OGDEN -- Weber State University faculty member Chris Hoagstrom is a multitasker -- he's found a way to conduct local field studies in his area of interest, assist the state in its conservation efforts, train student researchers and beat the summer heat, all at the same time.
Hoagstrom, an assistant zoology professor, visits small -- and often isolated -- streams along the Wasatch Front between Brigham City and Bountiful. He and his students pull on waders to document the variety of fish, if any, in the more than 30 streams they have visited over the past three years.
"From a conservation standpoint, it's important to study our smaller creeks. The more we know about what size creek it takes to support a trout population, the more we understand what the needs of the fish are," Hoagstrom said.
"It's also interesting just to visit these creeks. They're small and oftentimes off the radar. To a degree, if no one looks, we'll never know what's there."
Spring 2012 graduate Tyler Anderson, 25, from Farmington, spent two summers collecting data with Hoagstrom.
"It was a good way to cool down, and I learned a lot about how to do research," said Anderson, who this fall begins medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"I think the experience gives me a better perspective on how research works. When, as a physician, I hear about research by some group, I can look at what they presented and have a sense of how objective and thorough their work was."
Hoagstrom, whose interests include ichthyology (the study of fish) and ecology, was new in Utah six years ago when he applied to the Utah Division of Natural Resources for a license to collect fish from the wild.
"They were interested and asked what I was going to do with it," Hoagstrom recalled.
"I was new here and didn't really know. One thing they suggested was this study. They said they didn't have the money or the manpower, but it might be interesting to me and helpful to them.
"It's been great for students, safe, convenient and located in the area."
Hoagstrom and his students visited 31 streams multiple times and found 14 that support fish, mostly rainbow but also brown trout and Bonneville cutthroat trout.
Hoagstrom used a backpack electrofisher that releases a weak current into the water, shocking fish so they could be netted and examined.
"We usually sample 100 meters of stream and do it twice to determine an estimate of the population size," said Hoagstrom, adding there was no long-term harm to the fish.
The teacher and students surveyed streams that were usually no wider than 15 feet and usually about 6 to 8 inches deep. Those with fish either had been stocked at some point or had become cut off from larger streams with fish populations.
Many streams that had been stocked at one time are now fishless, they found.
"In general, larger creeks that were less steep and had a high maximum drainage elevation were more likely to contain trout, but these features did not guarantee the presence of trout," Anderson and WSU student Madison Kingsford, of Perry, wrote in their research findings.
"Wider and deeper creeks appeared to be more capable of supporting trout because of the increased amount of habitat in which the population can feed, breed and escape predation."
The project also found a single population of non-native Lahontan cutthroat trout, descendants of those introduced in Utah in the 1930s after almost disappearing from Nevada's Pyramid Lake.
Utah fishermen's lore was that such a population existed, but there was no proof until Hoagstrom's stream surveys.
The creek-sampling project resulted in three student research posters presented at WSU's Undergraduate Research Symposium and Celebration, WSU Day at the Capitol, and the 2012 National Conference on Undergraduate Research, hosted by WSU.
Hoagstrom was a WSU 2012 Gwen S. Williams Prize honoree for extraordinary work by faculty.
Matt McKell, DWR regional aquatic biologist, said the students' information will help his agency prioritize management activities in those streams and other regional waters.
"With knowledge about the current status of fish distribution in the Wasatch Front streams, many of which had not been sampled during the previous two decades, we can better focus on native trout restoration, habitat enhancement and population monitoring," McKell said.
Hoagstrom said the stream-sampling study has been a valuable teaching tool for students.
"Undergraduate research makes you think more deeply," he said. "Learning to collect data correctly is important, but the key is what you then do with that information.
"I know I've done my job when a student says, 'If I could go back, I would have done this differently,' or 'Here's an extra thing I'd like to know.'
"That means they're thinking about it. They've made it their own."