Lee students conducting research for the Trout Unlimited project in the Southern Cherokee National Forest
Dr. Michael Freake, professor of biology at Lee University, has received a $20,525 grant from Trout Unlimited for a project that aims to identify streams within the Southern Cherokee National Forest that can support wild populations of native southern Appalachian brook trout.
Dr. Freake employs nine students as field technicians and one student as a researcher for the project’s mapping component. The students, under Dr. Freake’s supervision, will work with staff from Trout Unlimited and the Southern Cherokee National Forest.
"I got involved in this project because I love to fly fish and spend time in the beautiful mountain streams our native southern Appalachian brook trout can and should thrive in, but these streams have faced a long history of environmental impacts and damage that continue to limit their ability to support self-sustaining populations,” says Dr. Freake. “This is an opportunity to connect my passion for fly fishing with boots-on-the-ground conservation.”
The team will conduct large-scale environmental DNA sampling across 25 high-elevation streams within the national forest to determine whether trout are present. Using information from these surveys, Dr. Freake and his team will sample locations using electrofishing to confirm eDNA results and generate population data. In conjunction with the sampling, Lee students will work with staff from Trout Unlimited to install and monitor temperature loggers in 15-20 priority streams to help identify if water temperatures can support native brook trout.
“We couldn’t do this project without the funding and support from Trout Unlimited, and I am very proud to be a member of an organization that does so much good conservation work across the nation to support cold water fish and the habitats they occupy,” says Dr. Freake.
Trout Unlimited’s mission is to bring together diverse interests to care for and recover rivers and streams, so future generations can experience wild and native trout and salmon. Its vision is for communities across America to engage in the work of repairing and renewing the rivers, streams, and other waters on which the country depends.
For more information about Trout Unlimited, visit https://www.tu.org/.
For more information about this project or about Lee’s Department of Natural Sciences, call 614-8275.