Butler students learn environmental basics by raising trout

| Saturday, May 24, 2014, 3:13 p.m.

Getting a little wet and dirty is all in a day's work for Dave Andrews' students at Butler Junior High School.

After testing and recording the water quality and conditions, 45 students in grades seven and eight each released two or three brook trout fingerlings into Thorn Creek.

“I named mine Chris and Maria,” said Ethan Daller, 13, as Andrews used a small net to scoop fish from an aerated cooler into Daller's bucket.

Chris and Maria are named after Daller's friend and his friend's girlfriend, he explained. The seventh-grader then plodded down into the creek in his over-sized hip waders and gently released the fish into the wild.

The students capped off six months of work as they released 96 brook trout fingerlings into Thorn Creek Thursday as part of the Trout in the Classroom program, said Andrews, a science teacher.

The program, co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, allows students to raise brook trout from eggs to fingerlings while learning about watersheds, forestry, geology, biology and trout life cycles, said state Trout in the Classroom coordinator Amidea Daniel.

“The heart and soul of it is reconnecting students to cold water resources,” Daniel said.

The trout program at Butler Junior High School has grown since its inception six years ago, Andrews said.

The students manage two tanks of trout — a 55-gallon aquarium for the littlest trout and a 110-gallon aquarium for the bigger trout — and some students had to apply to get into the course this year.

About 150 students participate between Andrews' science classes and an enrichment science class that focuses specifically on trout.

“They absolutely love it,” Andrews said. “They're the first in line to get dirty and test the water.”

Every year is a new learning experience, Andrews said. Some years the survival rate is high and the fish grow big. Other years, like this year, the fish are growing a little slower.

Only about 2 percent of eggs laid by a female trout will survive to adulthood, Daniel said.

Trout in the Classroom is a nationwide program that began in Pennsylvania in 2006. For the first few years only a few dozen schools raised rainbow, brown and brook trout. In 2008, the state Fish and Boat Commission took over and changed the program to focus solely on raising brook trout.

This school year, there are 247 classrooms with an estimated 31,883 students participating statewide, Daniel said.

The Butler students have to test the fish tanks every day for water temperature and water quality. This year they added a hydroponics component which takes dirty water from the fish tank and feeds it into a trough that grows basil plants, Andrews said.

“We have a basil tree,” Andrews said. “It's like two feet high.”

Brook trout are cold water fish that are native to Pennsylvania's streams and waterways, but the native population has been hurt by abandoned mine runoff and sedimentation issues caused by logging, Daniel said. The fish are sensitive to temperature fluctuations and water quality.

Learning about brook trout and the environment they need to survive and thrive is critical so students understand the connection of watersheds to community health and well-being.

“If we don't have clean cold water for trout, eventually we don't have it for ourselves,” Daniel said. “If we're not managing our water properly and protecting the cold water streams, it flows into reservoirs and eventually comes into our communities. Resources are something that's always going to come back, so we have to protect them.”

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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