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!"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jason Pyron wins "Sense of Wonder" award!

Over 60 years ago, iconic naturalist Rachel Carson developed an idea now known as "sense of wonder." The concept behind this phrase focused on adults fostering an appreciation for the natural world within youth. To preserve the legacy of Carson's inspiring ideas, the U.S. Fish &Wildlife National Conservation Training Center awards one employee annually with the "Sense of Wonder" award. This award, inspired by Carson's original goal, is given to one Service employee as recognition of an outstanding project that connects people with nature and nurtures the public's stewardship of their natural resources. This year, the award went to the Pacific Region's own Jason Pyron of the Idaho Fish & Wildlife Office.
His project, "Sage Grouse in the Schools" (read more about the project in our past blog entry here) helped connect local landowners and high school students. Students made visits to local ranches aiding in activities like fence flagging and habitat reseeding. Through the project, students were able to reconnect with nature while lending a hand at habitat improvement project implementation. 

From NCTC: "In this program, Jason has worked to bring youth, local land owners and ranchers, state and federal land managers, NGOs, and schools together to enhance western sagebrush-steppe habitat and sage-grouse understanding in local communities. He believes that getting students outdoors, connecting them to nature, and giving them the tools they need to make informed decisions about land and land management is one of our agency’s most important responsibilities. 
At the heart of Jason's program success is his recognition that partnerships are foundational to strong conservation education, regardless of the issues, and youth and local community involvement are the key. Jason excels at developing positive working relationships with State and Federal government agencies, private landowners, NGOs, schools and other stakeholders."

Check out an excellent video about the program on our Connecting People with Nature Facebook page HERE!
We want to send a warm congratulations to Jason for creating such an inspiring project! Join us in sending our biggest thanks! Below we've provided photos and videos recapping Jason's sage grouse project - please view, enjoy and share with your friends!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Girls Can Be Scientists Too

Girls from the YWCA in Olympia, participating in a discussion panel
for women in STEM careers.

Photo: YWCA
 When you think of careers in science, technology, engineering or math (fields most commonly referred to as STEM) what is the first visual that comes to mind? I'm willing to bet the first thing you pictured was an older man, with white fluffy hair, wearing protective goggles, plugging away at a chemistry set, a computer mother board, a black board covered in chalky white numbers. You know, that Einstein type! This makes sense. I learned this past week that women make up only 24% of STEM careers thanks to a PSA by Girls without Limits, part of the YWCA in Olympia, Washington. But this wasn't all I learned from this great group of girls.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife began a partnership with the YWCA of Olympia a few years ago by offering transportation funding to get girls out into nature, and the community. Now, we sponsor two girls each year to attend summer camps. In addition, our female employees frequent YWCA events to assist girls in developing the skills, empowerment and energy to pursue careers in STEM and conservation. These opportunities help mold the girls into successful women, and provide them leadership opportunities that ordinarily might have been perceived as things only men could do.

The YWCA of Olympia offers a number of different opportunities for girls and women, and is constantly looking for more. Aside from connecting girls with professional women, during school breaks, such as spring break, winter and summer, they provide camps for girls offering endless opportunities to learn new skills, work with mentors, and make life-long friendships with other girls. Throughout the school year, leaders from the YWCA host after-school groups where girls can come to talk about challenges and successes in their lives. As for connecting with nature, YWCA girls make frequent trips, some lead by U.S. Fish & Wildlife employees, to wildlife refuges and other local natural areas to learn about wildlife, conservation and careers!

It is quite obvious that the YWCA and their partners are making great headway in fostering growth and confidence for young women. If this sounds like something you or a professional women or girl you know would be interested in, you too can get involved. To find out more information on the YWCA of Olympia, please visit their website. To see some of the great work the leaders and girls are doing also check out their Facebook page and YouTube channel!

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Place to Grow

The entrance sign to the GRuB Garden!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Tucked away to the west of Washington State's bustling capitol, Olympia, lies three peaceful acres of property unlike any other. A quick drive past might showcase a group of people under a canopy with small baskets of food, small but colorfully painted sheds, and loads upon loads of vegetation. Upon second glance you may spot a group of scurrying, dirt-covered teenagers. Teenagers?! In this quiet neighborhood? This nice garden? That can't be a good sign. But here, at GRuB (which stands for Garden-Raised Bounty), the scurrying teenagers are far from up to no good. Instead, they are more likely running around installing hoses, fertilizing plants, picking fresh vegetables, or training other young gardeners how to properly maintain their tomatoes. And they do this all for the betterment of their community.   

A view of the garden where student volunteers were working.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Breaking the stereotype
"There's all these stereotypes that teenagers are just glued to their cell phones and their laptops and that's all they care about. And it's just so interesting because here you get to see such a different side of that" explains Mallorie, GRuB's Americorps student leader, and a 4 year veteran of the garden. Mallorie and many other local students just like her, come to GRuB to spend time outdoors, learn how to garden, and to help local Olympians practice affordable cooking and eating. A senior at Olympia High School, Dayquan, explains of his involvement with GRuB, "I think that growing up on assistance, and getting free food at school definitely urged me to help with this program because they do a lot with getting food out there to the market stands and to the food bank. I'm giving back to my community. Everyone else thinks I'm just skating and doing other stuff but I'm skating and getting food justice incorporated in Olympia."

The Kitchen Garden Project area
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
A community institution
The GRuB garden is a celebrated staple in the Olympia community. They cultivate food on about .85 acres year-round for the community, but this is just the beginning. The garden houses a student and youth program that helps provide a safe, educational and fun place for young students to exert their creative energy. "I love GRuB because it's shown me how to talk in public and put my thoughts out there in a way that's not 'in your face' but is also not able to be squashed" shares Connor, another Olympia High School student who has both worked and volunteered with GRuB.

Some of the artwork found around the garden.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
More than just a garden
In addition, GRuB is best known in the community for their Kitchen Garden Project. Through this project, community members can grow their own food either on GRuB property or in their own backyards. Either way, GRuB staff and volunteers work diligently to properly train locals how to grow, maintain, and even cook their own food. The goal is to provide Olympia with the keys to healthy and self-sufficient food habits. The crew doesn't just train individuals how to garden, but they build long-standing relationships, making visits often to assure families and their gardens are doing well. Yes, from an outside view, GRuB may look like just a neighborhood garden, but once you step inside it immediately becomes clear that it is a living, breathing place to grow.   

For more information on this great organization please visit their website. And to see more photos from our visit check out our Facebook photo album!