Thursday, July 28, 2011

Taking a Leap Into Class II and III Rapids in the Name of Safety

Last month, biologists and technicians from our office joined employees from the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Forest Service, and other organizations in a 3-day Swift Water Safety and Rescue training course. We take the course each year to prepare for our summer fish and habitat surveys in the fast-moving rivers of western Washington. For newer staff, this was a first-time training experience not soon forgotten. The training began with a half-day lecture at the NPS headquarters in Port Angeles, WA, followed by 2½ days of in-water exercises on the Elwha, Sol Duc, and Skokomish Rivers on the Olympic Peninsula.

Students learned skills necessary to identify risks and safely negotiate swift water hazards using proper wading and swimming techniques, as well as the use of zip lines. We also developed rescue skills including effective throw bag use; avoiding, negotiating and rescuing from foot entrapments and strainers; "live bait” rescues (where a rescuer, tethered to a team member anchored ashore, swims to the aid of the victim); vessel capsize, recovery and reentry; and basic gear that field personnel should have on hand.

Every year, field workers and recreationalists fall victim to a lack of experience, familiarity with, and training in the dangers of swift water environments. This course was an intensive confidence-building and teambuilding experience for our Fisheries Division staff. Each member left the course with a new respect for the hazards of swift water, a greater appreciation for their equipment, a heightened awareness of the physical demands required to work in and around moving water, and the knowledge to work safely in these environments.


Friday, July 22, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Introducing Tree

Hello! My name is Tree Steele and I am a Student Temporary Employee Program (STEP) fisheries technician with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and a senior at the The Evergreen State College focusing on organic chemistry and ecology.

My education at Evergreen has included several intensive courses which have developed and amplified my passion for and knowledge of wildlife and education. I was in a year-long program called Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems my first year there. This class integrated aquatic biology, ecology, field methods, and data analysis with human interactions with water, and social issues involving human usage of freshwater. The following summer I interned with the FWS analyzing acoustic tracking data, electrofishing, and cataloging stomach samples from fish caught in Lake Washington. During this time, I discovered I loved field work and I wanted to get out as much as possible. At the end of the summer, I continued my internship but switched from fisheries to education/outreach. During this time, I created a book of nature-based activities for the FWS staff to use when working with children.

I have always been fascinated with animals and the outdoors. I fondly remember family camping trips in Eastern Oregon where I was on a constant search for wildlife. I began volunteering for various environmental and social organizations in middle school, including three summers spent at the Oregon Zoo. I later moved on to a number of volunteer and paid counselor positions for outdoor nature camps, including Friends of Tryon Creek Education Center and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. I found the lessons and educational games to be truly fun and deeply rewarding. Once I realized that I could get paid for doing this type of work, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in field and education/outreach work.

This summer I will have the opportunity to focus on both of those career goals, as I have landed a seasonal STEP position with the FWS Washington Fish & Wildlife Office in Lacey, WA. I will be an instructor for the Youth Fisheries Academy day camps, giving youth an opportunity to become fisheries biologists for the day. This outreach work is important for it gives kids a chance to explore the natural world, as well as inform them of careers that involve nature and conservation. The kids are not the only ones to benefit from this program, though; it also provides a great opportunity for me to gain experience in developing and implementing the camp curriculum. In addition, the other STEP technicians and I will be assisting with various field research projects being conducted by the Fisheries Division. The three of us will update this blog throughout the summer as we continue with the Youth Fisheries day camps and field work. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Introducing Claire

Hello everyone! My name is Claire Wood and I am an environmental science and conservation biology major at The Evergreen State College and a Student Temporary Employee Program (STEP) fisheries technician with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS).

For as long as I can remember, the natural world has been incredibly important to me and I have been deeply interested in the scientific underpinnings of the universe. As I grew older, this passion matured as I became involved in field work, restoration efforts, wildlife rehabilitation, ecological surveys, and the like. I was fortunate enough to live in a school district (in Nebraska) where smaller “focus programs” were offered as an alternative to the large standard high schools. I attended the science focus program for all 4 years and was able to delve deeply into science and participated in a great deal of experiential learning. I then enrolled at Evergreen for its fantastic environmental science program, interdisciplinary approach, and student-directed curriculum. It has proven to be a great fit and has allowed me the flexibility to study abroad. Last spring quarter, for example, I studied in Costa Rica and Guatemala as part of an environmental field program. We studied the ecology of the area as well as the implications and impacts of “ecotourism” and cash crop agriculture on these unique and incredibly biologically diverse countries. This program was very eye-opening to the multitude of challenges these people and countries face, as well as the many facets of conservation of these critical ecosystems. This experience reinforced my passion for social and ecological stewardship while demonstrating how much of a positive impact each person can make. This type of responsibility is not to be taken for granted.

Through my studies and direct experiences, I have found education to be a common and effective tool for making positive changes. The chance to gain experience in conservation-based educational work is a big reason why this STEP position with the FWS was so appealing. I will be working as an instructor for the Youth Fisheries Academy day camp program, which aims to connect youth with nature, educate them on various fisheries science topics and methods, and put conservation in the forefront of their mind. It will also embolden participants' work by demonstrating that science is comprehensible, diverse, important, and even fun! In addition to the educational work, this position will also allow me to gain field experience when I work on several fisheries conservation field projects this summer. These projects will likely have a lasting effect and pave the way for more progress in the future. The other two STEP technicians and I are looking forward to keeping you filled in on the many aspects of our work as the season progresses. We hope you all have a fantastic summer and thanks for reading!


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Introducing Mara

Hello! My name is Mara Healy. I’m a student at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies within Western Washington University and am super excited to be home in Olympia working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for the summer.

I am working on an outreach program called the Youth Fisheries Academy during July and spending some time working on field projects in August. Claire Wood, Tree Steele, and I are all Student Temporary Employee Program (STEP) fisheries technicians and we will be writing about our experiences leading fish dissections, experimenting with radio telemetry, macroinvertebrate sampling and much more. Hopefully, the blog entries from the three of us will give you an idea about the amazing work FWS is doing and what it’s like to be a part of the team.

This first week of work has been filled with training galore! We’ve also been learning the curriculum for the Youth Fisheries Academy camps and what activities we will be responsible for leading. I will be focusing on fish anatomy dissection, so I’ve been busy practicing and observing dissections and learning about the functions of internal organs, external features, and the natural history of salmon.

As you’ll be hearing from us every couple weeks or so, I’ll tell you a little bit more of my story. I’m interested in biology, aquatic ecosystems, education, and being outside. I am super excited that I have the opportunity to gain experience in education outreach, as well as field biology, while earning money to help fund my college education. Over the past year at Fairhaven College, I have been fortunate enough to work with some wonderful biologists and ecologists who have encouraged and supported me in designing and implementing field-based pilot studies as a part of my education. These projects have been hugely influential for me in transforming some of the aesthetically-based interest I have in the natural world into scientifically-based curiosity. For the most part, my studies have focused on marine ecosystems; I am excited to stretch and grow my knowledge and understanding of fisheries biology. Aside from my academic life, I enjoy rock climbing, knitting, hiking, and being on the water.

I am looking forward to a summer filled with inspiring outreach events, diverse field work opportunities, and weekends filled with sun-warmed rock, neon green foliage, fresh berries, and lots of beach walks and tide pool exploration!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011

A Look at U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Seasonal STEP Employee Experiences through A Fish-Eye Lens

This blog post is inspired and made possible by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) Youth & Careers in Nature Initiative. Under this initiative, federal funding supports FWS personnel and programming that connect youth with nature, youth employment for conservation work, and educating youth about career opportunities with the FWS. The FWS Fisheries program in Lacey, WA, has used initiative funding to design and implement a Youth Fisheries Academy day camp program. We piloted this summer program in 2010 (see report) and expanded it this year. This program provides youth with an exceptional introductory fisheries science education. 

2011 STEP employees
Initiative funding has also enabled our office to hire three college students as instructors for the Youth Fisheries Academy. In addition, they will also be working on several of our aquatic conservation projects and fisheries studies. These Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) employees have a fantastic opportunity to gain valuable career skills while earning summer income between college semesters.  Over the next 8 weeks, they will be sharing their experiences with you through regular postings on our blog. Please come back soon as they share their experiences with you.