By Park Baker
Staff Writer 

Trout Unlimited Receives Funding For River Study – Brevard NC


The Pisgah chapter of Trout Unlimited has secured funding for an environmental impact study on the Davidson River.

Graduate students from Clemson University, under the guidance of a professor of entomology, will study the populations of macro invertebrates, such as the mayfly, caddis and stone flies, that live on the river, so that they can determine the health of the river. These insects are a great indicator species, and a similar study was conducted about 13 years ago.

Mike Mahalas, president of the local Trout Unlimited chapter, said the real value from the study comes from seeing how things change over time, rather than looking at one point in time.

They will be able to see how factors such as sedimentation, climate change, droughts, etc., impact the river and the food chain.

“This study will be far more exhaustive than the last one,” said Mahalas. “The study will be two years long, but we pick dozens of sampling sites along the river and take samples once a month for two years. They will be preserved, counted and identified, and then based on that we will analyze the results.”

Mahalas said that anyone can see changes on the river, notably the loss of the hemlock trees, which favor the riparian areas of mountain waterways, but are nearly gone due to the invasive and devastating wooly adelgid. The hemlock trees shade the water, cooling it and providing cover for trout and other aquatic animals.

The U.S. Forest Service has committed $20,000 for the study, which will leave Trout Unlimited to find the rest of the funding for the $42,000 bill.

Dr. John Morse, professor of entomology at Clemson University, said that studying the insects is the best way to determine the health of the river because the water is constantly in motion, which can flush pollutants before a scientist can even take samples.

Morses’s area of expertise is aquatic insects, and he said when studying living organisms, their community structure will directly reflect recent events like a flood or the recent presence of a pollutant.

“Some insects are tolerant and others can’t handle pollution,” he said. “Some are moderately able to deal with it. In general, there are hundreds of species of insects in these groups; the mayfly, caddis and stonefly see the greatest sensitivity to pollution.

“Within a population, within an order, there is a lot of variation.

“On average, these do not handle pollution as well as things like beetles.”

Morse said that one of the pollutants detected in excess during that last study was fish excrement from the fish hatchery.

He said that downstream it created problems, including reduced oxygen for the entire food chain.

The study will begin this fall when the Clemson graduate students return to school. Morse has also recruited help from Brevard College students and faculty as well.

To learn more about the Pisgah chapter of Trout Unlimited, visit


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