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!

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