Studying Chinook Salmon in Big Creek
Opportunities for hands-on, research-based learning abound within the College of Natural Resources. The Taylor Ranch Field Station Undergraduate Research Scholar Award is just one example of how our students benefit from our groundbreaking facilities, outdoor classrooms, and overall commitment to learning by doing. Working with a faculty adviser, this scholarship program (also called the DeVlieg Undergraduate Research Award) gives recipients the opportunity to design a research proposal on a topic they choose. They then test their hypotheses in the field, write a scientific report of their research findings, and publish and or present their research to peers and faculty.
Dean Holecek, a fishery and wildlife resources student and a 2006 Taylor Ranch scholarship recipient, wanted to explore why Chinook salmon populations have declined throughout much of the Pacific Northwest. To do this, he looked at an area that is has some of the highest quality rearing habitat available for salmon populations, the Big Creek drainage in the Middle Fork Salmon River. The overall goal of this project was to quantify key aspects of Chinook, including consumption, growth, survival and movements, and identify relationships between habitat availability and salmon performance.
It is well known that the mortality in Chinook salmon most often occurs during the early life of these populations. Yet despite its significance, it remains an under-studied portion of the Chinook life cycle. Dean felt this is a research area that should be emphasized and took action along with his faculty adviser, Dr. Kennedy, assistant professor in the College of Natural Resources.
He studied various characteristics of selected sections of the river while collecting attribute information, such as: water depth, water velocity, substrate, temperature cover, and more. The impacts of this research project and others like it are poised to have a profound effect on Chinook populations throughout the Northwest.
By working to identify habitat preferences for age-0 Chinook salmon, this research will help fisheries managers in the conservation, restoration, and quantification of suitable rearing habitat for juvenile Chinook salmon, with the potential to improve populations across the regions.
Dean Holecek, a fishery and wildlife resources student, and Dr. Kennedy, assistant professor in the College of Natural Resources.