GRAMPIAN — About 10 months ago, vandals desecrated Bilger’s Rocks by spray painting the historic rock formations that are home to rare plants and unique ecosystems.
Now it is the scenic Bilger’s Run that has fallen victim to a criminal act as a piece of equipment used for tracking fish in the stream was removed.
Susquehanna River Basin Commission Mine Drainage Program Coordinator Tom Clark said the device known as a fish reader was taken from its spot near the bridge spanning Bilger’s Run on Bilger’s Rocks Road. He said a total of six readers have been placed in various locations throughout the stream’s watershed to help monitor the stream’s fish population, especially brook trout.
“Bilger’s Run was impacted for years by abandoned mine drainage. There are brook trout and other fish in various locales throughout the street and as the water is treated, it is hoped the fish will move back to those areas. The fish reader provides documentation of how fish are moving throughout the remediated stream.”
He estimated the loss of the fish reader at approximately $3,000 and about $5,000 with the wiring and other equipment it was connected to.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate student Jennifer Graves said she was using the fish reader to document Bilger’s Run’s fish population for her thesis, a requirement to earning her master’s degree in biology. She said she partnered with SRBC on the project and the data collected by the fish readers from July of last year through spring was to be included in her dissertation.
She said the station that was taken was currently offline so she did not lose any data. She said she visited the station in December and found everything to be fine. She came again Sunday as part of a trip to check her stations because of the recent heavy rains and found the unit missing.
Clark said Graves had placed small electronic tags in the fish that are able to be scanned by the fish reader and the information is saved.
“When the fish pass through we know what time and what type of fish it is,” he explained.
He said the purpose of the data is to be able to track the fish’s travel throughout the stream and determine if and when they are coming back to the impacted sections that are now being treated
He said the same site was vandalized about six months ago but nothing was taken. He said he and other researchers assumed a bear broke into the site, as bears are often attracted to the scent of the batteries used to operate the device. Now, he is wondering whether it was indeed a bear.
Clark said the state police have been contacted and a report filed. He said the fish reader units are insured but he believes a new location will be chosen when the fish reader is replaced. He is also considering adding cameras to help monitor the devices.
Bilger’s Rocks Association President Terry O’Connor said the alleged theft is disheartening to the association – a group that is made up of volunteers who fundraise to allow the park to remain open at no cost to visitors.
“We are trying to keep the place open for education and research and for the public’s enjoyment. We are all volunteers,” O’Connor said. “We can’t afford to have someone here to monitor things 24/7. People come here and do these things that don’t even make sense. Most people don’t even know what a fish reader is.”
O’Connor said many hours of work have taken place and more are planned in an effort to recondition Bilger’s Run after its waters were impacted by abandoned mine drainage. He said both the Clearfield County Senior Environmental Corp and Anderson Creek Watershed Association monitor the stream.
“There has been major research and effort put into bringing this trout stream back,” O’Connor continued.
The association is offering a reward that leads to the return of the fish reader or the arrest of those who are believed to have taken it. O’Connor said all information will be confidential.