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!"