Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nature in the Holidays

From the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Pacific Region Connecting People with Nature Team - We wish the happiest of holidays to all of our readers. Enjoy spending time with friends, family, and even strangers out in nature! We wanted to share some great stories, photos and videos related to nature and the holidays! Enjoy!

Friday, December 14, 2012

A True Steward of Conservation

"The environment has so much more to offer us than you know: it nurtures us, it calms us, it entertains us, it does so many things for us, and as a consequence, we have to make sure that we can keep it healthy so we and every other living organism can prosper as well." – Kristi Fukunaga

Kristi Fukunaga in Idaho during her educational travels with USFWS
Credit: USFWS
When you think about the job of the USFWS' Connecting People with Nature Team (CPWN), what you might not think about is that we don't stop our efforts at simply encouraging people to get outside. A large portion of our program helps fund projects that aid groups, especially youth, to connect with nature in ways they wouldn't ordinarily have the opportunity to do on their own.

Shaping the future
When working with youth audiences, our main goal is to help facilitate a lifelong love for nature that they will carry out into their own world, to share with their friends, families and community. Often, we come across a group who go above and beyond what we hope for our youth conservationists. Over five years ago, the CPWN Team began working with a group of girls on conservation projects around Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Hawaii. With some initial funding, the girls were able to travel around the region, meeting local conservationists and learning about many of our local species. This past year, this group of three girls took their passion and knowledge out into the field as part of their gold award for the Girl Scouts of Oregon and SW Washington.

Kristi and fellow Girl Scouts at the USFWS Ashland Wildlife
Forensics Lab in Ashland, Oregon.

Credit: USFWS
From the ground, up
Kristi Fukunaga, one of the three girls, focused her project on the effects of plastics on marine life, a topic close to her heart. Kristi explains that she gained her knowledge and love for nature through her travels with ECO-GIG (Ecology: Girls in Green), where she was given the opportunity to work with a number of USFWS biologists in developing ideas. She then created a project from the ground up that would help her local community understand how tossing their plastics could harm local wildlife, and how they could help make a difference.

Kristi in Idaho working with the Bureau of Land Management
tagging feruginous hawk "chicks."

Credit: USFWS
Spreading knowledge
Her project had two main components, the first of which Kristi described as the most nerve racking, but most rewarding. "I created and gave presentations about plastics and their effects on marine life at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Girl Scout Camps, my Buddhist temple, and my high school. Knowing that I got an environmental issue close to my heart exposed to so many people was the highlight of the project," Kristi shared. Kristi wasn’t all talk, either; her next step was action.

Working with her ECO-GIG group at the
Oregon Coastal National Wildlife Refuge

Credit: USFWS
Passing it on
Kristi then planned and organized recycling and compost stations at an annual picnic that welcomed over 500 guests. She helped explain the proper use of the stations and encouraged members at the picnic to continue using these strategies. "We saved about three quarters of the recyclables and 150 pounds of compostables from entering the landfills. I also documented how these recycling stations can be managed so that the community could continue this effort in the future."

In Kristi's future, she wants to attend college to study biology or environmental science and to one day have a job in the conservation field, she says, "would be perfection."

To be continued...
Kristi's story is a great example of how successful exposing children to nature at a young age can be! If you are interested in learning how Kristi's fellow ECO-GIGers put their love for nature to use, stay tuned, the stories of their projects are an upcoming Faces of Nature feature!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Getting to Know Tweets & Tree Frogs

Behind the scenes of nature blogging.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
In the wide digital world of the internet you'll find your Tweeters, your Tumblrs, your eBay salesmen, or your gamer. Then, somewhere fewer and farther between, you'll find your tiny niche of nature enthusiast bloggers typing away about how you should get off of your computer and head outside. We are a confusing bunch of people because we almost assuredly wish to be out climbing a mountain with every pressing edit, thesaurus check, and photo upload. We also like to confuse you by asking you to read our blog that will eventually recommend you get off of your computer and head outside… But the truth is, in our defense, we already love nature, and since you are busy reading this, it is our job to win you over.

Christy Peterson with a Gopher Snake
Credit: Cascade Creative Services
Like myself, and all of us here on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Connecting People with Nature Team, Christy Peterson holds a passion for nature that is too contagious not to share. As a non-fiction children's author, parent, blogger, and nature enthusiast, Christy shares her creativity and passion for nature partially through her online hub Tweets & Tree Frogs (the other portion is the good old fashioned way – out amongst the Earth). Through Tweets & Tree Frogs, Christy hopes to connect with parents, teaching them to love nature and to instill that same passion in their children. As a fellow nature blogger, I wanted to get Christy's take on nature, creativity, and technology. Please enjoy Christy's responses, make a visit to her blog and Facebook page to learn even more, and then, you guessed it: get off of your computer and head outside.

Faces of Nature: Tell us more about your idea of "accessible nature." What advice do you have for those who may not know they can find nature just about anywhere?
Christy: The short version: go outside! It really is just that easy. The longer version: we share the world with an amazing array of life forms. These life forms are amazingly tenacious. Weeds sprout up in sidewalk cracks; moss grows on concrete dividers. Trees shade busy streets and pigeons nest wherever they can. We don't even have to go outside to find nature. No matter how tidy we are, there are plenty of creatures living in our homes. That creeps a few people out though, so I usually don't start out talking about that!

Christy learned to love nature at an early age just like
every child should!
Credit: Bob Tuck
What are some of your favorite urban/inner-city nature activities that kids and families can participate in? 
I love the idea of a scavenger hunt. While it's true that nature is everywhere, cities aren't the most hospitable environments for plants and animals. Finding nature there is a challenge, and kids are always up for a challenge. Things you could put on your list include the grass, moss, trees, and pigeons I mentioned above. You can also include flowers, insects, spiders, house sparrows, though these will be a little more challenging to find. Some cities are lucky enough to have hawk or falcon nests. Just remember, city nature walks have unique potential hazards. Make sure kids have safe parameters so everyone has a good time.

A Dark-eyed Junco - featured on Tweets & Tree Frogs "Bird of the Week"

Credit: Christy Peterson/Cascade Creative Services
You encourage combining nature and creativity – what are some of the most successful ways you've seen youth get creative in nature?
When I talk about nature and creativity, it's usually in reference to my own work. I think it's hard to be creative when sprinting at the speed of life. Being in nature helps me slow down and clear my head. I think it does the same for kids. I like to be a facilitator for my own kids, rather than presiding over structured activities. By facilitator, I mean that I try to provide a seed of an idea or a few raw materials and then let their imaginations take over. When my kids were younger, it was fun to watch them make "soup" in an empty cat litter bucket with water, sticks, leaves, mud, and whatever else they could find. My friends and I used to do that when we were little, although we had access to windfall fruit, so our soup was tastier (just kidding!).

A garden spider named "Lucy" by Christy. I've personally
found that naming "scary" critters makes them
seem less scary.

Credit: Christy Peterson/Cascade Creative Services
What kind of experiences have you had working with children and families in efforts to change their ideas about "dangerous" or "scary" creatures and help them to care about nature?
I doubt there are kids reading the Tweets & Tree Frogs blog, so really my work has been educating parents about "scary" creatures. I think parents and teachers can do two things to help kids have an accurate understanding of commonly misunderstood creatures. First, they can educate themselves. What threats do these animals really pose (usually much less than their reputations) and how can we avoid harm? Second, they can try not to pass on their personal biases to their kids. I am a cheerleader for all kinds of maligned creatures, but I really, really do not like parasites (like ticks and lice—ewwww!). They kind of freak me out, but I try not to pass this bias on to my kids.

Christy's son during his first of many encounters
with lizards!

Credit: Christy Peterson/Cascade Creative Services
 Our blog theme is "the faces of nature" because we love seeing the "faces" of those having a brand new experience with nature. Do you have a story to share about witnessing the joy, surprise or excitement of someone's first experience with nature?
I'm attaching a photo that answers this better than words. It is my son's first encounter with a Western Fence Lizard. He had just turned one. He is 10 now, and shares his room with 3 lizards, a snake, and a frog. He wants to study herpetology. Whether he really ends up in that field or not, he has made a connection with "the wild" that will be with him all his life. That's what it's all about.

Given the opinion that technology is taking kids away from nature & being a fellow Facebooker/blogger - What successes have you found through use of your blog and social media pages that have encouraged people to care about nature? 
We humans always like to take things to the extreme, don't we? Technology=bad; nature=good. This is the message I get from some (not all) in the "children and nature" community. Personally, I think technology is a tool. We can use it wisely or not, but it is not inherently bad or good. Technology means I can log nature sightings in the field. I can find out what species of tree I'm standing under. Technology is blowing the world of citizen science wide open—I find this very exciting. Personally, technology has allowed me to connect with people all over the world who care about nature as much as I do. My blog and social media allow me to pass along information I hope will be interesting and helpful to others. Time will tell whether I am reaching new people with my "accessible nature" message or just preaching to the choir!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Faces of Nature Winter To-Do List

It's that time of year again – the sun has left and we here in the Pacific Northwest are left with a mixture of cold, rainy, slushy and snowy weather. But this is no reason to stop hanging out with nature! We've compiled a list of some of our favorite exciting, creative, adventurous, and fun outdoor winter activities to keep you exhilarated even under gray skies!

Decorate Trees for Birds
A tree decorated with edible treats for birds.
Credit: Debh2u/Flickr Creative Commons

The Fall and Winter seasons bring a number of birds to the Northwest, but sometimes finding food can be harder for birds in the winter. This winter activity is a triple whammy. Start your activity by bird watching. You can visit a National Wildlife Refuge or even view your own backyard to check out what kinds of bird species you can find. Spend some time learning about each one with a friend or family member. Once you're knowledgeable about your local birds, grab some supplies from outside, like pine cones, and gather foods that birds love (peanut butter, fruits, seeds). Choose a tree that you’ve spotted birds in, and start decorating! Use twine to hang peanut butter covered pine cones and fruits from branches. Finally, sit back and watch your neighborhood birds flock in for a sweet treat! Take notes if you see any you recognize!

Yurt Camping
A yurt cabin, great for winter time camping!
Credit: Justin Miller/Flickr Creative Commons
Camping is one of the best outdoor activities for all ages and groups, but tent camping in the winter seasons can get quite rainy and chilly in the Northwest. Instead of tents – look into yurt camping! Yurts are circular structures that are somewhat of a mixture between a tent and a cabin. They have been used for centuries and offer an insulated and weather proof shelter! They have become a popular form of camping in the Pacific Northwest. Check below to find information about yurts in your state parks!

Hawaii (you can probably just head to the beach).

Puddle Splashing
Puddle Stomping at Tualatin River NWR
Credit: Tualatin River NWR/USFWS
If it's not snowing here in the winter seasons – it's raining. Heading outdoors only to get soaked is usually no fun, but with the proper gear and planning, getting your boots wet can be a blast. The Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) hosts Puddle Stompers each year during Portland’s rainy season where kids and families can visit the refuge geared up for rain (for more information and dates on this year's events please contact the refuge at 503-625-5944). The refuge provides rain gear for the little ones and they are off to make a splash! Find similar programs in your area or get suited up in your own gear and do some splashing in your own neighborhood.

Snow Animals
A creative way to switch up the ordinary winter snowmen building!
Credit: Ryan Howley/Flickr Creative Commons
If your winter weather is full of snow, try taking that old tradition of snowman building and making it a bit more interesting! Begin by choosing or learning about an interesting animal. Find a photo (or a stuffed animal) of the animal you choose and head outside. Instead of building Frosty, try your hand at building your animal in the snow! Don't forget to also give it eyes, a nose and a mouth in whatever creative way you can think of!

Seasonal Collage
Seasonal photo collage. A great way to be creative in nature
throughout the year!
Credit: Aunt Owwee/Flickr Creative Commons
Begin a year-long photography project that, when finished, will give you a beautiful piece of art to keep for yourself or share with a friend or family member! First, find an outdoor space that you enjoy year-round. Next, gather your artistic tools (camera, pencils paints). Then, head to your chosen location and create your own snapshot of the area at its current stage. Come back again each season to the same location and take a new snapshot. At the end of the year, turn your four snapshots into a beautiful collage of the seasons!

Snow shoeing can be a great activity whether out on a trail or in your
own front yard!
Credit: Mel Issa/Flickr Creative Commons
If you love trail hiking, don't let the winter weather get you down. If your favorite trail gets covered in snow this winter, no problem! Many places during the winter will rent out snowshoes and even provide guided trails. Investigate trails near you, you're sure to find one for all different ages and experience levels! Worst case scenario, if you don't want to travel out too far, strap on some snow shoes and take a walk around the block!

If you happen to be in the Leavenworth, Washington area – check out this exciting snowshoeing event at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery!

For the Extreme Adventurers
A fire lookout on Granite Mountain Trail, Washington and shot of
one of the great, scenic views that comes with it.
Credit: Ryan Laferty
Did you know that during the winter seasons the U.S. Forest Service rents out their fire lookouts? Many of the lookouts require a snowshoe hike to get to, and require boiling of snow for safe drinking water. If you are looking to really get away and into nature during the winter, and have a big sense of adventure, this may be your perfect winter activity! For more information on fire lookout rentals, locations and safety tips, please visit the Pacific Northwest Forest Service's site.

We hope you get a chance to try at least one of these winter activities! If you have other ideas, please share with us! And if you do get out to try these, let us know how it went!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Fishy Halloween

A small group of students gather around raceways at Eagle Creek NFH
in search of swimming fish.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
It's a rainy Halloween day. Six cars slowly approach down the windy roads just outside of Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery (NFH). As a ten year old, eager to dress up like a princess or superhero, filling pillow cases with candy, the wet pavement, rows of green roofed buildings and a few elongated pools, seemingly not suitable for swimming, may not seem like the best field trip at first glance. But it's what is going on inside of these buildings and dark mysterious concrete pools that trigger the wide-eyed gazes of amazement, a cringe here and there, and a chance to make a new friend in the shape of a tiny, squishy, orange egg.

The students observe coho spawning.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Salmon Watch
This field trip was a part of the newly restored Salmon Watch program, which aims to connect students and teachers with salmon, and other wild fish, in efforts to spark their interest and love for these important species. On this day, coho spawning was taking place at Eagle Creek, surely something these students had never before witnessed.

Some initial reactions to the spawning process from two students who
would later rush to touch one of the adult cohos.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Scary, Exciting Spawning
The tour began with a live viewing of the coho salmon spawning, a process that brings adult fish into the hatchery where eggs are manually collected from the female fish and fertilized by the male fish. Each year, this process allows Eagle Creek to produce 1.4 million coho smolt for the Columbia River Basin. While this process may cause those unfamiliar with it to find themselves a bit squeamish, even the group of girls who at first crinkled up their faces in disgust, were later the first eagerly outreached hands to "pet" one of the coho.

Fascinated by their tiny, unfertilized coho
Credit: Meghan Kearney
Bonding with Coho
Before leaving the spawning area, the students were all given an unfertilized egg to examine (meaning it, unfortunately for the students, wouldn’t hatch into a coho). Bonds were quickly formed with these "baby fish" and before we knew it, names like "Mr. Squishy" were being thrown around. It was obvious these eggs would go nowhere but home into twenty-five different bowls of tap water. The next stop on the tour took the group into the hatchery building where fertilized eggs are held until hatching and then released into those mysterious concrete raceways. Here, the group learned more about the tiny orange eggs, discovering that soon the eggs in the building would become "eyed," meaning a fish was starting to develop. From the looks on their faces and dedication to observing their eggs, these kids were ready for a fish to sprout up inside of their ziplock bags at any second.

Students excitedly gather around the hatchery's fish
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
No Ordinary Ladder
Next, it was time for the group to make their way to the fish ladder, a term that kept everyone excited all morning. This was definitely their finale. "Can we climb it?!" asked one of the students. After giggles subsided, the group learned how a fish ladder differed from a human's ladder, and why these ladders were so important to fish. The time finally came for the children to head back to school. A day spent at the seemingly unexciting fish hatchery would now more likely be remembered as nature's Disneyland. Twenty-five children left the hatchery that day, understanding the nature of fish conservation and undoubtedly taking that with them into their future. But more importantly, I knew twenty-five coho eggs that were about to spend their evening Trick-or-Treating.

Check out more photos from this Halloween field trip!