Wednesday, August 28, 2013

More than Just a Sunny Day

Jim Clapp, Steigerwald manager, shares with volunteers the layout
of the refuge.

Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
For the past year, I've been writing blog after blog about "getting out there." Just simply getting out into nature and enjoying all it has to offer. Though getting people out there is a major goal of ours, for many U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) employees this is merely the first step. For Jim Clapp, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge Manager, getting people out into nature is a top priority, but he takes things a step further. Managing the refuge for almost seven years, Jim takes leaps beyond the everyday duties of refuge managing to engage locals in the nature of their own community.

Jim with volunteers going over the field notebooks that students will
use during visits to the refuge.

Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
"One Man Show"
The refuge has been humorously referred to as a "one man show," reflecting Jim as the sole caretaker of the grounds, but Jim knows it's a collective community effort. Each school year, Jim organizes and carries out a volunteer and educator workshop to teach and train any members of the public or local educators not just about the refuge but about the variety of plants and wildlife that are present in the city of Washougal, Washington. After these workshops, Jim, along with local teachers, brings school groups out to the refuge, where they are then led by the volunteers through an exciting and educational day outdoors.

The group hears the call of a bird - eager to spot and identify it!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Training the Trainer
I recently had the chance to join in on one of the volunteer trainings at the refuge. With the help of Eric Anderson, a USFWS employee who specializes in education and volunteer coordination (among many other tasks), Jim led a group of five local volunteers on a refuge "walk-through" of sorts. Along the walk, we were given field backpacks filled with tools like binoculars, field guides and journaling materials. These same backpacks are made available for any student groups visiting the refuge. We were also given two refuge-specific field notebooks, one for students, and one for volunteers and teachers to follow as they walk along with students.

Eric assists the training by helping volunteers learn
about plants and species around the refuge.

Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Hands-on Education
These field guides provided more than just reading and scrap paper, guiding students through plant identification, food chain explanations, bird watching and plant-survey activities, and post-field trip activities. All of the materials within the field guides matched common education standards for students that visited, giving them hands-on opportunities to participate in topics like creating their own scientific experiment. Our group of volunteers got to act like kids again and participate in the plant-survey activity. While half of the group climbed through the brush identifying plants, the other half recorded data. By the end of the day, the volunteers, even those completely new to the refuge, left confident and eager to return and provide their own groups of students with what Jim has coined "more than just a sunny day."

For more information on Steigerwald's education program please visit here.
To see even more photos from the workshop, please visit our Facebook page!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How Do You Define Summer Break?

Pulling invasive plants around Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery.
Photo Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
It was a beautiful day along the Columbia River in Washington. Almost a hundred cars were parked along the entryway to Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery. Some pulled boards, paddles, and sails from SUV rooftops while others changed into wetsuits to enjoy one of the country's top windsurfing destinations. Adventurers both young and old grabbed their gear and marched down towards the Columbia for a day of wind surfing, paddle boarding and swimming. But if you looked a little closer, a group of seven seemed to stand out. They weren't wearing swimsuits, but bright orange safety vests. They weren’t carrying surfboards, but shovels. The only thing that didn't seem so different was their contagious excitement and the smiles on their faces.

Mental and physical warm-ups before a hard day's work!
Photo Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Choosing Conservation
This stand-out group of seven (six high school students and their mentor) made the choice to spend their summer a bit differently. Rather than take the leisurely route like many kids their age, they joined the Forest Youth Success (FYS) crew. This organization recruits high school-aged students from Skamania County, Washington to spend a couple months of their summer break working on public lands. This year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Pacific Region Connecting People with Nature Team supported this FYS crew with funding from the National Conservation Training Center to help with travels, projects, and even a rewarding paycheck for the students. Through this program, these passionate and hardworking teens gain real-life work experience in conservation, learn new skills, work with mentors from different organizations, and truly make a difference for and a connection with the natural world in their own backyards.

Pulling invasive Scotch Broom from the nature trail.
Photo Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Passion & Pride
This day, the crew would remove invasive plants from the natural areas around the hatchery. They began the morning with mental and physical warm-ups led by their adult mentor, Joby. "If you could live in any decade for one week, what would it be and why?" Each student took turns sharing their answers, from the 1700's to the year 3000, while instructing the rest of the crew through a physical warm-up of their choosing. The youth mentors then lead a safety talk, before all hitting the trails. The group split in two, half down towards the river to pull False Indigo while the others staying inland hacked away at Scotch Broom. It didn't take me long to notice there was something unique about this group. They were eager to work, they were eager to help each other, and their obvious pride from their day's work offered a brand new way to think about "summer break."

Working hard against a back drop of recreation!
Photo Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Work & Play
Before lunch had even struck, both groups had almost completed the work they planned for the whole day. At lunch, the sight of hundreds of wind surfers flying through the air with Mt. Hood peeking out from the trees offered quite a contrast from the eight-hour work day ticking along right in front of me. But in the glow of the work crew's accomplished, smiling faces, who's to say who was enjoying themselves more?

For our full set of photos please visit our Facebook page & for more information about the Forest Youth Success Crew, please visit theirs!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Savor the Summer

The new school year is quickly approaching! It's time to get those last minute summer time leisure activities in! What have you been doing so far this summer? We wanted to offer a few ways to think "outside of the tent" for the remaining sunshiny weeks!

Hike your camping gear into a site, rather than car camping
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Camping is quite possibly the greatest nature activity there is during the summer season. That being said, it’s also quite an obvious one. The possibilities to connect with nature via camping are endless: hiking, making a campfire, playing in a river, viewing wildlife and so much more. These endless options are what make camping such an appealing way to get outdoors, especially when the weather is nice. This summer, we challenge you to take camping to the next level. Think about your typical camping experience and plan a future trip that explores something new. Think outside the box. Do you typically car camp or “glamp”? Plan a trip that requires you to hike yourself and your gear to a site. Typically travel with flashlights and lanterns? Challenge yourself to camp with only the light of a fire. Try sleeping under the stars instead of inside of a tent. Do you have friends who would never dream of going camping? Find a way to get them outdoors and show them how much fun camping can be! The challenge is to turn your normal camping trip into a brand new adventure!

Find a Wildlife Refuge near you and spend
the day viewing wildlife.

Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Explore a Wildlife Refuge
Summertime is a great time to visit a National Wildlife Refuge. We always have exciting and free activities going on at refuges across the Pacific Region (and around the globe) during the summer. Kids are out of school and it’s the perfect opportunity for an outing with family & friends! Visit our National Wildlife Refuge System website to find your refuge, learn about a new one you haven’t before visited, and learn about the events and activities they have to offer. While you’re there, learn a bit about the refuge and its species. Chat with an onsite volunteer naturalist who can help you find spots to bird watch, tell you about any new or rare species that have been spotted, and provide you with materials to connect with nature during your visit! Make sure to take lots of photos, make some memories and share them with us!

Ever "Frolfed"? Half frisbee, half golf? Sports like these take you deep
into nature!

Credit: Grolser/Flickr Creative Commons
Playing outdoor sports is not only a great way to enjoy summer, but an even better way to connect with nature! There are, of course, the usual outdoor sports like football, baseball, soccer, golf, etc. but don’t forget about the ones that really take you deep into nature! Like to run? Try trail running instead of track, street or treadmill. Instead of street biking, take a bike out to your nearest park or mountain if you’re feeling extra adventurous. Don’t forget about sports like archery, or even frolfing! Finally, take your children out, or resurface your inner child, and spend a day in the woods playing those awesome childhood summer camp games. We’re talking capture the flag, water balloon fights, freeze tag, or even hide and seek. You are never too old to be a kid in nature!

Learn about a species like the Taylor's checkerspot butterfly.
Credit: Ted Thomas/USFWS
Learn about a species
With all of the summer free-time, and great weather to spend that time in, why not learn about a species in your area? Make a full and fun project out of it. Pick a species that you care about, maybe one that is endangered, or even one you simply think is adorable! Spend some time learning about the species. Grab a book from your local library or search the internet (and don’t forget to take your reading materials outside). Once you find you are a new expert on the species head out to its local habitat and see what else you can learn! Record any sitings of your species or any traces it may have left. Take notes and photos and share them with friends and family. Before you know it you just might be that species’ newest conservation activist!

Cook and eat dinner around an outdoor fire, rather than a dining room.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Take your indoor activities outside
Finally, if you still find you aren’t getting out and enjoying the summertime, pause for a second next time you’re doing something indoors. Ask yourself “is this something I could do outside?” The answer is almost always yes. Reading a book? Working on schoolwork? Grab your book or homework and head to your nearest park with a blanket. Soak in the nature while enjoying your indoor activity in the sun. Want to watch a movie? Check local listings to see if any groups or parks are hosting any outdoor movies. Head to a park for dinner and grill up some treats instead of using your stove at home. The possibilities are endless if you put your nature-brain to work!

If you can think of anymore summer time activities that you enjoy doing – let us know. We are always looking for new, fun ways to connect with nature!

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Fishing Day for All: The Sequel

Dana Perez, USFWS Chief of Diversity & Civil Rights, assists Armond in
catching his first fish! (one of the largest of the day!)

Photo Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
About a year ago, we shared the story of a newly installed accessible fishing platform at Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery. We spent the day with a group from United Cerebral Palsy of Oregon & Southwest Washington out on the dock, fishing poles cast into the lake, hoping for a bite. It might have been the season, the time of day, or the noisy excitement echoing from the shore that kept the fish away, but our catches were few and far between. This didn’t seem to bother the happy crowd on the lake by any means, some who had never fished before and were so happy to just be out there. I still couldn’t help but wonder about the amount of joy I would have witnessed if the satisfaction of catching a fish was thrown into the mix. I didn’t know then that a year into my future I would find myself again fishing with this amazing crew, but this time with almost too many fish to handle!

Public Affairs Specialist, Amanda, sharing the moment.
Photo credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
New and old faces
I found myself this past week at Bonneville Hatchery, along the Columbia River in Oregon awaiting the arrival of my old pals. Through a partnership with CAST/Catch a Special Thrill Foundation, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, United Cerebral Palsy of Oregon & Southwest Washington, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and area Kiwanis chapters, we were able to provide a group of almost 40 visitors and their families fishing poles, tackle boxes, a delicious outdoor lunch, and of course, a wonderful day of fishing. Many of the faces I recognized from the year before, and many faces were new, and all were smiling.

USFWS Microbiologist, Matt, checking out the sturgeon viewing pond
with David.

Photo credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Fishing buddies
After grabbing their tackle boxes and poles, our eager visitors were each matched up with a fishing buddy before making their way to the pond. Within less than ten minutes, I heard cheers from the far side of the dock. I looked over and saw the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Pacific Region Deputy Director, Richard Hannan and Robert laughing and cheering joyously as they reeled in what appeared to be a bite. Sure enough, it was, and I realized right there that my suspicions had been confirmed. Watching the excitement not only on Robert’s face, but the faces of every volunteer and friend around the lake, was truly unlike anything I have before experienced. 

Robert catches his first fish of the day, an inspiring moment.
Video credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Volunteers and visitors share in the joys of fishing!
Photo credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Nature’s true joy
After the first catch, one after another was to follow, and soon enough the only things to be seen around the hatchery were smiles (well, and bags of prized fish). What could really be seen in this day was the true joy that nature brings to all of us. Reflecting on the fishless, but smiling faces from last year, and seeing them back for another go says so much about how important connections with nature truly are. It’s not always about catching the biggest fish; sometimes it’s just about having the opportunity to get out there.

For our full set of photos from the event be sure to check out our Facebook album.
Also check out more great blogs on the event from USFWS Pacific Region and the Columbia River Fisheries Program Office!