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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
NEVADA FWO: Lake Mead Becomes an Outdoor Classroom for Las Vegas Teen
Region 8, March 3, 2009
Ryan Ward returns razorback sucker into Lake Mead. (photo: USFWS)
Ryan Ward returns razorback sucker into Lake Mead. (photo: USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a
Ryan Ward (left), Las Vegas resident and Foothill High School senior, is seen here with Ron Rogers (middle) of Biowest Inc. and USFWS contaminant biologist Erik Orsak (right).  Ryan spent the day sampling endangered razorback suckers on Lake Mead as part of a mentoring program. (photo courtesy Biowest Inc.)
Ryan Ward (left), Las Vegas resident and Foothill High School senior, is seen here with Ron Rogers (middle) of Biowest Inc. and USFWS contaminant biologist Erik Orsak (right). Ryan spent the day sampling endangered razorback suckers on Lake Mead as part of a mentoring program. (photo courtesy Biowest Inc.) - Photo Credit: n/a

By Erik Orsak, Las Vegas FWO

A biologist with the Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office in Las Vegas recently helped a local high school student swap his indoor classroom work at Foothill High School for a day of surveying a federally-endangered fish at Lake Mead.

 

In January, Lucia Rosatti, a career counselor at Foothill High School in Henderson, Nevada, contacted the Service about Ryan Ward, a student who was interested in shadowing a wildlife biologist for a day to complete a class assignment. Erik Orsak, an environmental contaminants biologist, offered to take Ryan into the field. After completing the paperwork allowing Ryan to serve as a temporary volunteer, the two arranged to meet up early March 3, to participate in a project that involved collection of razorback suckers on Lake Mead.

 

"Remembering how much I disliked getting up early when I was a teenager, I was worried about Ryan's reaction when I told him that I would need to pick him up at his house at 6 a.m. so we could meet the Biowest boat crew at the dock at 6:30, but Ryan didn't seem to mind and he was ready to go on time," Orsak said. "Ryan jumped right in and got his hands dirty, asking questions, etc. He really seemed to be engaged."

 

Trammel netting for the razorback suckers, a fish native to the Lower Colorado River, is not as glamorous as it sounds. The fishing nets consist of a small mesh with overlying trammel lines positioned in a diagonal pattern, and these nets are very good at catching fish. The problem is, for every one razorback sucker you might catch, you typically must untangle and remove dozens of non-native fish, such as striped bass, channel catfish, and common carp. It can take a three-person crew over 6 hours to remove upwards of 200 fish from three nets; and even then you may come up empty handed without a single razorback to show for all the work. It is dirty, monotonous work, but Ryan was lucky. This particular day the crew hauled in 14 razorbacks from Las Vegas Bay, a record catch for the year. Ryan even got to release a juvenile razorback sucker back into the water once it had been measured and weighed. At the end of the day, Ryan seemed to enjoy the whole experience. "I would venture to guess that Ryan is the only high school student in the Las Vegas Valley that has seen a living razorback sucker," Orsak added. "Who knows, Ryan may even become a wildlife biologist himself some day. "

 

Biowest, a private consulting firm from Utah, has been conducting population studies on Lake Mead razorback suckers since the late 1990's, funded by both the Bureau of Reclamation and the Southern Nevada Water Authority. The NFWO has been working with the U. S. Geological Survey for over 10 years to assess the impacts of pollution on fish health in Lake Mead. Only recently did these two efforts combine into a partnership to assess the reproductive health of razorback suckers. This project, and many others like it across the U.S., can serve as a living classroom for young people, sparking an interest in the outdoors that will last a lifetime.

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service strives to take advantage of outreach and mentoring opportunities to educate others about the Service's mission to conserve and protect the nation's wildlife resources. The Service believes a vital aspect of that mission is to share a passion for what we do with the next generation, planting seeds in today's youth that will hopefully grow into leaders in conservation tomorrow.

 

 

Contact Info: Jeannie Stafford, 775-861-6300, jeannie_stafford@fws.gov