Thursday, June 30, 2011

We Share One Place - Oregon's Endangered Species

A few years back, I had a request from a teacher for materials about endangered species. I searched my cabinets for FWS materials and could only come up with outdated material from over 20 years ago. Even though there is a wealth of information on the internet, there is no comprehensive piece focused on the species in our own backyard. At the time, I remembered having seen a draft booklet developed by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, geared to students in grades 4 through 7. I called up Nancy, one of the developers and we agreed that we should finalize the draft book, started nine years earlier. We decided to try to find the original files, update the information, and get it into distribution.

During our initial consultations, I was visiting with Nancy in her office and she pulled out a prototype of the book. Apparently only a handful of copies were even printed before the project was shelved, literally. She held the only copy left so gently and with such guard, I was afraid to even touch it, much less hold it. I laugh when I think back on that moment.

Fast forward more than 10 months later and the book is finalized with an initial printing of 300 copies. We felt that to maximize the effectiveness of this new resource it was important to do a targeted distribution plan. The plan is to provide 10 classrooms with 30 booklets (1 per student) and to make ourselves available as consultants to the teachers. This would include assisting with the outdoor activity and having a biologist speak to the students (should the teacher request it).

So far the book has been distributed to six schools in the Portland area. As the word gets out, I'm sure it will gain popularity as the new school year begins in September. if you are an educator interested in this invaluable resource, please contact us.

Submitted by Donna Allard

Monday, June 20, 2011

Outreach at Cape Horn Skye Elementary

Six Columbia River Fisheries Program Office employees set out for a morning of outreach at Cape Horn Skye School. Our intent was to entertain and educate 55 curious 1st graders. Little did we know how fun it would be! It was the first time our outreach program involved such a young group. We began our event with a very short introduction, then jumped right into a video that introduced bats to children. They were intrigued and made some funny comments throughout the video.

Next on the agenda was a Creatures of the Night Presentation. This also held their attention, but the comments kept coming. Following the video we split the class into two parts, Group A and Group B. Group A were sent to another room to dissect owl pellets. An overhead projection of possible bones to be found was portrayed for the students to compare their findings. Ok, this time we had to chuckle under our breath at comments made regarding the owl pellets. We had to reassure the students that the pellets had been sterilized. Not many realize that an owl regurgitate the pellets. Most believe it comes out the other end.

Group B were provided the opportunity to make fish prints. We supplied them with two real steelhead and a multitude of rubber fish, a rubber starfish, and a rubber turtle to make prints with. The students were great! They had a blast painting and were thrilled with their prints.

Many thanks to Donna Allard, our Outreach Fishery Biologist, that lead the event and thanks to Cape Horn Skye School for the opportunity to provide an outreach event for the first grade classes.

Submitted by Andrea Houts

Monday, June 13, 2011

First Ever CRFPO Open House

Last month, the Columbia River Fisheries Program Office (CRFPO) held its first ever ‘open house’. This event was targeted at local high school students to showcase careers in science as well as give them a closer look at some of the specific activities performed by our office.

The students were scheduled to arrive at 9 am on a Tuesday. Around 8:40 am, I heard a co-worker exclaiming that a school bus had arrived. Well, just a little early. Sometimes it is hard to keep the buses on schedule. I quickly alerted everyone that the students had arrived. Even though we planned on a short introduction to the CRFPO in the conference room, I knew folks would want to get to their stations and prepare for the onslaught of students.

Howard Schaller, our project leader gave a short PowerPoint presentation outlining the what, how, and whys of what we do here. The students seemed interested but were soon ready to head out for some hands on activities. We had prepared four activities lasting about ½ hour each, so we divided the students into four smaller groups and each group went to a different activity. After two hours they had rotated through all four activities.

The first activity took place in our ‘head room’ and lab. The head room is the room the crew uses to cut coded wire tags out of fish snouts that return to the hatcheries. Here, the students learned about aging fish by reading fish scales. Steve had previously rounded up a Chinook salmon from one of the hatcheries and each student removed a scale and placed it on a card that was pressed between a special film. They later went into the lab and using a microfiche reader, looked at the scales to determine the fish’s age. A coded wire tag was also available to look at under a microscope, and Jesse explained the purpose of marking fish using this technology. General information on the marking program was conveyed to the students as well.

The students left the lab and entered the warehouse where there was a fish identification lesson. They only had to sit for a short introduction before moving about and identifying real fish specimens. They used a dichotomous key to identify key features of lamprey, coastal cutthroat trout, coho and Chinook. I heard comments such as ‘I actually learned how to tell the difference between a coho and Chinook fry’ as the students left for their next activity.

Next, the students followed our guides to the wareyard. There, 2 large tanks were set up, corks bobbing in water. A short presentation was given by staff biologists on how to estimate fish population abundance using a mark/recapture method. With the use of blindfolds, nets, and a calculator, the students soon figured out that the precision of their estimate was dependent on such variables as number of fish marked and the number of recaptures. Since the students were already in the wareyard, the place where a lot of our sampling gear is stored, they had a bit of time to see screw traps, electro fishing boats, and lamprey sampling gear up close.

From the yard, the students walked across our parking lot to a vacant field across the street. They were met by biologists from the Hatchery Assessment Team. They were given the task of finding a radio tag that was previously placed in the field. After a short demonstration on how to use the radio antenna and transmitter, the students took over. Our biologists remarked on how quickly the students could find the tag using triangulation.

The teacher thought the day was awesome and it has already spurred some interest from a few of the students as a place to do a senior project or volunteer. We here at CRFPO all thought the day was a success and plan to do this every year. So, if there are any teachers in the area who may be interested in attending our open house, let us know! And, keep an eye on our blog over the next couple of weeks –the biologists who ran each activity will tell you a little more about what they showed the students. Who knows – it might give you an idea for something new to try, whether it’s in the classroom or in your own career!

Submitted by Donna Allard

Friday, June 10, 2011

13th Annual Watershed Congress

The halls and classrooms at Washington State University in Vancouver were filled with eager students, educators, and community members. These were not college students though. They ranged from third-graders to 12th-graders and were at the college to attend the Watershed Congress.

For the past 13 years, over 20,000 citizen students have been monitoring Clark County lakes, rivers, streams, and storm waters. The Congress is the culminating event each year which brings students who are part of the Watershed Monitoring Network together with the community in evaluating changing watershed conditions in their neighborhoods from data collected during the school year. The Network targets education, discovery, and stewardship.

This year, over 200 students from 3rd to 12th grades representing 24 schools, 55 teachers and 3,000 students did 43 presentations about the sites they monitored. During the event, four presentations are given in a classroom after which community members and other students are encouraged to ask questions. After the presentations, the students discuss the health of their respective monitoring sites. Later students from different schools are grouped together and discuss various issues which may be affecting water quality at their monitoring sites. They then work with scientists and community members to offer solutions for the water issues they have identified throughout the year.

The day also has various fun components. Usually a local music group or act will perform. Students also submit and vote on photographs taken during their studies in different categories which can include: Comedy, Teamwork, and Fashion. Prizes are given for the winning photos as well.

This program is sponsored by the City of Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, Clark County Environmental Services: Clean Water Program, and Washington State University Vancouver Science Programs. It is made a success by countless of other agencies and community members.

Submitted by Donna Allard