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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Wildlife Students Work to Restore Habitat at Area Lake

Students work to build basking platforms that will improve habitat for painted turtles at Kyle Lake in Jefferson County.

DuBOIS – Students in the Penn State DuBois Wildlife Technology Program are helping to improve the natural habitat in and around an area lake. The students have joined in the efforts of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Jefferson County Conservation District to provide habitat development at Kyle Lake, a man-made body of water located in Washington Township, Jefferson County. Students recently helped representatives build turtle basking platforms that will be placed in the lake to help sustain the population of painted turtles there.

Most of the work is centered on providing cover and habitat for wildlife and fish species in and around the lake, such as catfish spawning boxes, as well as structures for bass and pan fish to use as cover.

The current work to build the turtle basking platforms will have the platforms ready for installation in the spring. The wooden structures will float on the water's surface, but will be tethered in place to blocks dropped on the lake's bottom.

"Turtles eat, then they climb out of the water and bask in the sun. They need this to thermo-regulate, "explained Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Habitat Manager Mike Swartz, who is also a graduate of the Penn State DuBois Wildlife Technology Program. "These also help the turtles avoid predators by giving them a place to bask out in the middle of the lake, instead of them being forced to go to the shore."

Swartz said Kyle Lake has long been a popular recreational area, and that a decline in some species of fish and wildlife in recent years has resulted in decreased recreational opportunities, such as fishing. Declines are attributed to the fact that it is a man-made lake, lacking some of the habitat characteristics of natural lakes. Current efforts are aimed at changing that.

"This is the first year of a five year project including the turtle platforms, catfish boxes, and more," Swartz said. "It seems like some populations have gone down, and we're trying to get that back up and keep the anglers happy."

Swartz further explained that even the turtle platforms double as a habitat for fish, since they provided shaded areas of the lake that some species seek out during warm weather.

Deb Wilson, manager of the Jefferson County Conservation District, said, "As a resource, Kyle Lake provides a lot of opportunities for recreation in our area, with things like fishing, kayaking and boating. We are looking for ways to improve it and make it an even better resource, and we're just really excited to be working with the Fish and Boat Commission and Penn State DuBois to do that."

With that partnership in mind, Swartz said, "It works tremendously well; if we don't have volunteers, these projects don't happen."

While the Penn State DuBois Wildlife Technology students are making these habitat improvement project happen, they're also learning valuable, real-world lessons that round out their entire educational experience. They are learning from professionals like Swartz, who graduated from the same program they're enrolled in, and is now putting his education to work.

Senior Instructor of Wildlife Technology Keely Roen said, "These hand-on activities are things the students will likely have to do as wildlife professionals, so they're getting the experience now and developing skills they'll always depend on throughout their careers. They also get to work with professionals in the field, network with them, and connect with them."

"I think this is really cool, because these things we're building will last for so long and have such an impact," said student Linsie Adams of Punxsutawney. "I got to help produce this and make an experience better for families who go out there."

Classmate Matt Duffus, of Mount Pleasant, PA, said, "This gives us hands-on experience, instead of just being in the classroom all the time; it's real field experience. Plus, it feels good to make a difference."

Anyone interested in learning more about the Wildlife Technology Program at Penn State DuBois is welcome to attend a Wildlife Visitation Day planned for 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 23. Register at http://dubois.psu.edu/visit or call 814-375-4720 for information.

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