JDHS grad experiences fisheries biology firsthand

Project includes helping with hooligan, lugging trees, surveying Admiralty Island amphibians

Posted: Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Little fish will be hiding in some people's Christmas trees, but not to worry. The old, dead trees are at the bottom of lakes.

Julia Nave, who holds a fisheries biology scholarship for the summer, and fisheries biologist Pete Schneider of the U.S. Forest Service in Juneau, were among several people Friday who placed the trees in the Dredge Lakes area.

Some lakes there, between Back Loop Road and the Mendenhall Glacier, are important rearing habitat for coho salmon. The fish arrive from the ocean in the fall, swim to the headwaters of Dredge Creek and work their way down to the Dredge Lakes area, Schneider said.

Fish born there in the spring stay for a couple of years before heading out to sea, he said.

In the meantime, the fry have to keep from getting eaten. Hence the underwater trees. About 100 fry can hide out in one tree, Schneider said.

Nave, who graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School this spring, is one of 63 students in the nationwide Hutton Junior Fisheries Biology Program, sponsored by the American Fisheries Society and funded by several government agencies.

The Juneau Ranger District agreed to participate this year and drummed up interest from local students.

Schneider, who mentored a student in 2001, said it helped him focus on the basics of fisheries biology by explaining to the student the purpose of projects.

"'You're going to help me on this project, and this is why we're doing the project,' " he said.

Nave's scholarship is for $3,000 and involves at least eight weeks of work, such as lugging trees into Moose Lake, helping with a hooligan project in Berners Bay, and surveying amphibians on Admiralty Island, which Nave seemed doubtful about.

"Actually, there's lots of newts out there," Schneider said, his face brightening. "It's kind of fun."

The scholarship is basically a good outdoors job that beats working in a gift shop, Nave said.

She became interested in fisheries biology in Clay Good's oceanography course. Nave and other students incubated coho in Steep Creek. But Nave, 17, isn't sure she'll study biology in college. She's going to spend a year in Europe first.

On Friday, she and Schneider took a pickup into the Dredge Lakes area and boosted into the truck bed some ruddy, skeletal Christmas trees that had been spared from the landfill's chipper.

Nave asked Schneider if they were going to submerge any trees in the middle of the lake.

"You want to put it where the fry hang out," he said. "They hang out on the edges."

Nave grabbed two trees at the base of their trunks, dragged them down the bank of Moose Lake and waded in, joining Schneider. He pointed out a place where salmon had dug a redd, a nest for eggs.

"If they sense enough stream flow coming in that will deliver a steady stream of oxygen, they'll choose that as a site to deposit their eggs," Schneider said.

It was one of those clammy mornings when the clouds are very low, hiding the mountains, and the water is still. The green trees around the lakes provided the only bright color.

Schneider is relatively young, 34, but joked that he felt old by comparison. Still, they were comfortable in each other's company. On his dashboard, Schneider has a bobbing pair of sumo wrestlers, which one would guess is not government-issue.

Walking down the dirt road next to the lake, Schneider reached down, claimed a nagoonberry and offered it to Nave. She wondered aloud if it was poisonous.

"I'm pretty sure they're all right," Schneider said.

"Pretty sure?"

"Just take a little bite then," Schneider suggested.

As they were filling sandbags at the lakeshore - Nave volunteered to shovel - Schneider teased her about teenagers' short attention spans.

"Did you read the article? Or maybe you started it and didn't finish it," he said.

Nave waded out in the lake and tried draping a sandbag over the tree trunk, but it slipped off and the tree broke the surface. Then she tied the bag on the trunk and walked into water over her waist, but the tree kept popping up.

Fisheries biology isn't all glory, Schneider advised.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.

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