Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bonner Students Make Friday Afternoon Fun for a Weary Volunteer

Have you ever tried saying "blogging" ten times really fast? I don't blog, never done it before, don't know the criteria or restrictions but I gave it a whirl.
What happens when you mix a couple cups of water with an assortment of bugs and a batch of 6th graders at 67ish degrees for 2 hours? A fabulous Bonner field trip! ….and that’s all it took to turn a stressful school week into a happy Friday. Who wants to sit in a library writing up reports when there is an opportunity to listen to a kid try to explain how gills work? As one Bonner student put it, “Fish breathe with gills in their neck – like lungs only with water.” Sure, but what happens when they find out that mayfly gills are not on their neck. “Whoa! You mean they breathe from their butt?!” Well, not exactly their butt. *review head, thorax, abdomen* Yes, the biological station is always filled with exceptional comments and critiques. At the end, which was their favorite bug – “Mayflies, they swim like mermaids” and what did they learn – “That there are a lot of different things living in the water.” And we saw plenty of diversity (yes, word of the day) in our samples: lots of stoneflies, mayflies, a few caddis flies, a crayfish, and a tiny fish about the size of your small finger. It always amazes me how much these kids learn and remember. I always like to ask them what they learned from the previous station(s) and they don’t even hesitate in answering and sometimes they beat me to the end of the question. "What is the veloc-"-"3.2 feet per second"! "And what about dissolved ox"-"10 drops"! How’s that for efficiency? They waste no time, especially if they see a pair of waders. But equally important in helping these amazing kids learn about the awesomeness of the stream monitoring. A big part of the fieldtrip success is WEN's awesomely awesome team with Josh and Molly and me! They made this field trip even more amazing, like the cherry on the top of an ice cream cone, or like finding a grumpy little someone in their little stone case! …and you all keep asking why I’m still volunteering.

That's all I got -  I hope you have a fantastic weekend!
Al Pack
WEN Volunteer since 2007

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Monitor Rivers?

Because it is important to understand what is in our rivers and how they are changing!  According to a recent Missoulain article, the Glacier Stonefly, is it risk of becoming endangered due to the effects of climate change!

Read it HERE

The Stonefly needs cold and clean water, so it is known as an indicator species in stream monitoring. 

Heading Up the Blackfoot

This past Sunday Stream Team had an amazing afternoon taking data on the Blackfoot River at the Angevine site. While our volunteers, Rob and Pam, started on chemistry, Maria, Steve and myself started setting up to gather stream flow data.  The weather turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  Standing along the Blackfoot, next to the cast of the mountain shadows, the sun lit up the water and made the scenery almost as pleasant as the warmth on my cheeks.  I stood up on a rock to get a better view of the river, watching it curve with the mountain line, and could not have been more happy that I had gone out to do Stream Team that day.

Once we were done measuring stream velocity and dissolved oxygen, we were ready to start collecting insects! As the waders collapsed around the shape of my legs, the water actually felt good, cooling me off from the warm weather.  After a couple of good collections we were ready to start sorting and identifying.  We found numerous stoneflies and caddis.  In fact, many of the stoneflies we found were the biggest I had ever seen, it was very exciting!

The river had a wide variety of insects and many healthy indicator species. The chemical and physical aspects of the stream also were in healthy conditions; we were very satisfied with the day.  Our day was one of the best Stream Teams yet this year, and I highly suggest anyone interested to get involved, because otherwise you'll be missing out on great days such as this one!

Megan Girsch
WEN Autumn 2010 Intern

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WEN in the News!

The Ravalli Republic came to cover our field trip with Victor School yesterday.  Check it out and learn more about us and the work we do in the field!

Watershed Education Network teaches Victor students keys to a healthy river system

Field Trips are for Adults too

I’ve always liked field trips, ever since grade school. As an adult, I’ve looked for ways to continue learning outside of the class room and have my own field trip adventures.
My training for stream monitoring for the Watershed Education Network, (WEN) was such as adventure. I joined 20 or so other volunteers at Greenough Park on Rattlesnake Creek recently to learn the stations that are presented as part of WEN’s field trips. There are 3 parts, Biological, Chemical and Physical.
My favorite part of the whole activity, was the waders. I so rarely get to wear them and I dig any kind of special gear for a project, gloves, hard hats or waders. I put them on immediately after being given them and was reluctant to take them off. I was wearing them way before we went into the water.
The waders were needed in the biological station where we took nets and stood in the middle of the stream to kick up bugs. You do this by doing what amounts to “the twist.” You make sure to twist really deep into the river bed, stirring up lots of dirt and bugs that then flow downstream into you net that you have dug into the dirt down stream from you. You then take this net back to the table where you have buckets of stream water ready and you rinse out all the detritus from the bottom of the net. After all of this debris has settled, you take a plastic spoon and search for bugs. We found caddis flies, mayflies, and stoneflies. The purpose of this activity is to catch the bugs in order to count them, thus determining how healthy the river is. We put them into easily countable trays (individual section of ice cube trays) and then record them on the data sheet. The more variety of species, the healthier the river is. I loved having my nose right up to the bugs, the squirmy, long horse fly larvae and dark, solid bodies of stoneflies.
When we were done wit this station, we moved onto chemistry.

The last station was the physical station. We measured the river’s velocity, by clocking how long it took a tennis ball to travel down a measured section of the river. We also measured how far across the river was and how deep at foot width increments. 
This was a great training and we have a great group of volunteers this year. Look for us, out there on the river.

-Erin Schmiel
Erin Schmiel has been a steller WEN volunteer and has recently become a WEN board member.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Why Volunteer?

Although WEN teaches students, a lot of the time we end up learning just as much on field trips!  Check out some of these quotes from past volunteers:

"It was more that I learned from the students. I liked seeing how they reacted to hands-on learning in their backyard. I had not expected to see the students so engaged."

"I have always been interested in watershed issues but maybe in a different context. WEN has helped me to better understand the education aspect which was something that I didn't know much about. I could read hundreds of books on watershed ecology and management - learn a lot and be happy with that, but nothing compares to getting out in the field and watching students enjoy learning about the same things that I do."

"It is important to know what is in the water (living and non-living) that we use everyday. It was cool to learn about what it takes to have a healthy river. There are so many components that go into keeping the streams ecology normal and balanced."

"Discovering the abundant life in the river has helped me to better appreciate the significance of watershed health as a part of ecosystem function on the large scale."

Become a part of WEN!  Email us at

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


At the beginning of every field season, we do a water monitoring training for our new volunteers and community members who want to learn more about their local rivers.  This year we had 24 participants.  Check it out!

Josh shows how to catch bugs to study
Dissolved oxygen from the chemistry station
Studying bugs

Monday, October 4, 2010

Adventures with Stream Team

Our Stream Team has an awesome time this past Sunday!  It was a beautiful day for monitoring our local rivers.  This fall, our Stream Team will be monitoring a different river every Sunday afternoon.