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Field of Streams

Josh Mulhollem, aquatic invasive species biologist and college alumus, applies ecology and public outreach to control the spread of aquatic invasive species.

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Josh Mulhollem remembers his fascination with aquatic resources beginning at an early age. The son of an avid outdoorsman, Mulhollem spent much of his youth in central Pennsylvania developing the same passion. "I loved the outdoors and anything water-related, including fishing and walking around wetlands when we were camping, as well as catching frogs, turtles, and anything that squirmed."

When it came time for Mulhollem to select a college, Penn State's wildlife and fisheries program seemed a natural choice.

"The curriculum was very real-world focused. It taught me how complex and multidimensional the fields of fisheries management and aquatic ecology are. Before that I'd never thought of a lake or river as having social components as well as ecological and economic components. Management means considering all three."

Mulhollem also applied his classroom education and honed his fieldwork skills as a research technician for a Penn State trout movement study, learning what it meant to be an aquatic ecologist implementing tools of the trade such as electrofishing, behavioral observations, and stream measurements.

After graduating from Penn State in 2008, Mulhollem decided to pursue his master's degree in natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois.

In addition to his own fisheries research on thermal impacts in Midwest power plant reservoirs, Mulhollem also assisted with a research project on invasive Asian carp in the Illinois River. The project introduced Mulhollem to the discipline of invasive species management, which quickly came in handy in 2013 when he applied for the position of regional aquatic invasive species supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

For the next two years, Mulhollem coordinated a team of technicians who inspected watercraft for invasive species and educated the public on invasive species--and frequented Wyoming's renowned fly fishing streams in his spare time. In 2015, he assumed his current position as an aquatic invasive species biologist for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. The state's invasive species program addresses harmful, non-native species that threaten the ecology of Vermont's inland lakes and waterways, including its largest water body, Lake Champlain.

"It's a fun, rewarding, challenging, and sometimes unpredictable field, and I find I really enjoy that," says Mulhollem. "My favorite thing is the multidimensional aspect of the job. Some days I'm an outreach specialist. Some days I'm a public relations person. Some days I'm an aquatic ecologist. Some days I'm a fisheries biologist. Some days I need to be all of those things at once."

Mulhollem's statewide duties include monitoring the impacts of existing invasive populations, organizing control efforts to impede the spread of invasives, and educating community members about how they can help by recognizing invasives and taking precautions to clean boats and watercraft of invasive materials that could be transported to other waterways.

"The adage that 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' is very true in invasive species management. Once you have a species somewhere, they're almost impossible to eradicate, so we focus resources on ensuring they don't spread," explains Mulhollem. "The best tool we have in spread prevention is outreach and public education."

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Looking back now at the varied work experiences he's had since attending the College of Agricultural Sciences, Mulhollem believes there is great opportunity for upcoming professionals.