The fragrance rises into the June air,

reminding me of the mint we grew

at the back steps of the farmhouse

and the friend who would drape

his fish in these pungent

leaves at the bottom

of his creel, keeping the fish

fresh for the evening meal.


Consider each cell trembling

in my hand as I hold this precious

fish that gives me faith; or the scales

that cover its side and quake as it fights

at the end of my line; or the life

that runs through rushing water,

and the gravity that forces that water

down the slope of this mountain

in which these ever-moving bodies

bless us with their unceasing


If you’ve been in a room

when someone dies

after a long illness,

then you know how

sight recedes, how

the dying fade from

the physical body, the silence

somehow different: not the lack

of sound but its absence.


In high school I read about

the transmigration of souls,

and later in college

about how the sun would go out

and the earth would cease to be.

I wonder where these souls will go

when that day comes.



Here the hermit thrush breaks

the stillness as it praises

the river and all those that reside

within its banks. I’ve seen the bird’s notes

written in a field guide as oh, holy holy,

ah, purity purity, eeh, sweetly sweetly.

Who could argue with that?


I wish I could sing a few of the bird’s notes,

but only a croak flies out of my mouth.

As vast as the green world seems

when I’m inside this seam of forest

that was nearly destroyed,

I know we’ve been left a fragment

of what ought to be here.


So many of us have the urge to travel

long distances, to escape the place

we were born or find ourselves

consigned to. I don’t drive my pickup

more than ten miles in any direction.

The news of the universe I’m interested in

is written on the sides of these fish.


At the edge of the riffle’s white curling

I count three brookies looking up

for a terrestrial to float by, a chance to dart

skyward, to sip the surface with open jaws.

As these fish grow older, longer in tooth,

I understand better what Wang Wei wrote

after the death of Yin Yao: Of your bones

now buried white cloud, this much remains

forever: streams cascading empty

toward human realms.