Monday, July 30, 2012

A Tradition to Preserve

A view of Willamette Falls
: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Last week, a group of tribal youth from the Warm Springs and Yakama tribes braved the slippery rocks and flowing waters of Willamette Falls. Each year, tribal members come to Willamette Falls to harvest Pacific lamprey. This species of fish has always been an important aspect of tribal culture and religion but as Pacific lamprey numbers continue to decline, tribes depend on the annual harvest at Willamette Falls to last the year.

Tribal youth navigating the rocks where Pacific
lamprey reside at the Falls.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
This year at the falls, a group of students were selected based upon high GPA’s in school to work with The Warm Springs Tribe for the summer. As part of this job, the six members came out to the falls in basketball shorts, t-shirts and sneakers to dredge through the waters, capturing lamprey. “This is my first time eeling,” said one of the younger members of the group as he excitedly dragged a burlap sack full of lamprey up the steep rocks. Their group leader explained the significance of their work describing how they would later be able to present their catches to tribal elders. “Talk about knowing where your food came from” she said.

Tribal stories were told throughout the day, and one explained how throwing the first lamprey you catch back into the river would assure a successful harvest. One of the young eelers wanted to know if it still counted that his first catch wiggled right out of his hands. As we watched from the safer area of the falls, the faces of the eelers were proud as they posed for camera flashes all around, one eeler showing off one of his catches by holding it up into the air.

Celebrating their catches
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
It was an incredible site to see Pacific lamprey in the flesh as they scaled the falls’ cliffs using only their suction cup mouth, but more importantly to witness these young, energetic tribal members taking part in such an important piece of culture and history for their tribes. The purpose of their involvement was to ensure that these traditions will continue to pass on through future generations; to pass on both the cultural significance of lamprey among tribes and the overall preservation of rivers. With how much these kids seemed to enjoy having a part in such an important day, I believe the tradition will be well preserved.

Pacific lamprey from the days' work.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
The next step is to help preserve the Pacific lamprey. Though not just anybody can climb down to the falls to aid the tribes in their harvest, anyone can play a part in working towards restoration of the once high numbers of Pacific lamprey in our region! And better yet – it is a great excuse to get yourself connected with nature! I will include links below where you can learn more about this interesting and misunderstood fish and information on ways to get involved in their conservation!

For more footage from the harvest please watch this Oregonian Video and follow Luna the Lamprey on Facebook and Twitter!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Shaping Future Conservationists

“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.”
- David Sobel, Author of Beyond Ecophobia

Testing out their binoculars for bird watching.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Last week I got to join in on my first school field trip at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, WA. The day’s group was an inspiring, energetic, and adorable group of 7-9 year olds from NE Portland’s King School. King School boasts a culturally rich and diverse student body with a passion for nature. This year, children enrolled in their extended school year are spending time learning about birding. The group of about 60 kids arrived to the refuge, binoculars and bird watching guides at the ready, accompanied by wide eyes ready to spot as many birds as possible.

Stopping to check out some insects along the trail.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Excitement, Not Fear
One of the greatest fears of conservationists around the globe is that children are not being given the passion for, and opportunity to experience nature. On this day at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, this concept would have been hard to believe. “A giant spiderweb!!” one of the girls screamed as our group walked along one of the many trails inside the refuge. Expecting to turn around and see this girl running for cover, I was pleasantly surprised that her scream was of excitement rather than fear. I watched as she pulled out her binoculars and pushed them so close to the web, almost two-feet in radius, I thought she might have gotten tangled up in it herself. As the rest of the group quickly gathered to get their close-up of the web, I looked back to my childhood, deathly afraid of spiders and wondered why I wasn’t as brave as these kids when I was their age.

Part of the ant colony!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Making Nature A Friend
The rest of the day was no different. These kids weren’t afraid to get dirty, they weren’t afraid of picking up ants and letting them crawl around on their hands, and they definitely were not afraid to direct traffic around a tiny caterpillar crawling along the trail, making sure to keep it safe from our feet.

Later, the group was brought into the Cathlapotle Plankhouse to learn about a life dependent on the land. Hands shot up in the air as Katie, our Plankhouse guide, asked the children about possible ways to eat, craft tools, and sleep when local plants and animals were the only available resources. “If everyone lived in this one big house, they would get a lot more work done!” responded one of the group when asked about the benefits of living with a large group in the plankhouse. The students ended their day with a lunch out in the grass, where the sight of birds flying by was much more satisfying than the cookies in their lunch boxes.

Spotted a Great Blue Heron off in the distance.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
A Future in Good Hands
With the services provided by Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge, and the energy, time and dedication of the King School teachers and chaperones to provide children the opportunity to get outside, this great group of kids showed a clear love for the Earth. Upon leaving the refuge that day, I couldn’t help but feel much less fearful for the future of our planet if I knew these children from King School were to be involved in it.

For more information on Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge and their programs, please visit their site or the Friends of the Refuge website.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mobilizing Nature

After arriving, the group spent some time bird watching.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

There are plenty of reasons why people don’t spend more time in the great outdoors, and for some, the answer is as simple as mobility. Whether you lack the transportation to travel out of a city or don’t have the physical capabilities to hit the trails “getting outside” might not seem possible. This past week, at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, we were able to tackle all of these disadvantages to getting outside!

Larry, a refuge volunteer, sharing some
of the refuge's own tadpoles
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Reaching Out
A group of nine members of Oatfield Estates, part of the memory care unit, visited the Refuge this past week through a grant funded by the National Conservation Training Center. This grant is part of an initiative to help groups who might not ordinarily have the means to get out to the refuge, located fifteen miles outside of Portland, Oregon.

Getting Personal
After arriving on the refuge, our guests spent some time on an outdoor overlook spotting Heron and even a bald eagle! The group was then brought into one of the Refuge’s classrooms for more excitement. One of many of the Refuge’s dedicated volunteers, Larry, led an informal class about the refuge and some of its wildlife, allowing the ladies to ask questions and share personal stories of past experiences with nature.

Passing around different animal skins.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
After passing around a set of animal skins and a bucket of tadpoles and newts (which Larry caught himself just hours before the class), the ladies enjoyed lunch under the sun just in time for Portland’s unofficial first day of summer. “Are the paths on these trails paved? Can I take my scooter out there?” asked Marge, one of the group, half humorously. She was thrilled to hear that about a mile of the Tualatin NWR trails were in-fact handicap accessible.

Viewing the refuge through a telescope.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Battling Barriers
At Tualatin NWR community members are encouraged to experience the natural habitat and inhabitants of the land. Workers are constantly striving to reduce barriers that might prevent you, me, or groups similar to the ladies of Oatfield Estates from experiencing the world outside. The moral of this story is: next time you feel one of these terrible barriers keeping you from getting outside, remember Marge, her scooter, and her passion to give it a go. It may be much easier to get outside than you think, and if you can’t get to it, there may just be a way to get it to you!

For more information on Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge events and programs please visit:
& Friends of the Refuge:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Day without Chocolate?

Part of the USFWS booth included a flower dissection station!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Who loves chocolate?
Probably most of you. And for those who don’t, this post also applies to apples, strawberries, coffee, kiwi, broccoli and just about every type of fruit, vegetable or flower that you yourself might have in your garden. All of these items have one very important thing in common with one another, and this past weekend I not only got to learn about this for myself, I also shared these fun but important facts with attendees at the Wallowa Resources Watershed Festival in Enterprise, Oregon. 

After dissecting flowers guests
got to share in some pollinated food!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Find Your Connection
As part of my role with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s Connecting People with Nature team, I’m looking for unique ways to show the importance of nature in our everyday lives, and what better way to do this than through delicious, sweet chocolate! By now you are probably wondering what chocolate has to do with nature. The answer comes down to one simple skill practiced by many of our wildlife friends – pollination! All of those yummy treats that I listed above depend on pollinators like bees, butterflies and even bats to reproduce. (Read more about the process of pollination and chocolate!).Without these important species, we might never experience the joy of chocolate consumption (or broccoli of course)!

Learning the different parts of a flower,
and the process of pollination.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Flowers and Apples and Chocolate, Oh My!
In celebration of National Pollinator Week, U.S. Fish & Wildlife themed our booth at this year’s Watershed Festival around pollinators through three themes: pollinators, pollination, and pollinated food! We spent the day teaching kids, adults and grandparents alike how to dissect a flower, and how to count seeds in an apple to determine if it’s been fully pollinated (it has to have ten seeds!). Finally, after explaining the process of pollination of the chocolate flower, we handed out chocolates donated by local Arrowhead Chocolates. Experiencing nature through flowers, apples and chocolate was nothing short of a hit!

Helping Pollinators at Home
Now that you know a bit more about the importance of pollinators in your everyday life, make sure to get outside and lend a helping hand to the little creatures you find flying around your plants! Without them, we could suffer more than just a day without chocolate! Also, if you have any stories to share about pollinators in your garden, tips for keeping them around, or even want to name some more plants that depend on pollinators, leave some comments! 

Watch "The Beauty of Pollination" 

More great resources on pollinators, and what you can do to be involved in their conservation in your own backyard/community garden/balcony!

Educational Resources (Videos, games, and lessons for teachers!)
“Pick the Pollinator” – interactive game from PBS!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Faces of Nature: An Introduction

My introductory photo: Me, Meghan, at U.S. Fish & Wildlife's
Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery.
Credit: Derek Neuts/USFWS
Noticing Trees. A good friend once told me that looking at a tree actually correlated with being in a better mood. At the time, I laughed at him, but once this concept was in my head, I started to notice its truth every time I looked at a tree. Think about what could happen in an entire forest! I think this is the point in my life where I actually started to pay attention to nature, and this wasn’t very long ago.

View of the Columbia River Gorge, George, Washington
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
First Connections. Since arriving in Portland, Oregon three years ago I’ve experienced a number of amazing outdoor places from a local park to the timberline of Mt. Hood. In fact, I was lucky enough to find what I believe is actually the most beautiful place on Earth: The Columbia River Gorge, specifically surrounding the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington. I first experienced this unbelievable landscape two years ago for Sasquatch Music Festival. Being that my true passion has always been in the experience of music, the promise of four straight days outdoors full of live music and camping in this place called “The Gorge” drew me right in. Here I made my connection with nature for the first time. I remember the feeling of walking up over the hill leading to what some call “the bowl” (where a grassy hill drops down hundreds of feet to the festival’s main stage), and first looking out over the picturesque miles and miles of rolling hills, clouds, and the gorgeous Columbia River. It’s something you have to experience to truly understand, and that’s what Gorge veterans tell all of the first-timers like me on that day. This was the point in my life where I realized I would rather spend the night in a tent than a house; rather sleep on the grass than in a bed.

Devin, a happy fisherman after catching fish with
his bare hands at the Nez Perce traveling fish ponds!
Watershed Festival, Enterprise, Oregon, June 2012
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
The Need for Nature. Now I find myself in Portland, Oregon working with U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s Pacific Region Connecting People With Nature team where my main goal is to find those suffering from the same type of affinity for the not-so-great-indoors as I used to have, and provide the opportunity to change their perspective. Being that I myself used to prefer staying indoors playing Nintendo, I’m hoping I have the right skills to reach out to those in need of nature.

Sharing My Story. In a sense, I want to share that story about looking at a tree.  I look forward to witnessing the experience of what I felt the first time I looked out onto the Columbia Gorge expressed on the face of someone else. Whether it be a child catching a fish for the first time or a grandparent who has spent their life inside the walls of a city setting foot on a wildlife refuge for the first time, there is something really special about the moment one realizes that being outside is so much more amazing than being inside. And I know from experience that once it happens, it sticks.

Visitors learn to juggle at Watershed Festival, Enterprise, Oregon
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Capturing the Faces of Nature. That brings me to the purpose of this blog. Here, I will be sharing the stories of the different travels I take, and events I attend during my summer with  the Connecting People With Nature team. I’ll be looking to reach out to audiences that typically don’t spend much time in nature, and get them there. In addition, the theme of this blog will be to capture these moments as "the faces of nature." As someone who used to be one of these people, I hope the stories and photos I share will inspire many to take their first steps into nature and find a love there that will last a lifetime.