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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
VENTURA FWO: Biologists Help Owens Valley Tribal Environmental Youth Campers Explore the Devils Postpile National Monument
Region 8, August 11, 2009
VFWO Biologist, Ashleigh Blackford, points to some birds and encourages campers to use their binoculars to get a closer look. (Photo credit: Kate Eschelbach, Devils Postpile National Monument, August 11, 2009)
VFWO Biologist, Ashleigh Blackford, points to some birds and encourages campers to use their binoculars to get a closer look. (Photo credit: Kate Eschelbach, Devils Postpile National Monument, August 11, 2009) - Photo Credit: n/a
A young camper proudly displays the grasshopper she caught. (Photo credit: Kate Eschelbach, Devils Postpile National Monument, August 11, 2009)
A young camper proudly displays the grasshopper she caught. (Photo credit: Kate Eschelbach, Devils Postpile National Monument, August 11, 2009) - Photo Credit: n/a
A young camper takes a few moments to reflect on the day's events and begin the first page in her new scientific journal. (Photo credit: Kate Eschelbach, Devils Postpile National Monument, August 11, 2009)
A young camper takes a few moments to reflect on the day's events and begin the first page in her new scientific journal. (Photo credit: Kate Eschelbach, Devils Postpile National Monument, August 11, 2009) - Photo Credit: n/a

Campers in their new backpacks begin their nature hike. (Photo credit: Kate Eschelbach, Devils Postpile National Monument, August 11, 2009)
Campers in their new backpacks begin their nature hike. (Photo credit: Kate Eschelbach, Devils Postpile National Monument, August 11, 2009) - Photo Credit: n/a
Campers and counselors use nets to capture aquatic invertebrates and other insects in the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. (Photo credit: Michael Glenn, Devils Postpile National Monument, August 11, 2009)
Campers and counselors use nets to capture aquatic invertebrates and other insects in the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. (Photo credit: Michael Glenn, Devils Postpile National Monument, August 11, 2009) - Photo Credit: n/a
A camper points to Devils Postpile, one of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt. (Photo credit: Ashleigh Blackford, Devils Postpile National Monument, August 11, 2009)
A camper points to Devils Postpile, one of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt. (Photo credit: Ashleigh Blackford, Devils Postpile National Monument, August 11, 2009) - Photo Credit: n/a

By Erin Shapiro, Ventura FWO
When is the last time you followed a 10-year-old for a half hour and tried to help them catch a grasshopper? At the beginning of August, four biologists from the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office (VFWO) had the chance to do just that – and lots more – to provide approximately thirty young children with an unstructured opportunity to connect with nature.

This year marked the 8th annual Owens Valley Tribal Environmental Youth Camp in Owens Valley, California.  The camp is integral in providing outdoor experiences for local tribal youth to help each child gain an understanding of their role in Mother Nature’s ecosystem, gain a lifelong appreciation for the environment and encourage environmental careers.  The camp, organized and hosted by the Environmental Departments of the Big Pine, Bishop, Fort Independence and Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribes, first began in 2002 and has taken place at various locations throughout the Owens Valley.  Campers ranged in age from 10 to 18 and are members of the Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley, Bishop Paiute Tribe, the Fort Independence Indian Reservation, and the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation.

The camp took place on August 11th through 13th and included a trip from the children’s homes in the Owens Valley to set up camp and explore Devils Postpile National Monument in Mammoth Lakes, California.  The camp combined participation from the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and the Owens Valley Indian Water Commission.  Representatives from these organizations led the campers in various activities based on multiple topics, including: earthquake preparedness, geology activity, star-gazing, horseback riding, and orienteering. But to set a pace for it all, the focus of the VFWO’s involvement on the first day was to lead hikes in the areas surrounding their campsite with a focus on the exploration of nature.

As part of this year’s event and thanks to the funding opportunity awarded through the USFWS Pacific Southwest Region, each participant was gifted with a “Let’s Go Outside!” backpack containing all the essential tools that a budding biologist needs, including binoculars, bird identification guide, magnifying glass, insect collection jar, activity cards and journal.  

When it was time to receive the backpacks and start the VFWO biologist led hikes, the response was extremely enthusiastic! Over 25 campers and their counselors-in-training were guided by Fish and Wildlife Biologists Ashleigh Blackford, Kate Eschelbach, Michael Glenn, and Erin Shapiro.  Each group had a chance to tour a different area of the National Monument and learn about the biology, ecology and geology of the area.  One group of campers hiked to the top of Devils Postpile while two other groups explored the natural surroundings of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River Valley and Reds Meadow Valley.  All of the campers learned about and were encouraged to identify the common plants and wildlife along the way.  And even though they could not be observed directly, the hike leaders were able to talk about and show pictures of endangered species of the area such as Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, Owens tui chub and Owens pupfish and discuss how the USFWS is working to recover these special species.

The backpack materials in particular were very popular with the campers – they could not wait to use them all! Some campers embarked on their biological careers by learning to use their new tools to capture and identify aquatic invertebrates and other insects. Other campers were eager to hone their birding skills by demonstrating their ability to use the binoculars and bird guides. All the campers were able to observe and identify species such as Steller’s jay, brown creeper, mule deer, Indian paintbrush, yarrow, shooting star, and many other insects, fish, birds and plants. The most ambitious campers had the opportunity to hike to the top of Devils Postpile and investigate the glacial polished honeycomb pattern of the columnar basalt. 

Overall, this year’s Owens Valley Tribal Environmental Youth Camp was successful in fostering a greater appreciation for nature and educating children on possible careers in biology. The campers ended their hikes by taking a few quiet moments to reflect and complete their first scientific journal entries, a sign of many adventures to come!  The camp also served the dual purpose of promoting the Service’s “Let’s Go Outside!” campaign.  The VFWO is excited about working with the Owens Valley Tribes in the future and continuing to educate children on the protection of our natural resources.

VFWO Biologist Michael Glenn summed up the spirit of the day when he encouraged all of the campers to not only use these backpacks during the camp, but to also, “Take them home and use them often! Teach your brothers and sisters, your parents and your grandparents how to use these tools so you can share with them the wonders of nature that you have discovered today.”

 

Contact Info: Erin Shapiro, 805-644-1766 x369, erin_shapiro@fws.gov