Monday, October 31, 2011

Another Great Day Outside

Slightly ahead of the group, Annie and I walked up Post Road, catching the numerous crickets as we went. She suddenly turned to me and said "It's sort of funny when you look around at people. Everyone has a cellphone or iPod or something to occupy themselves with when all they really need to do is go outside!" Well, that was a great end to a week. Annie is in 5th grade, or 4th, I can't remember. I just know she had a fantastic day.

We had just spent the day at Hopkins Demonstration Forest in Oregon City. Our group went down to the creek to explore, catch aquatic insects and test the water. Along the way, we had the students lead with a map in hand. The group was divided between going the long way and 'off-road' or staying on the trail and going directly to our tub filled with the supplies we would need. Annie of course wanted to go directly to the tub and get started.

The group compromised and got to the tub soon. Off came the shoes, on went the boots. Into the water the kids went after a bit of instruction. They were filled with energy and throughout the day, Annie would stop, look up, and shout "We are the luckiest group here today. We get to go in the water!"

Wolftree sponsored the trip and had prepared the students earlier this month with a classroom visit. Hopkins Demonstration Forest provided a great place to study aquatics, trees, plants, fungi and lichen, and wildlife.

At the end of the day during the student presentations, we learned the fungi and lichen group had seen cougar tracks and found lots of edible mushrooms including 'The Prince' and chanterelles. Other groups brought back tales of licking banana slugs, counting the rings on a tree core, or finding the 'toilet paper' shrub. Despite the chilly start to the day, the sun came out and the kids left with a bit more knowledge and enthusiasm for being outside.

Submitted by Donna Allard

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Creatures of the Night - 2011

Every year for the past 4 or 5, we have been part of a family event, called Creatures of the Night. This event is hosted by Clark County Environmental Services, Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center, and our office. It is a fun, free event geared towards families. We typically get 30 to 50 people. This year - over 150 kids and parents showed up to participate and learn about these mysterious creatures. Wow!

We started off with the audience, mainly children telling bat jokes, from cards which we handed out. Interspersed with the jokes, some of the older kids and their parents told the audience some interesting bat facts. We then talked about other animals which come out at night, including raccoons, opposums, and beavers. A few short video clips were shown.

A very nice video was played highlighting bats. The audience loved it. Lots of giggles and comments about some of the bats. I have watched this video hundreds of times over, well maybe a bit of an exaggeration, and I still love it, not an exaggeration.

We then brought in a bird specialist to speak about owls. Last year she actually brought in a screech owl named Simon but she no longer has him. Even without the live bird though, her presentation was great and was followed with lots of questions and answers.

This presentation led into what is usually the best part of the evening: owl pellets. The excitement level grew in the room as we told the kids how to dissect their pellet and what to look for. Each child was given a pellet with a picture of a vole skeleton. I can't even begin to tell you how much the kids and parents alike loved this activity.

After everyone gathered their bones, fur, and bone chart into a plastic bag, we headed outdoors to look for bats or anything else which might be lurking. I had not expected many people to stay for the walk, it being a school night, so I was surprised when over 50 people followed me to the overlook. There were lots of questions and lots of wide-eyed children looking up into the sky for any signs of owls or bats. Even though I had my trusty bat detector, there were no bats spotted during the evening. At that point, most families headed back home, but not without giving us plenty of praise and thanks for this wonderful event.

And now I must give thanks to the local cub scout troop, the Tigers, who attended the event and offered us their help in cleaning and organizing the room we used. It would have taken us much longer if not for their much appreciated help.

Each time we hold this event, it gets better. With the amazing response we got this year, we may even consider holding more than one of these events in the future. Who knows?

To read more, here is a great article and pictures from the evening courtesy of the Columbian newspaper.

Submitted by Donna Allard

Monday, October 17, 2011

Late Summer Work at Sheldon and Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuges

The summer started a little late for Cory and I, as we didn’t get down to Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada until the first week of August. After a week of getting oriented with the protocol and the refuge, we were sent out on our own for the duration of our employment. In the middle of our tour of duty we also spent a few weeks in Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in southern Oregon. In Sheldon we sampled Virgin and Fish Creek watershed and in Hart Mountain we Sampled the Guano Creek watershed. We drove a lot of very rocky and bumpy roads, hiked many miles with heavy packs, and found many more dry and unsampleable sites than sampleable ones. We even had a stream that was sampleable in its mid reaches but dry in its upper reaches and dried up before its deposit into the nearest reservoir. We got used to trudging through roses, stinging nettles, and sagebrush that were very thick and as tall as we were. There were also many beautiful sunsets and sunrises as well as brilliantly clear starry skies. We soaked in the hot-spring pool at Virgin Campground with guppies, bullfrog tadpoles, and opal miners.

Cory shocking up fish in Fish Creek

Sometimes there was water upstream from standing at one point in the creek…

…but the creek was dry downstream (Fish Creek)

Horse pelvic girdles make great masks.

We saw lots of horse-damaged streams in Sheldon.

One of the many gorgeous sunsets. This one was at Hart Mountain.

Virgin Canyon

An army gravesite at Hart Mountain.

We sampled fish that looked more like cutthroat and fish that looked like redbands, and every hybrid combination you could think of in between. We also sampled a few Alvord chub and a lot of Tui chub in Nevada. Aside from fish, we saw many different kinds of animals. We saw deer, pronghorn antelope, wild horses and burrows, black-tailed jackrabbits, rattlesnakes, coyotes, lizards, thousands of little frogs, lots of different waterfowl species and other birds, and even a pygmy rabbit, which a wildlife crew had been searching for all summer on Sheldon but never saw.

One of the prettier fish we saw in Guano Creek.

Wild horses at Sheldon.

Burros at Sheldon.

Deer at Hart Mountain.

Coyote pup at Sheldon

Submitted by Ben Willis and Cory Stratton

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Columbia River Watershed Festival

Each year, around this time, a watershed festival is held for students in Clark County. The CRFPO, Clark County, the city of Vancouver, Columbia Springs, and Clark PUD all contribute to making the event a success. We also depend on many other agencies and volunteers to present to the students or help in other ways. The festival is so popular with the teachers that it usually fills up within a week of opening registration. This year we hosted 42 classes of 4th graders during the three day event. Staff from the CRFPO usually guide the classes to their activities or present. This year we were guides or helped in other ways.

One activity we brought our students to was presented by the StreamTeam. They had a short presentation about the life cycle of salmon and things they are doing to improve habitat conditions in Salmon Creek for salmon. Their excitement and enthusiasm about their work easily rubs off on the kids. After their presentation they played a game called "Hooks and Ladders". The kids all wore salmon hats and pretended to be salmon. An obstacle course represented the hurdles salmon face during their migration such as dams, fishermen, predatory wildlife, waterfalls, and fish ladders. If they made it through all of the obstacles, one final task awaited them. For their journey to be complete, the students had to carry some marbles in a spoon (representing their eggs) to the finish line. At any point if they did not make it through any one of the obstacles, they became a dead fish. They soon found out how difficult the journey of salmon can be. It is a great learning tool and fun too!

Another presentation we sat in on was the storyteller Will. He tells wonderful tales of how important the wetlands are and what may happen if they are not there. He engages the students by choosing a few to act out the parts of the wetland or bog, upstream, and downstream.

A really big hit was the reptile presentation. The presenter started out with a small black and red snake and then went to a larger boa constrictor and then to an albino snake called a banana snake. She also showed several lizards, an alligator and a large turtle and explained what they eat and how much. One important message the students took away with them was that noone should get a pet, exotic or not, without first thoroughly researching the animal's needs.

Another activity was presented by Clark Public Utilities. A short presentation about electricity, how it is can be generated, and its impacts on fish and wildlife was followed by the game of Jeopardy. The kids really enjoyed sharing their new found knowledge. The teams were named "Volts" and "Mega-Watts". There was definitely a lot of teamwork and a friendly air of competition. On this day, Meg-Watts won by a whopping 2000 well, mega-watts.

Anyway a great event as always. We can't wait till next year and neither can the kids.

Submitted by Ruby Bourne and Donna Allard

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Geographer in the Wild

I got to hold a fish!

This was the highlight of my summer, professionally speaking. I am currently a cartographic technician STEP at the USFWS’s Columbia River Fisheries Program Office while I finish my Master’s in Geography.

My native habitat as a geographer is in front of a computer using GIS technology. My regular duties include supporting projects with spatial analyses such as habitat patching for bull trout, and visualization of data typically in the form of maps. I also work with GPS technology, and now – FISH!

Considering I spend most of my working time in an office I really look forward to the opportunities when I can get out in the field. This serves two purposes: First, I find it beneficial to the quality of my work to see the places I map and experience it firsthand, and second, it’s so nice to take a break from the computer once in a while.

I have been working on a map of the White Salmon area for the office and was excited to see the study site in person. It makes a place more real when you can go there and see the terrain with your own eyes. From a mapping perspective, going out with the field crew provides me the opportunity to see what’s important to them and I walk away with a better understanding of the data collected and the conditions it was collected under.

Our office is currently moving fish above Condit Dam on the White Salmon River so they can spawn upstream. This is in anticipation of the dam’s removal, Specifically we’re moving Tule fall Chinook and I was able to go out for the first week of field work. The whole week was full of firsts for me. I got to see the hatchery and the weir, wear waders that didn’t leak, assist in catching, tagging, and transporting fish, and, of course, hold one! It was a great experience and I hope I can go out again soon.

Submitted by Nadia Jones