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Frye: Research projects study unique topics

| Saturday, July 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

When it comes to nature, someone's always studying something.

No project is too small, too focused, too minute. One researcher might be looking at home ranges of flying squirrels while another examines how grassland songbirds relate to suburban sprawl.

Game species get their share of attention, too.

It's often interesting stuff.

Word of several unique projects has come across the desk recently, though.

The people at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Berks County — in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and others — used goats this summer in an attempt to control Asian stiltgrass in their forests.

Imported to the United States in 1919, stiltgrass is pesky when it gets into the woods. It forms dense stands and, in so doing, chokes out native plant and tree species and limits wildlife. “Even deer won't eat it,” said Todd Bauman, the sanctuary's director of land and facilities.

Enter the goats.

The first group put into an enclosed area in the woods wasn't familiar with it and wouldn't eat it. A second group of goats known to have grazed on it before did.

They've since been removed, and scientists are measuring how effective they were and whether they might have other applications.

The Game Commission, meanwhile, is following another creature.

The agency, in cooperation with the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, placed a video camera around the neck of an adult cow elk. The goal is to see what the animal is eating.

The Commission does a lot of habitat enhancement work in the state's 3,500-square-mile elk range and believes “habitat quality directly influences elk pregnancy rates, survival, calf recruitment and the distribution of elk.”

It also believes the work reduces elk-human conflicts by concentrating the animals in areas with fewer people.

But what do the elk think?

That's what the camera may show. Commission officials said the camera will record audio and video footage at specific times each day, showing what type of food and cover the animal is selecting.

The collar is designed to fall off after about 75 days, at which point the commission will send it back to the manufacturer so the recordings can be retrieved.

On the fishing front, researchers from Penn State have inserted wire tags in smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River to see what they're up to.

Maybe you've never fished the Susquehanna. But at one time it was considered the premier riverine smallmouth fishery on the East Coast.

That's not so now. Something has caused bass populations there to decline. There's been speculation that raised water temperatures — attributable to wastewater, agricultural runoff, industrial effluent or something else — may be impacting spawning success.

The idea is to see if following tagged fish — 40 have gotten the radio transmitters so far, with plans to give them to 45 more — can shed light on where they're are going, what habitats they're using and what's happening.

It's all interesting stuff.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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