My Life Aquatic

A Look At U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Seasonal Employees' Summer Activities Through A Fish-Eye Lens


Part 1 - Introducing Clay

Greetings! I’m Clay Showalter, a Student Temporary Employee Program (STEP) fisheries technician with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Lacey, Washington. I’ve been studying computer science and field ecology at The Evergreen State College (TESC) for 3 years.

I grew up in the woods of Kansas where rip-roarin’ bass fishing and beautiful landscapes inspired me to learn more about the ecology of the area. I began to discover that the more I learned, the deeper I could appreciate the beauty and complexity of the natural world. I also learned that many ecosystems are being threatened by habitat loss and toxification.

I enrolled at TESC after high school and initially focused on computer science, math and physics. However, the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest was a constant reminder that I didn’t want to be stuck in an office my entire career. I then discovered the field of eco-informatics, which applies computer science techniques to field ecology. Field sampling by day and analyzing data by night convinced me that my future career should involve being outside and working to protect our natural resources.

This summer’s work experience with the FWS will include collecting field data and focusing on education and outreach through the Youth Fisheries Academy program. My work with the FWS offers an incredible opportunity to apply what I have learned, build on previous experience and pass on my knowledge and love of the outdoors to local youth. I have always been interested in teaching because education and outreach are essential for ensuring that future generations are conscious of the challenges that we are facing. While travelling and working on field projects in Ecuador last year, I was thrilled to gain experience teaching children about ecological issues relevant to their communities.

The Youth Fisheries Academy program here in Washington offers similar opportunities to plant seeds in the minds of youth that we all share some responsibility for the environment around us and that a career in field biology is one of many ways to make a difference in the ecosystems we rely on.

I am excited for this great opportunity and look forward to seeing what the summer will bring!


Part 2 - Youth Fisheries Academy Camp at Makah NFH

During the Youth Fisheries Academy day camps, I help run the technology station. Here we teach kids about the various techniques and equipment that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). I start by introducing the campers to fish tagging and methods used to track salmon released from hatcheries, which includes a hands-on activity using tag scanners and a discussion about the importance of tracking fish for conservation. Each year, millions of fish are released from hatcheries around the state of Washington. By tagging many of them, using the same kind of chip you might have in your pets, and placing automated tag readers at strategic locations such as fish ladders, we can learn where the fish are going, when they are returning, and estimate the size of the fish populations.

Explaining radio telemetry equipment
Working in the fisheries area of USFWS means that I am primarily focused on fish and aquatic invertebrates, but the agency deals with much more. The next part of the technologies station shifts the focus to tracking animals using radio telemetry. This involves placing a radio transmitter on an animal and using radio receivers to determine its location. After introducing the radio telemetry equipment at a camp at Makah National Fish Hatchery, one of the campers asked, "So, theoretically, I could put on this collar and hide somewhere and you would be able to find me?" He was thrilled when I told him that our very next activity was radio telemetry hide-and-seek. He put on the transmitter collar with enthusiasm and said he was going to be a bear. While he was scampered off to hide, I talked to the rest of the group about the importance of tracking individual animals to determine what habitats they are using as well as tracking populations in order to set hunting limits and determine population health. The other campers then set off with antennas and radio receivers in hand to locate their "bear" friend hiding somewhere at the hatchery. It is fun to watch campers get so excited.

More than just being fun, the Youth Fisheries Academy curriculum is designed to give kids experience with fishery science as well as teaching the purpose and importance of the work we are doing. This dual emphasis ensures that a new generation is raised with an awareness of the conservation challenges we are facing and hopefully plants some seeds for future field biologists who will continue this important work.



Part 1 - 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!


Part 2 - 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!


Part 3 - 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!


Part 4 - Teaching Youth About Fish Anatomy and Physiology

As we approach the last Youth Fisheries Academy camps for 2011, it’s great to reflect on previous events to see just how much we have all learned and grown. In the past 3 weeks, I have been leading the fish anatomy and physiology (dissection) station. Although a tad messy at times, I have found this learning module to be a fun, effective, and rewarding way to interact with the campers. To give you an idea of exactly what happens at the Youth Fisheries Academies and a feel for the experience of leading fish dissections, I’m going to provide details about what this station entails!

Learning about fish anatomy
During a typical fish anatomy and dissection session, I start by introducing the campers to what the station covers, safety precautions, expectations of being respectful (to each other and the fish) and alternative activities for those who don’t feel comfortable dissecting fish. These alternate activities include a beautifully made two-layer fish dissection puzzle which has all of the internal and external features labeled. Those who do choose to participate (which is almost always everyone) begin by exploring the names and functions of the external and internal anatomy, as well as learning the techniques and processes of dissection. One of my objectives is to make the process as hands-on and mentally engaging as possible, so I ask a lot of questions and encourage the campers to make guesses before I explain the importance of each organ or external feature. After we cover everything from the slime layer to the heart, the campers are split into groups and given fish to dissect on their own--often the most exciting part of the station! While the campers are busy dissecting the fish, I move from group to group providing guidance, pointing out organs, and asking questions of the campers about the organs they’re dissecting.

There is naturally a lot of energy around dissection and it ends up being expressed in many different ways, including intense focus, exclaiming about the "grossness", and rambunctiousness. I try to guide and focus this energy into excitement about the fish and help the campers see dissection as fun, exciting, and interesting! My favorite recurring exclamation from the campers is "That was gross, but SO COOL!". One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of this station was learning how to adjust my style and curriculum to each group I worked with. This was particularly challenging when working with campers who were uncomfortable with the dissection or especially young. It was a huge learning experience for me and I now feel much more confident in my ability to engage diverse groups of campers with different interests, energy levels and developmental ranges. Every group of campers has posed a unique challenge and I have had so much fun developing strategies, encouraging kids to get engaged, and seeing the excitement and interest that the dissections can inspire.


Part 5 - Teaching Youth About Fisheries Technology

Hello again readers! The last few weeks have been filled with Youth Fisheries Academy (YFA) camps taking place around the Olympia area, down to Centralia, and all the way out to Neah Bay. We worked with youth as young as 4 and as old as 15 and each camp presented unique challenges and opportunities for our education team. We learned a great deal as we adapted to each situation and were met with enthusiasm and raving reviews from the kids every time! Their zest for learning has been positively inspiring! The main components of the YFA camps are stream sampling and water quality; fish health and identification; fish anatomy and physiology (dissections); and my station – fisheries technology and tracking. We also incorporated teambuilding activities and art components, such as fish printing and salmon life cycle bracelets, for the younger campers.

Looking for hidden radio collars
As I said, I led the station focused on the use of technology in research conducted by FWS and similar entities. I first introduced the campers to PIT tags (similar to pet ID microchips) and demonstrated how they work (hands-on activity) and are implanted in fish, followed by group discussions of how this technology is used for fisheries conservation projects. The next activity focused on radio telemetry, which is also used to track the movement of animals but with much greater range and detail. As they searched for hidden radio collars, campers were able to use the telemetry equipment to practice the same skills that professional biologists apply in their field work. Campers also gained experience using GPS technology, an essential tool for field studies. With the help of our fantastic outreach volunteers Barry and Loretta Brown, participants used GPS units to find hidden "caches" (peanut butter jars in this case) in a high-tech treasure hunt known as "geocaching".

The campers were very clever with the technology and proved to be great young trackers. I was also impressed by how much information they retained from my lesson and how they were able to provide thorough answers to most of my questions. One telling moment was at a camp with 4th through 6th grade summer school students in Centralia. At one point, the rest of the school had recess during one of my technology modules. One camper commented that they were missing recess, but the kids quickly agreed that "this is better than recess!" That kind of excitement for learning is truly inspirational and we hope to continue fostering enthusiasm like this in the Youth Fisheries Academy camps to come.


Part 6 - Teaching Youth About Stream Sampling

Hey it’s me, Tree! It’s almost been a month since I started my education and outreach work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and it’s been going great. For our Youth Fisheries Academy camps, we’ve broken the time up into four different learning stations. I’ve been leading the stream sampling station, which has been engaging and enjoyable. When fisheries and wildlife biologists go into the field to collect data, they investigate a lot of factors in order to determine the health of the stream as well as the populations living in that environment. Measuring the habitat components (water, soil and air) as well as the organisms (plants, animals, fungi and bacteria) are examples of data that can be collected.

Identifying collected invertebrates
My station begins with stream habitat mapping, and I have seen some really amazing renditions created by our students. During this activity, we also discuss important terms such as biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) as well as the difference between quantitative and qualitative data. Campers then gain experience collecting a variety of data. To collect quantifiable biotic data, participants use a densiometer to measure the tree canopy cover. Examples of quantifiable abiotic data collected by campers include stream substrate (size of the rocks on the streambed) and stream discharge (water flow in cubic feet per second). My favorite part of the station is definitely the macroinvertebrate sampling. This sampling essentially involves digging around in the streambed (substrate) for bugs and other invertebrates--something I’ve enjoyed for as long as I can remember. We then identify these invertebrates and establish their diversity in order to determine the health of the stream (certain species are sensitive to pollution). The scientific techniques and technologies used at this station make these activities fun and meaningful. All data collection methods involve wading in the stream, which the campers really enjoy.

Teaching about stream sampling and the importance of these ecosystems has been fun and fulfilling in many ways. It’s a great opportunity to recall and practice some of the sampling techniques I have been taught, but I have been learning a great deal from the campers as well. It’s astounding how perceptive and creative they are. On more than one occasion I’ve heard these young biologists say "Wow, that was fun!" when walking away from my station. I’m glad I’ve gotten the opportunity to teach, learn, and have fun as well. The camps, campers, and streams have all been unique and memorable.


Part 7 - Youth Fisheries Academy at the Beach with Squaxin Island Tribe

This summer has been full of so many wonderful camps with countless memorable moments; each event was unique due to the combination of campers and locations. Our first camp took place at Priest Point Park in Olympia and demonstrated the success that we would continue to see in future camps. We had 17 campers between the ages of 10 and 15 who registered for this free event through Olympia Arts, Parks & Recreation (one of our many partners). Most campers did not know each other, so the team-building activities at the beginning of the day were especially important for developing interpersonal skills. Campers were then split by age into four groups and spent about 50 minutes at each of our learning stations. We had a great group of kids with many different interests. Everyone seemed enthusiastic to be there and participated fully in the camp. I was a bit nervous going into this first camp of the season, but once we began interacting with the campers it became much more natural and was a lot of fun.

Collecting fish from seine net
This camp featured a unique opportunity because of the easy beach access. Scott Steltzner, fisheries biologist for the Squaxin Island Tribe, led a beach seining activity that was very popular with the campers. The seine was 10 feet deep and 120 feet long with weights on the bottom and buoys on top to keep it upright in the water. One end of the net was secured on shore while the other end was pulled around by a boat, encircling fish in the net. Then the campers and staff demonstrated a great team effort by pulling both ends of the net up on shore. The fish were then removed from the net and placed into buckets of water for observation. We caught loads of fish and several species, including juvenile Chinook salmon, staghorn sculpin, starry flounder, and surf smelt. It was great to see some campers apply what they had learned in the species identification module to these live samples. Students had the opportunity to weigh, measure and record data on the fish we caught. They loved being able to hold and examine the fish and it was great for them see how much life there is in just a very small area of Puget Sound.

Observing fish catch
In an effort to measure our impact and improve future camps, we had each camper fill out an assessment form to rate our performance (enjoyment level and knowledge gained). We received fantastic reviews and it was awesome to hear the kids telling their parents all of their new fisheries knowledge as they were picked up from the camp. And I hope they were aware of how much WE enjoyed teaching them and how much they taught us in return. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our summer camps and eagerly anticipated the camps to come.


Part 8 - Day Camp Season Comes to a Close

Hello, it’s Tree again! As July came to a close, so did the Youth Fisheries Academy day camp season. The last camp was particularly memorable as we ended this year’s programming with a huge success.

The final camp took place at a beautiful location at a restoration site along Deer Creek near Shelton. We worked with a group of student employees from the Mason County 4-H Forestry Leadership Summer program, which enrolls up to 24 high school students, giving them a chance to learn about managing natural resources sustainably through hands-on experiences helping natural resource professionals with service-learning projects. It was a perfect fit as the program is also designed for students who want to explore and experience activities in forestry and wildlife-related careers.

Measuring cobble size
Trying to explain the importance of, as well as different ways to measure canopy cover, vegetation, river discharge, streambed cobble size, and macroinvertebrates, is a lot to cover in 1 hour, but this group of high school students actually made the lesson easy. During my time in college, I’ve done field labs that use a gravelometer to measure cobble size and determine streambed make up, which is one of the exercises we do at the stream sampling station. The youngest participants of the season were under 10 years old, so needless to say they have a great head start! Many of these activities were simplified for the younger campers, but that wasn’t necessary for this group of high school students as they were eager to learn the tools of the ecologists’ trade. I was very impressed with how enthusiastic they were and how quickly they leaned and utilized the methods taught.

I was happy to end on such a good note with an amazing group of students who seemed to truly enjoy and benefit from the camp. At the end of the day, I think that all of the students learned a great deal about the importance and function of fish and wildlife, as well as how we can gain information about them.


Part 9 - Life After the Youth Fisheries Academy - Freshwater Mussel Surveys

After the last of the Youth Fisheries Academy day camps, Claire, Tree and I transitioned to working on various field projects. It has been great fun to get outside and help with a large variety of projects--electrofishing, installation of the Elwha River fish weir, and river surveys for freshwater mussels just to name a few. We have been mostly helping with a freshwater mussel survey project led by Teal Waterstrat, another STEP student, so I will tell you a little bit more about why we’re looking for these invertebrates and our experiences in the field!  

Looking for freshwater mussels
Freshwater mussels are very elusive creatures that live in the bottom of healthy river and lake systems. They are not very mobile, so their life cycle includes a larval stage that requires a host fish as a means of dispersal. The Western Pearlshell mussel, for example, has larvae that cling to trout and salmon for transport. Another interesting fact about the Western Pearlshell mussel is that its lifespan can exceed 100 years in healthy rivers! Wherever they occur, freshwater mussels play very important roles--they help cycle nutrients, maintain water clarity, and are a food source for several animals (river otters, muskrats, skunks, raccoons, etc). There are close to 300 species of freshwater mussels in all of North America and most (about three quarters) are in major decline due to pollution and habitat disturbances.

Snorkel survey in the Chehalis River
We waded and snorkeled streams in the Chehalis River watershed with the hopes of getting a general idea of if--and where--mussels are living and what types of mussels are present. Discovering the numbers and locations of freshwater mussels is an important goal for a couple of reasons. Firstly, freshwater mussels are an indicator species. This means that their presence or absence can tell us a lot about the long-term health of a river because they are unable to survive or flourish in systems that are heavily disrupted or polluted. Secondly, we’re conducting these surveys because the mussel population is not well documented in the Chehalis River basin. Teal has done a lot of research and discovered where freshwater mussels have been found in the past and then coordinated surveys of those areas.

Still looking . . .
This has been exciting work since I had never seen a freshwater mussel before taking part in these surveys. After completing the training and practice, this now makes perfect sense--freshwater mussels look just like rocks! So taking that into consideration, we developed a few strategies for increasing our chances of seeing freshwater mussels during the surveys including using polarized sunglasses, sub-surface viewing tools called aquascopes, and training in areas with healthy mussel populations in order to develop a clear search image. Claire, Tree, and I have been mostly wading in rivers and using aquascopes to look for mussels. While not terribly fruitful, it has been quite enjoyable!

As this project continues and expands, we will be able to form an idea of the health of the rivers we are surveying based on what we find (or don’t find). These findings will, in turn, give us very important information about what sort of management, conservation, and restoration practices would be most beneficial for the Chehalis River basin.


Part 10 - Reflections on a Summer Well Spent

With only a couple days left in my summer position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), I am feeling distinctly bittersweet. It has been an outstanding, exciting, informative and valuable summer. I am sad to say goodbye to all of the wonderful people I have worked with and the fun projects I have worked on. At the same time, I am excited to return to Fairhaven College for my second year to continue my focus on science and education and explore the many opportunities to come. When I started this position, I had hoped to learn more about both field biology and education and perhaps come closer to making a decision about the direction of my education. While I am still officially undecided, I do know that I would like to continue with field and education outreach work. They were challenging, fun and rewarding aspects of my summer position and I enjoyed them both for different reasons.

One of the most beneficial activities Tree, Claire and I took part in this summer was a resume workshop lead by our supervisor. We have been working on updating and re-writing our resumes, including new work experience we’ve gained over the summer and learning more about the appropriate format and structure for this line of work. It’s amazing to see the difference in my resume after this summer; I’ve had the opportunity to do some fantastic things and I’m so glad I got the chance to brainstorm and write about them while they were still fresh in my mind. The finished product is a nicely polished, scientifically focused and diversified resume that I will definitely be using in the future.

Next quarter at Fairhaven I’m taking some really exciting science classes, including an Ornithology and Eco-Restoration class. I’ve never studied ornithology before and I’m looking forward to learning more about bird species of the Northwest. One of the really great things about Fairhaven is that I have the option to design my own concentration or major, so I could potentially create a major combining education and science. Whatever path I choose to meander down in the future, I know that the experience this STEP position has given me will be extremely valuable and useful in continuing to explore my educational interests and career opportunities!

I hope you have enjoyed hearing from Claire, Tree and me this summer and have learned a little about the STEP program and the USFWS. Thanks so much for reading!


Part 11 - It's a Wrap!

As we finish up the last few days of work here at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I can hardly believe all the amazing experiences this job has given me in just 2-1/2 months. Before starting this job, I had almost no experience working with kids and no strong desire to do so and was a bit nervous about the Youth Fisheries Academy camps. However, when the time came, I was surprised at how easily I related to the kids and was able to teach them something that I had just learned only 2 weeks earlier. Time and time again I was impressed and inspired by their enthusiasm, open minds, positive attitudes, and cleverness. I got fantastic reviews from the campers (as we all did) and made close connections with several of them. The great teachers in my life were so important to me and I could tell that I really left an impression on many young minds, just as they did on mine. I will definitely consider and even seek out education and outreach positions in the future after seeing just how big a difference these types of programs make and after experiencing the rewards that come from working with young people.

I didn’t have any experience in fisheries work before this job either, so all of the field opportunities were new and fantastic. Activities such as electrofishing, freshwater mussel surveys, and stream sampling revealed that there is so much more life in our streams than we can possibly imagine by just peering at them. Being involved in field research like this, along with assisting with screw traps, the Elwha fishing weir, and extraction of coded-wire tags, was very exciting. It was great to be a part of the teams that collect the data that is used in so many different ways to practice conservation. Not only is this work incredibly important, it’s incredibly fun! Getting out into nature and exploring its workings firsthand is very enlightening and certainly something I want to do a lot of in the future.

I have 2 more years of college left and I plan on earning both a BS and BA degree when I graduate with a focus on environmental science and ecology. I want to get as much diverse experience in my field during and after that time and also plan on going to graduate school and earning a Ph.D. My experience with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been nothing short of extraordinary and has provided me with many unique opportunities that are hard to find while in college. I got a great education in stream ecology and ichthyology, loads of professional experience, and an "in" with an agency that I would definitely consider working for as a career. I hope that programs like this one and the Youth Fisheries Academy continue and grow because they are invaluable to those involved with them.

-- Claire



Part 1 - Introduction

Welcome! My name is Caprice Fasano and I am a stream ecology major at The Evergreen State College. When looking for summer opportunities this past spring, I had three goals in mind: Professional field experience in fisheries conservation, college credits, and income. My search ended when I found out about the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) STEP program. The STEP program stands for Student Temporary Employment Program and is designed to provide the opportunity for students to experience the advantages and challenges of working for the Federal Government. The conservation field work opportunities through the Fisheries Division of the Washington Fish & Wildlife Office (WFWO) were exactly what I was looking for so I applied, went through an interview process, and was eventually offered a fisheries technician position. This blog is an opportunity to share this exciting work experience with you.

My summer responsibilities include both outreach and field research components. On the outreach front, I will be assisting with the newly developed "Youth Fisheries Academy" Day Camps in Lacey, Olympia, Shelton, and Centralia. The goals of this camp include: Connecting people with nature, conservation career opportunities, and increasing the understanding of and appreciation for aquatic ecosystems through hands-on experience. I will also be assisting with several field research projects. These include sampling events on the Hoh River, the Elwha River, and/or Lake Washington Basin.

I am especially looking forward to working on the Olympic Peninsula because it has a special place in my heart. I first became interested in this line of work when I was a young child. I became fascinated with how my favorite swimming spot on the Humptulips River would change every year, for example. This experience is a great example of how a passion and fascination for the outdoors can eventually lead to a fun and fulfilling career.

I believe that I am well prepared for these summer adventures. I have been a nanny working with all ages of children for almost nine years and I love being a part of a child's educational development. I am very passionate about teaching future generations about the importance of nature, fish, wildlife, and conservation. I am prepared for the field sampling component through my experience at The Evergreen State College. I participated in classes such as Physics, Profits and Politics of River Restoration, Data and Information: Quantitative Ecology, and Washington Rivers and Streams. I have also completed an internship with the US Forest Service (USFS) watershed management department and have participated in a group project working with the Dept of Natural Resources (DNR). This project involved investigating the impacts of thinning treatments in riparian management zones, on benthic macroinvertebrates and emerging adults.

I am really looking forward to this summer and sharing it with all of you! Check in every other week to see what new and exciting things I am doing! Have a great summer!


Part 2 - Youth Fisheries Academy Day Camps

Caprice with students at sampling station
The first week of my STEP position with the Fisheries Division of the FWS Washington Fish & Wildlife Office was filled with required orientation and training in preparation for the summer outreach and field season. I learned a great deal and was able to find time to focus on curriculum development for the upcoming Youth Fisheries Academy (YFA) Day Camps as well. My second week consisted of preparation and implementation of these outreach camps.

The YFA camp program featured four learning stations that campers rotated through in small groups. The learning stations included: Fisheries technology (pit tags, radio telemetry and GPS); identification (macroinvertebrates and juvenile salmonids); fish anatomy (dissections); and sampling methods (animals and habitat). Teambuilding activities were also included to help participants learn the importance of teamwork and communication. We stressed that strong interpersonal skills are essential when collecting data as field work is rarely done alone.

It was exciting to see the kids experience nature and have a great time. I ended the sampling station with some information on careers and volunteer opportunities with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Many students were happy to know the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies offer volunteer and employment programs for high school and college students.

To my surprise, some of the younger participants had previous experience with stream sampling from their 4th or 5th grade classes. This was a sign to me that there is an advocacy for outdoor education today in public schools in Olympia and surrounding areas. The YFA is a FWS program that provides an additional opportunity to connect young people with nature and conservation. Rachel Carson, best-selling author and former FWS biologist, is known for promoting the sense of wonder for nature. The YFA camp is in line with the spirit of her work.

Gaining public outreach skills during the YFA camps was an important and fulfilling experience that will be very helpful for me in the future. Having employees take part in public outreach events is a great way to educate the public and inform them of nature and conservation. Public outreach activities help facilitate the USFWS mission of “working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people”

In my opinion, education is the first step for conservation and protection, especially for impressionable young minds of the next generation. I hope I have reflected some of my passions for nature on these young minds just as others have for me.

Fish identification at Youth Fisheries Academy

Part 3 - Field Work Experiences

Beach Seining on the Hoh River
Since my last blog update, I have had the pleasure of assisting with three different monitoring and research projects with the USFWS. I have worked with colleagues on the Duwamish Estuary, Issaquah Creek and the Hoh River. Participating in these projects as a STEP student has been a great opportunity for me to diversify my field experience.

My first field work opportunity with the USFWS was a habitat mapping event on the Duwamish Estuary, located in Seattle, Washington. This is a restoration monitoring project that focuses on two species of sedges - Lyngbye's sedge (Carex lyngbyei) and Soft Stem Bulrush (Scirpus validus). I became familiar with the morphological features and life histories of these two sedges and it was my first experience collecting field data in an estuary.

Issaquah CreekThe sampling events I assisted with at Issaquah Creek are part of the Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 8 project. Under the Watershed Planning Act (WA State - ESHB 2514), WRIA 8 is monitored to ensure that the best possible management practices are implemented to protect Washington’s water resources. Our USFWS sampling crew teamed up with King County employees to conduct habitat surveys and fish population surveys via electroshocking. This was a great example of how different agencies can work together to practice fisheries conservation.

I am currently focusing on the sampling events on the Hoh River and they have proved to be amazing adventures! I have learned new skills such as beach and herd seining, minnow trapping and surgically inserting PIT tags into juvenile salmonids (trout, whitefish and salmon). Some of this work included night sampling which was a new and exciting experience. For more information on this project, be sure to visit the Hoh River project blog on this site.


Part 4 - Wrap-up

My summer as a USFWS STEP employee proved to be an amazing experience! I was given the opportunity to work on multiple field and public outreach projects, job-shadow biologists and technicians, and gain important on-the-job experiences. In addition, this position enabled me to earn my final upper division sciences credits via independent study with The Evergreen State College. With my undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and Stream Ecology under my belt, as well as my newly updated resume, I am now in a great position to compete for future employment opportunities in conservation science.

Since my STEP position with the Washington Fish & Wildlife Office Fisheries Division (USFWS), I have been exploring work opportunities in fisheries, forestry, and plants, as well as public education and outreach work. With more work experience, I plan to develop existing skills, gain new experience, and explore potential areas of focus for a master’s project. The sky is the limit as I have the flexibility to move to different places in order to achieve these goals. In addition to looking for employment, I have been making myself available as a volunteer to the USFWS and the local Stream Team. The Chehalis Watershed Festival, for example, was a great volunteer experience as it allowed me to give back to the USFWS and the community while further honing my outreach skills.

My long-term goal will be to pursue a Master’s of Science degree focused on ecological conservation and restoration. This degree will be the culmination of my training toward becoming a professional biologist. My STEP position was an important stage in this journey and I feel that from the knowledge and experiences gained, I am ready for my future educational and career pursuits.


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