October 21, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 247

Bessemer biology class: A river runs through it

BESSEMER — Recently, biology students at the A.D. Johnston High School in Bessemer spent the morning learning about watersheds and forestry while at Powdermill Creek. 

Submitted photo
U.S. Forest Service fisheries biologist John Pagel, from left, and Bessemer high school sophomores Kayla Coleman and Jayda Wrobelewski catch stunned trout while in Powdermill creek.

The annual event exposes students to wildlife and fisheries biology in addition to forest ecology and succession. 

According to biology teacher Dave Rowe, “the partnership that has developed between the school, the U.S. Forest Service, private businesses and community members has really paid big dividends. When my students see the practical application of what we talk about in the classroom in a real world setting, they see biology from a new perspective.” 

According to USFS Wildlife Biologist, Brian Bogaczyk, “ultimately part of the mission of the USFS is education and when we help teach students about ecology and forestry they learn the value of these resources and they are more likely to want to protect and use them in a sustainable way.” 

The water was 8-12 inches higher this year than last and as a result, fewer non-game species were caught, according to USFS fisheries biologist John “JP” Pagel.

“The faster moving water creates a habitat niche where the non-game species that we sometimes find were not as common as some years,” said Pagel. “This year for example, we caught 21 brook trout and seven sculpin.”  “We also caught and released the biggest brook trout ever sampled on our field trip at a whopping 13.5 inches.”

Bogaczyk told students that, “the changing conditions found in a stream create a give and take situation where the stream changes and may favor some species over others during a given period of time.

“Now, the area that we sample favors game species such as brook trout because of the cold, fast moving water and the ample shade and undercut banks,”  he said. “Ten years ago this same area was a meadow due to the activity of beavers and the game species such as brook trout were less common and fish such as creek chubs, black nosed dace and white suckers were more common.” 

Forester Harry Collins explained to students a forest needs to be managed.

“When you survey a stand of trees, you try and cut out the trees with defects and let the trees without defects grow until they are ready for harvest,” Collins said.

From a student’s perspective the trip was not only fun, it was a great opportunity to learn. 

Sophomore Brad Kitto said, “I learned that there are even carnivores in the bug world and they need to be there for the fish to survive.” 

Sophomore Destinee Rosemurgy commented that, “the aquatic invertebrates found in the stream determine what other species can live there.” 

Sophomore Amber Aldridge said, “I learned about aquatic invertebrates, where they live and how they stick to rocks so they don’t float down the stream and get eaten.” 

Sophomore Payton Seppanen said that she learned that, “if I pop balsam sap bubbles into a tin can with water and boil it I can breathe the vapors and clear up plugged sinuses.”

Rowe saw the trip as a great success, too. He commended the efforts of all the participants and added that, “this community really cares about the youth in the area. By working together we were able to accomplish great things.”