WSU Professor, Students Fish for Conservation

OGDEN, Utah – For the past three summers, if Weber State University assistant zoology professor Christopher Hoagstrom wasn’t teaching in his classroom, he and his students were trout fishing in creeks along the Wasatch Front. They did not fish for sport, however. They caught, documented and released the fish for conservation. 

The fishing trips were part of a creek-sampling project that started in 2008. A collaboration between

 Chris Hoagstrom

Hoagstrom and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR), the project spanned 31 small streams from Brigham City to Bountiful, Utah. During the expeditions, Hoagstrom and his students determined if fish were present. If so, they documented the quantity, type, size and age of the fish, and then the width, depth and flow of the stream. 

“From a conservation standpoint, it’s important to study our smaller creeks,” said Hoagstrom, WSU’s 2012 Gwen S. Williams Prize honoree for extraordinary work by faculty. “The more we know about what size creek it takes to support a trout population, the more we understand what the needs of the fish are. It’s also interesting just to visit these creeks. They’re small and oftentimes off the radar. To a degree, if no one looks, we’ll never know what’s there.” 

Hoagstrom and his students found that 14 of the 31 streams contained some species of trout, mostly rainbow but also brown trout and the Utah-native Bonneville cutthroat trout. They also gained a better understanding of the factors that contribute to a creek’s ability to support successful trout populations, thanks to research provided by WSU students Tyler Anderson of Farmington, Utah, and Madison Kingsford of Perry, Utah.

“In general, larger creeks that were less steep and had a high maximum drainage elevation were more likely to contain trout, but these features did not guarantee the presence of trout,” Anderson and Kingsford wrote in their research findings. “Wider and deeper creeks appeared to be more capable of supporting trout because of the increased amount of habitat in which the population can feed, breed and escape predation.”
Matt McKell, UDWR regional aquatic biologist, said the students’ information will help Wildlife Resources prioritize management activities in those streams and other regional waters. 

“With knowledge about the current status of fish distribution in the Wasatch Front streams – many of which had not been sampled during the previous two decades – we can better focus on native trout restoration, habitat enhancement and population monitoring,” McKell said.

Anderson and Kingsford also researched the impact of flooding and landslides on trout populations. Theses findings were also valuable to the UDWR. 

“An understanding of specific streams, the terrain through which they flow, and any tendency for landslides is useful to us from the standpoint of where we place management emphasis,” McKell said. “Streams that are prone to damaging floods would be ranked lower in terms of management priority than more stable systems. As an example, we are less likely to stock trout in a stream prone to landslides than other less- prone streams.”

The creek-sampling project also yielded another finding – the unusual discovery of one population of Lahontan cutthroat trout. After all but disappearing from Nevada’s Pyramid Lake in the early 1900s, the fish was introduced in Utah in the 1930s in an attempt to preserve the species. 

According to historical data collected by WSU students Tim Healy of Uintah, Utah, Jared Eames of Ogden, and Bryce Galbraith of Syracuse, a population of the Lahontan cutthroat trout was found in 1977 in the Pilot Peak Mountain Range in Box Elder County, Utah. Fish from this population were stocked in several streams across Northern Utah, including a stream in Weber County in 1986. Biologists believed the transfer was a failed attempt, as no offspring could be found. 

Healy, however, had heard that the population did still exist, so he set out to find it. The fish stories proved true. 

“The odds of finding the fish were against us, but we did,” Hoagstrom said. UDWR biologists confirmed the discovery. 
The creek-sampling project resulted in three student research posters presented at WSU’s Undergraduate Research Symposium and Celebration, WSU Day at the Capitol, and the 2012 National Conference on Undergraduate Research, hosted by WSU.

“This has been a wonderful experience for students,” Hoagstrom said. “Undergraduate research makes you think more deeply. Learning to collect data correctly is important, but the key is what you then do with that information. I know I’ve done my job when a student says, ‘If I could go back, I would have done this differently’ or ‘Here’s an extra thing I’d like to know.’ That means they’re thinking about it; they’ve made it their own.” 

The project was just as beneficial to the UDWR. 

“This has been a great opportunity for collaboration between the UDWR and Weber State, particularly with Chris, a relationship which will no doubt continue into the future,” McKell said.

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Christopher Hoagstrom, assistant zoology professor

Tyler Anderson, 2012 WSU graduate
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