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C of I researchers study the redband trout of Dry Creek

Southwest Idaho’s tiny Dry Creek contains more water than its name suggests, but only a little. Just a few feet across and less than a foot deep in most places, Dry is the kind of stream that makes one think “No way are there fish in there.”

But the fish are there, alright – native redband trout. And this summer, College of Idaho student Shelby Richins is doing her best to make sure the fish will always be there through her honors thesis project “Genetics, Movement, and Distribution of Columbia River Redband Trout in Dry Creek, Idaho.”

“I’ve always been interested in fish and wildlife,” said Richins, a senior biology major from Boise. “I care about these fish and I’d love to help their population and make sure that they persist and flourish here in Dry Creek.”

Richins is fulfilling her project as an intern for Trout Unlimited, which recently received a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation-Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions for Communities Grant to support the development of a community-based fisheries conservation project.  The goal of the project is to better understand the fish inhabiting one of the Boise River’s smallest tributaries. Genetic analysis has revealed that trout upstream of Dry Creek’s artificial waterfall and culvert – built decades ago to accommodate Bogus Basin Road – are genetically distinct from downstream trout, suggesting that the structures may be a barrier to trout dispersal.

“This project is important because the redband trout in Dry Creek are genetically pure,” said Dr. Chris Walser, a professor of biology at The College of Idaho who is helping lead the collaborative Dry Creek project. “Genetically pure populations of redband trout are rare in the Boise River watershed. It’s very exciting to have the opportunity to do this type of field research right in our own backyard, so close to The College of Idaho.”

Click here to see a gallery of photos from the Dry Creek project on the C of I Flickr page.

Walser, Richins and a team of volunteers are tackling the project using fishery technologies donated by Biomark, a Boise company specializing in the electronic identification of animals. After capturing fish using electrofishing equipment, Walser and Richins take a genetic sample, measure and record fish size and inject each trout with a small PIT (passive integrated transponder) Tag. Fish movement and distribution is monitored by two in-stream, solar-powered PIT Tag Antenna Systems. The team has tagged more than 300 fish to date, and at least 400 will be tagged to form the basis for Richins’ thesis.

 “This has been a great opportunity,” said Richins, who plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career in fisheries research. “I’m very lucky to have this research and career experience with Trout Unlimited.”

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another 11 Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.