Purdue students study Iron County streams

IRON RIVER — Students from Purdue University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources were back in Iron County in May as part of an ongoing study of the Iron River and the long-term effects area mining has had on area streams.

As a final step, students presented their findings for the May 12-17 survey period to the public at the Windsor Center in Iron River on their final day in Iron County.

For the past 33 years, Purdue University students have annually come to Iron County to work on the study. The class this year — part of the Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Forestry and Wildlife and Biodiversity programs — had a record 25 students.

Dr. Maria Sepulveda and Dr. Tyler Hoskins lead the group. Sepulveda has been coming to Iron County 17 years, Hoskins for four.

“The central objective of this class is to assess the ecological health of the Iron River,” Hoskins said. “It has a lot to do with the wildlife that is living in the river, but also the habitat around the river and the chemical characteristics of the water. All of that combined to determine how healthy that system is.”

Students start the class with the hypothesis that historical mining has had — and continues to have — a negative impact on the health of the streams.

Along with evaluating the quality of the water, students collected samples of insects and fish. With the fish, students assessed the population, general health and nutritional and reproductive condition.

As a part of the course, students spent the first day at the Iron County Historical Museum learning about the history of mining in Iron County and were able to tour the Dober Mine site.

Students also got to try their hand at fishing on Hagerman Lake, learning the importance of the practice to the economy and how much revenue fishing generates for conservation and fisheries management.

Hoskins said the results defied student expectations — a paradox was more fish per hour were sampled in waters directly downstream from the historical mining sites.

The conclusion is mining had no dramatic effects on any of the things they measured, he said.

“The one message I have for people is it is amazing how resilient nature is and how resilient these ecosystems can be to an assault like that,” Hoskins said. “If you just give them the time and the space to recover and do the right things — like those mitigation ponds they have put in Iron River to slow the flow of that drainage into the river is clearly having a positive effect.”

Hoskins went on to say that at a time of mostly negative statistics about declining biodiversity and the effects of climate change, it was good to see a positive message and example of where human actions have clearly helped.

Those in the community who turns out to see the students present their data every year also can take away something less tangible.

“They are just excited to see young people who are enthusiastic about wildlife and conservation,” Hoskins said. “I have heard from the people that it is inspiring to see young people wanting to get into this field, in light of all the environmental challenges that we are facing.”


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