This article was published on: 11/22/10 12:00 AM
Salmon Watch on the Metolius
By Jim Anderson, Correspondent
Sisters Nugget 10/26/2010 5:21:00 PM
These are heady times for anyone interested in saving water and bringing back salmon fisheries to the streams and rivers of the Northwest. In Central Oregon their are so many water conservation groups they might step all over each other; but the best part is, they’re coordinated, and instead of competing, it’s like a beautiful dance, and the winners are salmon and us.
Take Salmon Watch, for example…
Salmon Watch is an educational project funded by The Freshwater Trust, but right alongside them is a partnership with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, Deschutes River Conservation, PGE, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and young scientists preparing themselves to step into the picture in the future.
Salmon Watch has been giving middle and high school students the opportunity to study river and stream ecosystems since 1993 – and they’re still at it. Earlier this month, 20 students from REALMS Charter School in Bend spent most of the day learning skills that gave them a better understanding of healthy riparian ecosystems and salmon habitat on the Metolius River.
Before the program was finished, three other schools had the experience of working with the Salmon Watch crew: Sisters High School IEE classes led by Rand Runco, Glen Herron and Samra Spear; Pilot Butte Middle School and Sisters Middle School. Before the week was out, over 300 students had the opportunity to listen to and work with the story of conservation of our irreplaceable freshwater resources.
Four study areas were established in and on the Metolius River near the River Campground area. (1) Water Quality, with Shannon Taylor as the leader, was established on one location on the river. Sidney Howard, a State of Oregon fishery biologist kept students informed and seeking questions about how (2) macro invertebrates indicate the health of the Metolius, while fishery biologist Aaron Marshall, of Deschutes River Conservancy taught a living course in (3) fish biology for students watching Kokanee from Lake Billy Chinook spawning right under their noses, literally. (4) Riparian Ecosystems was led by Kiley Rucker, a journalism major who switched to a biology major.
Students rotated to each station, two in the morning, then a break for lunch and two in the afternoon.
“This is such a great program,” said Patty Campbell, one of the several parents also attending the Salmon Watch experience. “I’m learning so much.”
The young lady teaching about the macro-invertebrates, Sidney Taylor, echoed Patty’s statement: “This is what I love to do, and teaching kids is a wonderful way to learn.” This was always apparent as the students returned again and again to the sampling trays to investigate the invertebrates they had captured and observed in the river.
Taylor asked the students what the role of the islands and logs in the river mean to the river’s health and fish production.
“It means more places for invertebrates and better fish habitat,” they said.
For many of the students, conducting an on-site study of a river’s ecosystem was a first-time experience. Students working in the riparian area were exposed to using a spherical densitometer, a hand-held device that measures the percentage of tree canopy over the river, and what that means to water quality.
Aaron Marshall, leading the fish biology studies, knows the importance of bringing the message of water quality to students at an early age, and as often as possible. He is employed by the Deschutes River Conservancy, an organization that recognizes the importance of water conservation.
The Deschutes River has been the lifeblood of Central Oregon for thousands of years, and means different things for different people. In early times, and into today, some people think of the river as a source for irrigation and drinking water only. It is only in these current times that the focus on salmon fisheries have awakened. Recreationists know our rivers and streams can also be a place to simply reflect on the beauty of our world. We may look at our rivers and streams differently, but we love them equally.
It is only through close collaboration of everyone who cares about our rivers like the Metolius, Whychus Creek and other streams, that we – meaning you and me – will make a difference. Salmon Watch will be remembered as one of the great tools toward understanding and appreciating the complexities of conservation.