Friday, October 9, 2015

Nature Boosting: Charging a Senior Brain

Julie Concannon, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program Coordinator, and member of the Pacific Region Connecting People with Nature Team, takes her passion for the outdoors a step beyond her workday. With a new interest in Gerontology, Julie returned to school at Portland Community College and helped develop a program with the department where she could share her love for nature with a group of seniors as she studied the effects of getting outdoors on senior brains. Julie embarked on a year-long internship with the Rose Senior Center and developed a senior nature club in Portland, OR, traveling everywhere from nearby Mt. Tabor park, to the Oregon Coast. The main goal of the club was to exrcise senior brains and legs. Follow Julie's journey with her group as we share stories from each of their outtings.

Seniors at the Rose Senior Center get outdoors with Adventure and Travel
Club, led by Julie of the USFWS Connecting People with Nature Team
Credit: Julie Concannon/USFWS
Launching the Program
The internship, funded by the CPWN program, combined with the expertise from the PCC Gerentology Department helped to create a sustainable program at Rose Senior Center in Portland to stimulate Senior brains and motivate seniors to connect with nature.

From Julie:
I began this adventure a couple of years ago, thinking that I might move into a new career area. How fortunate that Dr. Jan AbuShakra, Roger Anunsen and the rest of the Gerontology Department staff helped me to realize that I could combine a lifetime of skills as an ecologist, botanist, and wildlife biologist with lessons in how to work with elders to stimulate their brains. Being a Baby Boomer myself, I can see so much potential for the connecting seniors to nature, but getting out with seniors and really using some of the techniques for cognition was so gratifying. 

Julie helped the seniors learn to properly use
the walking sticks for hikes.
Credit: Julie Concannon/USFWS
I developed a program of nature activities that I did together with the seniors at the Rose Senior Center here in Portland, Oregon. This center, run by the Salvation Army and the Director Becky Bitah gave me the freedom and confidence to create a nature program that could be experimental as well as experiential. Each of the activities are meant to enhance different parts of the brain and I have tried to include the research that helped me to design the activity. The field of neuroscience and brain stimulation is exploding right now. Nature is a periphery neurostimulator in the research field, however humans have been experiencing and integrating parts of nature into their brains for 4 million years.  "Green research" and enhancing brain cognition is bringing home the parts of our brain that just want to "go outside and connect with nature." 

The Rose Senior Center Nature Adventures and Travel Club began in August, 2014 this year at the Rose Senior Center. I emphasized right away to the initial members that this “club” would be different. We would not only be getting out in nature, but stimulating our brains in ways that would be new and interesting. Instead of exploring new places, we began by exploring new ways to stimulate our senses. As time progressed, the seniors began to realize what we were doing and the activities became more and more complex and richly defined by nature.

Before the seniors took on their fiercest hikes, one item that came to be quite important: the walking stick. Next Adventure, a CPWN partner donated walking sticks to the seniors with the hopes of empowering them to get outdoors.
CPWN Partner, Next Adventure donated 5 sets of
walking sticks for the seniors
Uh Can We Talk?
The late Joan Rivers used to say “uh can we talk?” when she had something really important to impart (usually through humor). The seniors that I am working with have started to collect a bunch of different walking sticks. Half of them are using them like canes and the other half do not know where to place them. So I held a little impromptu lesson on how to use a walking stick versus a cane. There is only one senior who really needs to use a cane. The others have never been properly instructed. Walking sticks can be very advantageous for any age. They are quite popular with the “Baby Boomer” crowd, but a relatively new item for a senior > seventy years old. I am hiking/walking with an average age of 75-77 years old.

We had a pretty long discussion about what a walking stick was for when strolling in nature, and how to stroll letting the walking stick help you. Leaning on the walking stick as if it is a cane is not going to help you, so I demonstrated how to walk with it. One lady commented “wow this feels so much better, just lengthening it a little.” Another indicated that she needed some leather around the top of the cane, after I pointed out that she had the walking stick upside down. These are pivotal moments when trying to encourage seniors to walk out in the rain in nature.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Playing in the Water? Or Collecting Data?

By Kira Marie Cazenave, USFWS Summer Intern

On a bright June morning, hearing the laughter of kids enjoying nature, it may have appeared to some that there was simply a group of kids enjoying the sunny day and playing in the Newaukum River in Chehalis, Washington. Yet while they were indeed enjoying the great outdoors, these students were actually collecting data on freshwater mussels and water quality. They were young 'Biologists-for-a-Day' and really seemed to enjoy it!
The group had two outstanding instructors - Teal Waterstrat, a USFWS biologist, and Kathy Jacobson, a science teacher with the Chehalis Basin Education Consortium. Teal and Kathy did a fantastic job of teaching the kids in a way that not only helped them learn a lot about freshwater mussels and being a wildlife biologist, but kept them interested and excited about the task at hand.

The kids were split into two groups. Group One got into the water with Teal, using their aqua-scopes to locate the mussels and count them. Each student picked up every fifth mussel to measure it quickly and then put it back in the water. Teal encouraged them to measure as fast as they could and cause as little disturbance to the mussels as possible (Mussels don't like to be taken out of the water!). Teal showed the kids how to walk together in a line down the river as a way to ensure they weren't counting the same mussels more than once.

Group Two went with Kathy to the edge of the river to talk about the quality of the water. The students observed the water to see if it was clear or cloudy, and then measured the temperature. Kathy pointed out various species of wildlife that were in the area which included some interesting aquatic insects – stoneflies, salmon flies, dragonflies, and some exciting birds – Cedar Waxwings, Hairy Woodpeckers, a Belted Kingfisher.

At the end of the day, Teal and Kathy led two more activities that were designed to help the students unwind and reflect on what they learned during their busy but enjoyable time in the water. The first activity had the students find somewhere comfortable to sit for a few minutes, close their eyes, and just listen with no talking. They were listening to the sounds of nature and relaxed peacefully after having a fun and exciting time learning about nature.
For the last activity of the day, the kids sat in a circle on the ground. Going round the circle, each student had to sum up their day in one or two words. Some of the words they came up with were:  “wet,” “mussels,” “cool,” “interesting,” “clear water,” “friends,” “data collection,” and - the word used most often - “fun!” They'd had a great time and it showed by the smiles that were on their faces for the entire day.

It was very rewarding to be able to see students go out into nature and be so engaged and interested in learning about it. They learned a lot about wildlife while getting a chance to interact with nature. Who knows? We might have some future biologists in the making!

Written by Kira Marie Cazenave, USFWS Summer Intern
Photographs by Kira Marie Cazenave and Dolores Weisbaum, USFWS Biologist

Thursday, March 27, 2014

There’s Nothing Like A Fishing Derby to Get Kids Outdoors!

Klineline Park, Vancouver, WA

It's springtime and the tulips and daffodils are in blossom. It's also time for anglers to brave the morning chill for a chance to hook that large trout. Spring fishing in the Pacific Northwest is an annual tradition anticipated with great gusto by residents of Vancouver, Washington.

Once again this year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is joining forces with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Klineline Kids Fishing non-profit to put on the Klineline Kids Fishing Derby, a community event that gets people outside to have some fun and take in the beauty of nature. We expect more than 4,000 children and their families will come out to the Derby which is held on April 11th and 12th in Vancouver.

At this very moment, volunteers from the community are assembling 4,000 rods and reels, attaching weights and bobbers, and preparing the live bait that will be wriggling out of little hands on fishing day. The good folks at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are stocking Klineline Pond with more than 10,000 rainbow trout which makes this Clark County’s largest annual fishing event. Local vendors and sponsors enhance the festivities with free ice cream, bird house building, face painting and even archery.

                             Wiggling Fish Cause Cheers and Squeals of Delight!  
These pictures from last year’s event show the joy experienced by young and old alike. Parents cheered the kids as they watched them grappling with the fish on their lines. Kids squealed with delight when their very own wriggling fish was scooped into a net.    Each participating child receives a free fishing pole, a T-shirt, and a goodie bag. There are also prizes to be won and some young anglers will take home a new bike, or a tackle box, or a trophy. But no one will go home empty handed.

                                            Sharing Knowledge and Passion.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been a part of this event for several years, partnering with event organizers to connect people to nature. Our staff and volunteers look forward to this spring event where they can share their passion for the environment while reaching out to kids.    As in years past, the first day of this event is set aside for children with special needs. Over 500 students from the southwest Washington area will attend, including youth from the SW Washington School for the Blind and the SW Washington Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.    

Children will learn how to work with the tackle, bait, hooks and reels. They learn the techniques of fishing, netting, and even cleaning the fish. Youngsters can catch their limit (two per child) and take their rewards home, along with cooking instructions, to complete their fishing experience from pond to table.  

                                                              Kids Get ‘Hooked’

The Fish and Wildlife Service offers these activities as a way to ‘hook’ kids on the benefits of the outdoor world, to appreciate their natural surroundings and to experience one of the most popular outdoor activities in America. From the kids’ perspective, it’s the laughter and smiles that tell the story of how they learn to bait a hook, cast a line, and reel in a fighting fish. Many come away with a special memory as well as information on fish culture, water quality, and habitat on a small scale. 

     Ready. Set. Fish!  

If this sounds like fun, register today to be a part of this fantastic event at Don’t worry if you have never fished before, the Klineline Fishing Derby is the perfect place for people of all ages to learn to fish. Ponds and lakes are well stocked in preparation for the event, and Fish and Wildlife Service volunteers are on hand to help folks master the skills they need to reel in a winner. Don’t miss it! 

Written by Jane Chorazy, Public Affairs Specialist and Connecting People with Nature Team member

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Let's Move Outside! In the winter!

Washington State Special Olympics nordic skiing competition at Leavenworth
NFH. Credit: USFWS

By: Barb Kelly Ringel

Let’sMove Outside! is a national initiative spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama to promote outdoor physical activity for children and families and to connect them with recreation activities on public land. Exercising in nature improves physical and mental health, which is especially important for youth, and vitally important in winter. Growing up in Minnesota I loved sledding, skiing, and even winter camping. The 170 acres of the LeavenworthNational Fish Hatchery is a great winter playground that allows me, as an environmental educator, nordic ski coach to share my winter outdoors enthusiasm and get kids outside and moving.

Winter Life Snowshoe Tour on the grounds of Leavenworth NFH
Credit: USFWS
More Than Just Snowshoes
Winter Life Snowshoe Tours, sponsored by Friends ofNorthwest Hatcheries, get all ages and abilities out. The free two hour snowshoe treks start at the hatchery and travels on the nature trail along Icicle Creek. Service, AmeriCorps and other volunteer guides cover topics including hatchery history and operations, winter life adaptations, and looking for signs of animal life. This winter we have found tracks from river otter, squirrels, voles, and lots of canids. Bald eagles have soared overhead.  American dippers, mallards, and mergansers dabbled in the cold water, and chickadees and white-headed woodpeckers flitted in the trees. People enjoy the mix of trying snowshoeing, exercising in winter, and learning. Many plan to snowshoe again.

Cascade Discovery High School students enjoying learning while on a
showshoe tour. Credit: Janet Hunter/AmeriCorps
Discovering Winter's Nature
Unique to Leavenworth NFH, is the Cascade Discovery Alternative High School located on hatchery grounds. Our weekly "Discovery Naturalist" class is led by myself and our AmeriCorps volunteer. This winter we have taken several snowshoe treks. Students have shared information about an animal or topic they investigated, collected and looked at lichens, and measured and identified animal tracks. Students learned that "cougars can leap 40 feet, that's the length of a school bus, the long way", marveled at the beauty of lichens, and found pathways for the river otters to get into the raceways.

Skiing the Hatchery
Leavenworth Winter Sports Club, under a special use permit, grooms 8 km of nordic ski trails on the hatchery grounds and gets thousands of skiers every winter. As a nordic ski coach, after work I help get over 100 kids out on these and other trails learning to ski better and faster. Some compete at a high level, and many have embraced an active outdoor lifestyle. Washington State Special Olympics hosts nordic skiing competitions on the trails, and hatchery staff help with event logistics. These nordic skiers are as dedicated and enthusiastic as any Olympians, and the local team trains on the hatchery trails throughout the winter.

Modeling "Let's Move"
It’s a pretty magical mix – 170 acres of public land in a beautiful snowy location and partnerships and special use permits to allow for various winter activities, volunteers and others willing to explore, an alternative high school that values getting the students outside and learning, and kids who enjoy outdoor winter activities. The Discovery students were pretty excited to hear that Michelle Obama wants to know about outside winter activities at the hatchery. What they are doing is the model of what she wants to promote under Let’s Move Outside! My hope as I watch the students snowshoeing with their classmates is they will realize how fun it is to be outside and in their free time will choose to move outside.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Passing the Torch

One of my first CPWN events at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Salmon in the Classroom at Boise-Elliot Humboldt in Portland.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/CPWN
It has been two and a half years since I sat down to my first staff meeting with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. As I worked my way from a student contractor, to a Pathways student intern; from Fishery Resources to Connecting People with Nature, I've found myself completely transformed from a person who was apathetic to science and the natural world around me – to someone who actively thinks about these things every single day. As of today – I have accepted the opportunity to continue my career with USFWS in the position of Communication Specialist with the NorthPacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NPLCC). The NPLCC, a sector of the National LCC Network, is a new segment of the USFWS, focused on landscape level conservation in the face of a changing climate. 

Students love seeing fish dissection! :)
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
For those of you who have been following my journey through Faces of Nature: thank you from myself and the entire Connecting People with Nature Team. We have together witnessed some amazing things. We started by dissecting flowers at the Wallowa County Watershed Festival. We've witnessed hundreds of smiling faces captivated by salmon eggs, collecting data on freshwater mussels or witnessing salmon spawning at fish hatcheries all around the region. We've helped connect inner-city classrooms to the outdoor world they don't often see. We've helped preserve and pass on cultural traditions to tribal youth. We've witnessed the opening of the accessible fishing platform at Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery, and a year later welcomed our friends from United Cerebral Palsy back for the most successful day of fishing I have ever been a part of. You even witnessed me giving my best effort at speaking Spanish during ¡CelebraciĆ³n de Las Aves! at Tualatin National Wildlife Refuge. Though my Spanish was likely poor, I hope my efforts to connect every person I met to nature, were not.

Fishing with United Cerebral Palsy!
Credit: USFWS
Each day, and each small effort put forth by my USFWS colleagues and partners are tiny notions of giving that when added together, equal our mission: conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.  This is something I've been honored to be a part of the past two and a half years, and look forward to continuing into my future. I hope you will also continue to follow the stories of the Connecting People With Nature Team, who will continue to update 'Faces of Nature' with endless great stories! I also invite you to follow my personal coverage with the NPLCC via Facebook, Twitter, and what will one day hopefully be my new blog. Here's to a happy, natural and wild 2014 – and to all who are and have been reading – never stop connecting with nature!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Technological Paths to Conservation Careers

Students from iUrban Teen gather around the fish ladder to observe
salmon at Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Over the past decade, nature lovers around the world have formed a few less-than satisfying conclusions. First, kids are becoming more addicted to technology and less in tuned with their natural worlds. Nature Deficit Disorder is real, and the continuing growth of technology in sectors like video gaming, hand-held devices, and virtual realities are keeping kids glued to screens. Second, as society continues to urbanize, even more youth are bound to cities where nature isn't as obvious. As these doubts increase, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service makes it one of our top priorities to get kids back to nature. Luckily, we recently partnered up with iUrban Teen Tech, a group who takes all of these hindrances to connecting with nature and turns them into positive outlets for urban youth.

A view into the salmon spawning area.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Outside the city
Last month, The Service's Diversity & Civil Rights Program, along with Fisheries, External Affairs and the Connecting People with Nature Team organized two field trips for approximately 25 teens from the Portland, Oregon area to experience the science, technology and nature found within a future Fish & Wildlife Career. I joined the group for their final stop at Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery, where the students learned day-to-day activities of a fish biologist, witnessed the hatchery's highest salmon return count in over 100 years, and got up close & personal at the salmon-spawning station.

Students learning about the process of salmon egg incubation.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Something for everyone
"What is your favorite thing to do ever?" I asked our youngest and most enthused student. She didn't blink. "Watch TV!" she screamed. "Watch TV?!" I asked her, "but don't you like to play outside too?" she paused again as if I had tried to trick her. "Oh yeah, I love to play outside! I like playing tag!" Bingo. This made in easy transition into explaining to her how fish biologists get to "tag" fish (Don't know what I mean? Check out this video). Turns out, we found her connection. By the end of the day she was begging to help clean fish eggs inside the incubation room.

A view towards the fish ladder, where just below record high salmon runs
await their return into the hatchery to spawn.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Technology, where you'd least expect it
Just a week before – the same group of students visited with biologists from Abernathy fish Technology Center to learn about fish genetics, and how this process helps conserve the Pacific Northwest's fish populations (read the full story here). Most of these students joined iUrbanTeen based on their interests in technology, the exact thing keeping kids glued to screens. Here though, between the work of iUrban, and partnerships with groups like USFWS this boom in technology, showing no signs of slowing down, is instead channeled through education, knowledge and positive connections with nature.

We know by now, that technology can keep our kids away from the outdoors but we are quick to forget that it can also enhance their growth as intelligent and enthusiastic future conservationists!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Year of Twenty at Guam National Wildlife Refuge

Campers chatting about the refuge & species before exploring!
Credit: USFWS
"Find a refuge near you." This is the go-to slogan that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service promotes when encouraging you to get outdoors. Anytime you have or will see this message, you probably picture our refuges somewhere in between the ocean-bound borders of California and New England. Our Pacific Region, however, also includes the small tropical island of Guam, just south of The Philippines. This year, Guam National Wildlife Refuge celebrated its 20th birthday. As part of the celebration, the refuge planned a number of major education and outreach events to showcase both the refuge and the conservation efforts put forth there every day! The Pacific Region Connecting People with Nature Team aided these projects with funding to support the leadership of one refuge intern, Jeried. To name just a few, these projects included the establishment of a Friends Group, development of an educational presentation on the endangered Marianas fruit bat, and refuge photography contest.

One of the Camp Shutterbug photo contest winners
Credit: USFWS
Partnering with the community
To begin, Friends Groups are an important way for refuges to help build connections with the local community, and to establish means through which students and other local groups can visit and learn about the refuge. Throughout the year, the initial steps in setting up a Friends of Guam NWR were an ongoing process. Working with the Ayuda Foundation, plans for a brand new Friends Group focused on education and outreach are well under way. The refuge hopes to have an official group by the summer of 2014.

Camp Shutterbug & refuge volunteers explore the nature of the refuge
Credit: USFWS
Educating neighbors
The next project on Jeried's list was to help develop presentations focused on the endangered and invasive species of Guam. Focusing on the endangered Mariana fruit bat – Jeried created two presentations, one for teenagers, and one for students ages 5-12. The presentations showcased how to identify the bats, causes of their decline, and the work being done to help conserve this local species. The presentations have since been making there way around Guam, including an appearance at University of Guam's Charter Day where hundreds of visitors were able to learn about and even see a fruit bat.

One of the photo contest winners
Credit: USFWS
Putting screens to good use
Finally, Jeried led Camp Shutterbug 2013, "preserving my island," a mini-camp held at the refuge for children ages 8-15. This two-part camp first brought children through educational tours of the refuge to learn about local species and one of their major threats – the Brown Treesnake. Part two focused on allowing the campers to get creative and capture photographs from around the refuge to later enter into a photo contest. After participating in a photography workshop with refuge volunteer, Louis Santos, the children embarked on a photo journey through the refuge snapping shots of all of the new plants and species they learned about throughout camp. The photographs were later displayed in the courtyard of a local shopping center, not only showing off the campers' work but bringing additional awareness to the public about all of the wonderful pieces of nature at Guam NWR! Over the course of the year, a 20th birthday celebration saw these successful projects and endless conservation efforts put forth by refuge employees, volunteers and community members. Now that you know a little bit more about Guam NWR – we predict you might be thinking a bit more tropical next time you click our "find a refuge near you!"