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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

SAN FRANCISCO  BAY NWR COMPLEX: Don Edwards - San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Reels in New Partnerships

Region 8, October 18, 2011
Thomas Orozco and his mother, Betty Wright, with the leopard shark he caught on the Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The shark was later released back into the bay.
Thomas Orozco and his mother, Betty Wright, with the leopard shark he caught on the Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The shark was later released back into the bay. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Carmen Minch, Outdoor Recreation Planner, San Francisco Bay NWR Complex

Collective cries of oohs and aahs were heard as kids and adults crowded around Thomas as he tugged on his fishing rod. Dangling at the end of the line was a 24-inch leopard shark. As he hoisted the fish over the railing, help from all sides came to disengage the hook. Thomas stood grinning with his mother and his catch as he posed for photographs, not only for refuge staff, but for most of the families who had attended this special event at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Fremont.

The beginner’s fishing clinic, held September 10, demonstrated a growing partnership between the Don Edwards NWR and local health care providers. For the past year, the Don Edwards NWR has been working with a team of pediatricians from Hayward, Santa Clara, and Mountain View, as part of a program developed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (FWS) National Conservation Training Center. In response to a growing body of research that indicates that people who recreate outdoors regularly tend to be more fit, have lower levels of stress, and appreciate nature and the environment, the FWS and National Environmental Education Foundation collaborated to give health care providers the background and tools to encourage their patients to visit National Wildlife Refuges. A pilot program was created where health care providers give their patients "prescriptions"  to go visit their local National Wildlife Refuge. Incentives would be rewarded to those with repeated visits.

Recognizing that transportation may be a limiting factor for some to visit, the refuge received a small grant from the FWS’s Pacific Southwest Region to host a fishing clinic that provided transportation for patients referred by Doctors Vickie Chou, Paul Espinas, and Charles Owyang. The purpose of the event was fourfold: introduce fishing as a recreational pastime; demonstrate how people, ecosystems, and wildlife are interconnected; how our actions can affect the environment; and acquaint the public what a National Wildlife Refuge is and what they have to offer.

Participants were limited to the number of rods and reels available, and space on the fishing pier. Once on the pier, participants were welcomed with a brief introduction about the refuge, and were handed a “tackle” box with hooks, surf leaders, and sinkers. Participants were led through stations to learn about safety and ethics, watershed protection, knot tying, and rigging. After tying their surf leader onto a fishing rod, they received a bag of bait and were free to try their hand at catching the “big one.” Plenty of volunteers were on hand to help operate the rod if needed, and to detangle lines. A large bucket was also available to place any fish caught for temporary observation, and crab traps and shrimp traps were also set.

Of the 43 people who attended the event, only two had ever been to the Don Edwards NWR. Feedback from the families who attended the program indicated that they will be back to participate in other types of programs and activities. The Don Edwards NWR will continue to build on the relationships with the current pediatricians, and hopes to expand the partnerships to other local health care providers.

As for Thomas, he was signed up to return next year for another fishing event as a volunteer.

Contact Info: Doug Cordell, 510-774-4080, doug_cordell@fws.gov