Using Lidar to Save the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout

Photo courtesy of Joe Shaw

The National Park Service believe that lake trout were illegally introduced into Yellowstone Lake in the 1980’s. The lake trout are predators of the cutthroat trout whose native range in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming has been shrinking. The Park Service is now spending $2 million per year to locate and remove the lake trout using boats and gill nets in an effort to save the decimated cutthroat population.

Enter Joe Shaw, professor of electrical engineering in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering and co-author of a May 20 article describing the findings in the Journal of Applied Optics. In 2001 Joe collaborated with NOAA to use lidar to locate ocean fish. In 2004 he used a lidar sensor to fly Yellowstone Lake. The sensor required a multi-propellor aircraft which was expensive to use.

Over the next 10 plus years Joe has been working on reducing the size of the lidar sensor to make it more cost effective for the Park Service. His sensor can be flown in a single engine Cessna. During a recent flight Joe was able to locate clusters of lake trout with his new sensor to a depth of 26 feet.

“Two big plusses of using the lidar tool are that we could fly the whole lake in a couple hours and that we could detect any fish in shallow water, not just the ones that have transmitters,” which could save time and money, Patricia Bigelow, co-author and Yellowstone fisheries biologist said.

“I’m delighted that we can do something useful for the Yellowstone ecosystem, because it’s a special place,” Shaw said.

See the complete article by Marshall Swearingen of the Montana State University News Service.

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