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Pursuing Environmental Interests: Starting A School Club

This week’s blog was written by Emma O., a Drummers alumni. She writes about how she started a club at her high school that focuses on environmental service work.

Throughout my life, I have been involved in various environmental activities, such as Envirothon and Science Olympiad. Although I absolutely adore studying wildlife, trees, soils, and current issues/environmental policy, I noticed as I continued my educational career that there was a lack of environmental “action” present in many of these environmentally-focused activities. Many clubs in my middle school and high school focused only on the study of the environment, rather than helping nature hands-on.

I did not notice this disparity until I became involved with programs like the Wildlife Leadership Academy, where students complete a lot of field work. Previously, my experience with the environment involved studying for the mentioned activities and simply being outside. However, I soon fell in love with working directly with flora and fauna.

This new passion eventually translated into wanting to complete more environmental service work. Upon entering my Sophomore Year high school and noticing that clubs at my school did not involve this component of environmental science, I did what any passionate naturalist would do–I created my own club! I created the Central York High School Community Conservation Corps last February, and it has been my passion since. Nicknamed “CCC” (after the Civilian Conservation Corps, of course), my club mainly focuses on promoting conservation through environmental service work. On the side, we tackle initiatives focused on education and sustainability.

After my Envirothon Coach generously agreed to be the Adult Advisor for CCC, I campaigned my high school’s administration to allow me to officially create the organization. Once approved, I began to spread the word of my club through my personal social media platforms; by stopping and talking to peers in the hallway; and by creating promotional videos for my school’s broadcasting program. I ended up starting with around six devoted members of the club who attended our weekly meetings, which grew to about 12 by the end of last school year.

A picture of my club in action at another clean-up initiative last year.

With these wonderful members, CCC completed multiple stream clean-ups at a local creek, along with establishing our club social media platforms to spread the word about what we accomplished. We also wrote several articles for our district’s newsletter and our school newspaper.

Here is a picture of a few club members after a stream clean-up last year.

Over the summer, we kept up with our social media posts to attract new members. Then, after several people became interested in joining CCC over the summer, the new school year brought on an influx of new members. About 15 new people joined in August. After that, we planned a set-up for our school’s Club Fair (a school event where all clubs present information about their organization to attract new members), complete with a tri-fold, banner, and take-home seedlings. With all of the hard work our members contributed to make the fair a success, we ended up recruiting 70 new members, bringing the total number of participants in the CYHS Community Conservation Corps to approximately 100 students!

This is our club set-up at our school’s “Club Fair.”

I am so excited to see where this year takes Community Conservation Corps. Our biggest project thus far is planting 100 evergreen saplings–donated by the York County Conservation District–around the community; however, many of our members have also expressed great interest in even more initiatives, such as trying to reduce food waste in our school cafeteria.

An up-close picture of the take-home seedlings that we gave out to interested students at our “Club Fair.”

My advice to any naturalist who does not see their particular niche of environmental science/ecology represented in their school or community is to create their own initiative. Though it requires dedication and hard work, it is an entirely worthwhile and quite fulfilling experience that will foster enormous personal growth.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.

December Student of the Month – Jaidyn G.

Our December Student of the month is Jaidyn G. She has been working on her outreach since the field schools, and recently submitted her record books for the Early Bird check-in date, sharing what she has accomplished so far!

Jaidyn shows her creativity in her projects through the variety of activities she has undertaken, as well as the actual projects themselves. Her first submitted project is a collection of nature photography, and is absolutely stunning! Jaidyn clearly has an eye for the natural world, submitting photographs of insects, mushrooms, trees, and other interesting things she found along the trail.

Jaidyn has also spent time learning more about the elk in her area, attending educational presentations that explain all about their behavior in the fall and what to look for. Additionally, Jaidyn wrote and submitted an article for the National Wild turkey Foundation’s newsletter, Turkey Talk, that addressed her experience at the Gobblers field school.

Jaidyn has also been out and about with wildlife biologists, and had the opportunity to capture, age/sex, and band wood ducks and mallards. Spending time with the PA Game Commission, she was able to learn this valuable skill, and then release the ducks back into the wild.

Jaidyn has been an excellent example of a true Conservation Ambassador, and we are so proud of her accomplishments! We are looking forward to seeing what else she works on in the future!

River Otter Recovery: Surveying Otter Populations in the Rocky Mountains

This week’s blog was written by Devin G., a Bucktails alumni. He writes about the reintroduction of otters in the Southwest United States.

River otters; these spunky animals are an icon of healthy waterways, presenting scientists with a method to indicate habitat quality. Since they are apex predators and consume many fish species, otters can become a victim of biomagnification in polluted rivers. Due to this pollution along with urbanization and overharvesting in the 19th and 20th centuries, river otter populations were depleted throughout their historic range. These majestic creatures were extirpated across the United States, including a majority of western states. In order to restore otter populations, Colorado wildlife crews reintroduced numerous otters in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1976. Biologists also planned to reintroduce otters in the Grand Canyon, but due to a remaining population of Southwestern river otters biologists feared the project would cause genetic swamping, contaminating the gene pool of the population. You don’t usually think of river otters when thinking of the southwest, but Southwestern, or Sonoran, river otters are one of seven subspecies of the North American river otter and when reintroduction efforts began across the U.S., it made the search for native otter species such as these much more complex.

Me standing by the Colorado River with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

Wildlife biologists knew that reintroduced otter populations would travel down the Colorado River, eventually reaching the isolated Sonoran population in the Grand Canyon. In an attempt to predict how long it would take for otters to naturally disperse, studies were conducted in Rocky Mountain National Park, and continue bi-annually. I had the opportunity to assist in one of these population surveys this past fall. The goal of this survey was to identify otter signs through scat identification and the location of latrine sites. This data could be used to estimate population size and evaluate seasonal changes in latrine use to determine the preferred sampling period.

Our surveying group walks along the stream, looking for otter signs.

As we conducted the survey, groups of about five members hiked along different sections of the Colorado River. While surveying, we watched for heavily used slides as indicators of latrines while also looking for fresh scat. When we found a location with otter signs, we would collect data from the surrounding area. This data consisted of a GPS location, underbrush cover, canopy cover, aspect, and bank slope as well as the characteristics of the stream like width, shad cover, and substrate material. We also recorded observations about the scat samples and whether it was relatively new or old. In our section of the survey, we discovered two areas with otter signs. Both were slides with a nearby latrine, and we found fresh scat at each of the sites. Although we found few signs of otters in this fall survey, it will be interesting to see if otters are more active in the spring, when the other part of the survey occurs. I owe this experience to the Wyoming University Chapter of The Wildlife Society which introduced me to this study and urge that everyone gets involved with groups who share similar interests with you.

The photos in this blog belong to the author.

The Fish of 10,000 Casts

This week’s blog was written by Jacob D., a Brookies alumni. He writes about the struggles and rewards of fishing muskies.

There is a fish at home in Pennsylvania’s waters that are rarely caught by anyone other than those who specifically target them. Muskellunge, also known as muskie or the fish of 10,000 casts is the largest pike in North America. They are notoriously difficult to catch, but often reach over 20 pounds and occasionally grow longer than 50 inches.

After seven hours, some success

Muskies are opportunistic feeders. They will eat small and medium-sized fish, frogs, waterfowl, rodents, among other animals that will fit in their mouths. Muskies inhabit lakes and rivers, but prefer warmer waters than Northern pike. They can be found in weed beds, sunken structure, drop offs, and other areas with lots of food.

Muskie fisherman use a variety of large lures

Lures used to catch this fish are found in a variety of sizes and colors. They’re often over five inches long and many are over a foot in length. Few muskie fishermen agree on which size, style and color of lure are best. The best lure may depend almost entirely on the time of day and weather. Often, these fish are active for only a short time.

Changing weather may make muskies more active

Finding and catching a muskie may be a lot of work, but they are truly an amazing game fish. Their size and aggressive yet elusive behavior makes them one of the most difficult fish to catch. This is why I target and respect the fish of 10,000 casts.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.

Three Cheers for Bees

This week’s blog is written by Francesca R., a Drummers alumni. She writes to bring awareness to the diminishing bee population.

As wintertime approaches, the leaves fall from the trees quietly change their color, yet one thing I noticed as I was strolling outside the other day was many yellow and black bees are still buzzing about flowers that have not been affected by the cold. My mind ran off on the thought of bees on the endangered species list and how rapidly these insects are dying for a variety of reasons. Actually, The Earthwatch Institute has recently declared the bee to be the most vital and invaluable animal species on Earth during a debate at the Royal Geographical Society of London, but, as the populations of these small and endangered species slowly diminishes, scientists are beginning to worry about not only our agriculture and flowers but the human race, as well.

Bumble Bee

The Science Times states, “The recent studies show a dramatic decline of the bees’ number as almost 90 percent of the bee population has disappeared in the last few years.” Some of the leading causes of why bees are going extinct are industrialized agriculture, pathogens/parasites, deforestation, and climate change. Loss of habitat and biodiversity, pesticides also serve as significant dangers to not only bees but other pollinators as well, such as bats, butterflies, etc.

How could such a little insect create a grandeur of importance? Well, bees pollinate and take care of about 70% of the world’s food and agriculture. Imagine a world without flowers, coffee, honey, chocolate even t-shirts (bees pollinate cotton, too!)! We can have all these foods mostly because of those little insects called bees.

Not only do humans rely on bees for food and the growth of plants, but so do many birds and small mammals that feed off of plants, seeds, and berries that depend on pollination, The Guardian illustrates. This information leads many to conclude that if these animals start to die because of starvation, numerous larger animals -many of which we eat- will also die out, leaving the Earth’s population with very little to consume.

Bees are now deemed the most important animal according to the Earthwatch Institute.

Fret not! There are ways to help bees survive. By planting gardens, prohibiting or putting an end the use of pesticides to treat our lawns or plants, and treating bees with the respect they deserve can make a difference in not only how we see bees and nature but our very own future. Let’s rise and save the Earth together, for even Dr. Seuss once remarked, ″Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.