UMD student gains practical experience in the field (and stream)

Geography program student Tommy Rawlyk augments his work in the classroom with DNR work.

Fishing, surfing and exploring the North Shore of Lake Superior has left a lasting impression on Tommy Rawlyk, a student of UMD’s College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences majoring in  Environment, Sustainability, and Geography

As a volunteer researcher and field analyst with the Minnesota DNR’s Lake Superior Area Fisheries Crew since last fall, Rawlyk is augmenting his work in the classroom with a hands-on internship in the field, in a place which he has felt deeply connected to his whole life. 

“My love for fishing came from my dad,” Rawlyk said. “He grew up fishing all along the North Shore. He had one of those packs that you could put a little kid or a baby in, and he would take me with him when he was fly fishing and it just grew from there.”

Rawlyk’s work with the DNR deals with Lake Superior and its tributaries, how they influence each other, and the fish that call them home. 

“We’ll collect skin samples and we will also tag them, so then if an angler up in Silver Bay catches a steelhead that we tag, we can see its migration pattern,” Rawlyk said. “And then overtime we can create this map and be able to better understand their lifecycle. There was actually one fish that came down from Ontario this fall, and it was caught in Grand Marais which was pretty impressive.”

Brown trout, brook trout, pink salmon, steelhead salmon, and sometimes even king salmon are all

Tommy Rawlyk works over a bucket of minnows.

 tagged and sampled by Rawlyk and his team. But it was the DNR’s work with the beautiful Coaster Brook Trout that especially excited Rawlyk. 

“It's one I’ve fished for my whole life,” Rawlyk said. “When I heard the DNR was doing work with it, I thought ‘Oh this is perfect!’ In the late 1800’s the population was almost wiped out, and it’s taken over a hundred years to actually get the population back up a little bit.”

Rawlyk says he hopes to find a job where he can combine his passion for nature with what he has learned in his studies, to do his part in protecting Lake Superior and its tributaries as well as the wildlife that call them home. 

“I want to look at how we can build this residential neighborhood near the headwaters of this stream, without having harmful chemicals flowing downstream and then into Lake Superior,” said Rawlyk. “How can we coexist as the population on the North Shore grows?”

It’s an important question at a time when cities around the world are already feeling the effects of climate change and trying to find ways to mitigate them. 

“Because Lake Superior is such a temperature stable body of water,” said Rawlyk, ”it keeps Duluth fairly cool. So we kind of check all the boxes for not being as affected by some of the natural hazards that will increase as the climate fluctuates and warms. So I’ve been wondering how we can maintain the fisheries we have in the lakes, and the populations of salmon and trout as our population grows.”

Rawlyk says he intends to stay in Duluth, to continue his work preserving and protecting Lake Superior and its tributaries and enjoying the natural beauty he’s developed such an appreciation for. 

“Lake Superior is a pretty amazing lake,” said Rawlyk. “It’s essentially an ocean, but it's all crystal clear fresh water. So there's a lot of trout and salmon that live there, as well as other species. Duluth is an interesting frontier. I really like being able to live in a modern town, a modern house, and being just a drive away from the wilderness.”

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