Tag Archives: environmental education

Spring into Nature

Today we hear from Gerry Rising about the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge’s annual Spring Into Nature event, which helps connect kids to outdoor recreation and nature. Gerry is a retired University at Buffalo professor, who writes books on math and natural history, and articles for Buffalo Spree. He also is an avid birder, and member of the Friends of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

“This is a real test!” That was my first thought when I arrived on Saturday, April 28 at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge’s “Spring into Nature”, the keystone annual activity sponsored by the refuge staff and its supportive Friends group. The encouraging forecasts of the beginning of the week had not delivered. I found myself being drenched by a steady rain and shivering in the 38° temperature and by night it had snowed. Despite those challenges, I was proud of the fact that we and our nearly six hundred visitors had passed that test with flying colors.

Puddles with Job Corps volunteers

This was the 34th of these yearly events and the prior experience showed. But this was my own first visit and I was impressed by how everyone, staff and volunteers, were not only so well organized but unphased by Mother Nature’s challenge.

Fish Biologist and volunteer, James Trometer set up the fish-friendly culvert activity.

Our visitors appeared unphased as well. Their prior experiences must have told them to expect a fun-filled and educational day outdoors at the Refuge no matter the weather.

Indeed, there was much to offer participants, between the 25 nature-related exhibits and many activities that included build-a-feeder or -nesting platform for birds, a migration maze, face painting, making tree cookies, archery and casting.

Visitors also enjoyed presentations throughout the day on live birds of prey, wildlife rehabilitation, invasive species and pollinator gardening; as well as demonstrations on basic fishing techniques, fly fishing and retriever dogs. Those interested were even bused to the Cayuga Overlook to see the bald eagle nest.

Casey learns to cast with Brent Long Outdoors

As I toured the grounds and visited with friends both old and new, I thought how much our Refuge owes to the cooperative activities of the small staff and sixty plus volunteers who showed up to help, all of whom love this remarkable nature enclave.

Volunteers, Phyllis Zenger and Ann Fourtner, greeted visitors all day at the Friends Flyway Bookstore

The Friends’ mission — to support and advocate for the Refuge — was evident here. But so too was the more general dedication to wildlife conservation of us, and our visitors.

Abbie won the kids backyard refuge kit].

Other examples of our Friends-Refuge collaboration are the reconstruction of the mile-long Swallow Hollow Trail, and the purchase of a trailer that will be used like a mobile visitor center. The trailer will highlight the Great Lakes watershed, migratory fish and birds, and the Refuge’s many attractions. It will help us bring a piece of the Refuge to children living in urban areas of Buffalo who rarely have opportunities to visit the Refuge. We are all proud to see these remarkable grounds maintained and appropriately managed, and we are equally proud of our efforts to share conservation, recreation and science education with children and their families.

All smiles at Spring Into Nature

Of course Friends of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge were well represented and their Flyway Bookstore was open. And there was plenty of food – a hot dog grill, Girl Scout Troop 31055’s chili and walking tacos, and the wonderful baked goods of the Alabama Basom United Methodist Church. Everyone left with big smiles! And a few left with some wonderful door prizes.

Cayuga Overlook

Come join us next year. We can promise without reservation better weather.

Connecting students with their watershed, one trout at a time

Have you ever held a juvenile brook trout in your hand?

Up until last week my answer to that would have been no.

This week was the huge culmination of work going on in K-12 classrooms across the country.

Trout in the Classroom is an environmental education program in which students in grades K-12 get the chance to raise trout from eggs to fry (a juvenile fish).


5th graders assessing habitat quality prior to release – USFWS

These students are responsible for caring for the fish, monitoring tank water quality, and learning about stream habitats.

This truly unique program fosters a conservation ethic and provides a firsthand look and appreciation for water resources and all those who depend on them.

Most programs end the school year by releasing their trout in a state-approved stream near their school or within a nearby watershed.


Selected area for release, Virgil Creek in Dryden, NY – USFWS

During the year, each teacher tailors the program to fit his or her curricular needs and therefore, each program is unique. This in turn provides younger generations with new skills and knowledge to help ensure healthy waterways and robust trout populations in the future.

The eastern brook trout is often regarded as an aquatic symbol of fresh, clean water. Water quality issues and loss of habitat have contributed to decline of this species over time.

Partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are actively pursuing projects to identify barriers to fish passage, open up more waterways to improve aquatic connectivity in the state, and implement restoration and habitat improvement projects to support sustainable brook trout populations.


Biologist Justin Ecret evaluating a white sucker fish after an E-fishing demo – USFWS

Being the State fish of New York, brook trout have a long history of being a part of the complex waterways of the State.

Trout in the Classroom offers the opportunity for students to get their feet wet, literally, in the world of wildlife and environmental conservation.

The actions taken to promote diverse fisheries and help conserve a species that needs our help are just a few of the larger rewards students gain from participating in a course like this.

The goals for this project stem from a place of stewardship.

Classroom aquariums provide a direct platform for hands-on learning that can enhance and engage students in not only environmental science and mathematics, but social sciences, fine arts, and physical education.

I spoke with a few students and this is what they had to say about the project,

“Watching the fish get bigger was fun. We would come in to class, check on them, make sure they looked healthy, and kept their water clean. It’s exciting to release them, but I will miss them.”


The students releasing the brook trout they raised! USFWS

Trout in the Classroom fosters sensitivity about the importance of our shared water resources by engaging students directly. The more we can bring that level of excitement to students the more they can grow to be lifelong proponents of environmental stewardship and conservation.


Long days in urban bat outreach

Demo at our house 2 (1)

Bat walk led by Amanda Bevan, Urban Bat Project, Organization for Bat Conservation in Pontiac, Michigan.  Credit: Organization for Bat Conservation.

Amanda Bevan is busy and for her, that’s a good thing.

As the Organization for Bat Conservation’s Urban Bat Project Leader, Bevan educates city folks about the importance of bats, and if she’s busy, it means people are aware of the decline of bats due to white nose syndrome (WNS) disease and want to help.

With the help of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service WNS grant, Bevan organizes conservation and outreach partnerships in 10 cities in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Tennessee, New York, Minnesota, Ohio and the District of Columbia. She says she hopes to expand the project to other cities in the future with additional funding.

Partners include a Milwaukee horticultural society, Columbus Audubon, Illinois State Museum,  a District of Columbia Fisheries and Wildlife Division bat biologist, high school teachers and students, bat researchers and horticulturalists like those at the New York Botanical Gardens.

They set up warm, safe bat boxes made from upcycled Chevy Volt battery cases for breeding females, plant bat-friendly gardens of wildflowers that attract the bats’ prey insects, and conduct bat walks in which citizen scientists drive and walk around urban areas with hand-held bat detectors that records bat calls and identify species through an app on their smart phones.

Fulton High school construction class_Knoxville_TN

Students in Fulton High School’s construction class building bat houses using donated corvette circuit boards and Chevy Volt battery cases from GM. Credit: Organization for Bat Conservation.

“Most of the time, people can learn what species are living in their neighborhood in real time,” Bevan said.

Surprisingly, urban bat habitats are important, Bevan explains. Urban bat conservation may help reduce effects of WNS by providing alternative roosting habitat that might be unsuitable for the fungus that causes WNS, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd.

Urban bats likely hibernate in the city in addition to breeding there in the summer, and Pd cannot survive the temperatures and humidity found in buildings and bat houses. If the urban bat project increases public support for bats in cities, it might bolster populations that have been decimated by WNS in other habitats.

“We don’t know if big brown bats are not as affected by WNS in cities.”

Typically people find big brown bats in urban areas, a species that has escaped much of the large population drops found in other species.  “We don’t know if big brown bats are not as affected by WNS in cities,” Bevan adds.  It’s one of many questions about urban bats she hopes the citizen science project can address in the future.

The urban bat project is not just focused on big brown bats. Urban areas are important for migrating bats through urban areas from other populations in other regions. Project participants often see little brown bats in the city and northern long-eared bats in eaves of suburban homes and trees that surround them.

Bevan’s work also includes presentations with live bats from the 11 species housed at the Organization for Bat Conservation’s injured bat sanctuary. In addition to flying foxes and other bats from around the world, she gives her audiences a close-up view of species that fly around their neighborhood such as Indiana and big brown bats.


Red bat spotted in Detroit by one of Organization for Bat Conservation’s  Urban Bat Project (UBP) partners. Credit: Organization for Bat Conservation.

When a child and their parent attend one of the Organization for Bat Conservation’s environmental education events, Bevan reminds them how useful bats are in agricultural and urban areas. She cites a scientific paper (by Boyles et al. 2011) when she explains that insects can spread fungi destructive to crops and that insect-eating bats can save the agricultural industry $3.7 billion per year.

She adds that some bats like Indiana bats increase their intake of mosquitoes during the breeding period, and that supporting maternity colonies with bat boxes helps reduce numbers of the pathogen-carrying insects. All of this helps the public understand how bats benefit them and are glad to see their bat neighbors thriving.

To help the Organization for Bat Conservation in their efforts to #Savethebats, please visit their web site.