Scott Flaherty 916-978-6156/916-612-3042
Christiane Maertens, (Disney) 818-553-7245
A class project that will help conserve and protect burrowing owls and other raptors on Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge resulted in an all expense paid trip to Disneyland May 3-4 for teacher Mitch Carnie and his fifth-grade class at Sutterville Elementary School in Sacramento, Calif.
Carnie's class was notified in late March that their project: The Great Watershed Investigation: Saving Our Burrowing Owls & Raptors, was selected as California's grand prize winner of the 2007 Jiminy Cricket Environmentality Challenge, an environmental education program sponsored by The Walt Disney Company in partnership with the California Environmental Education Interagency Network. The Challenge inspires students to research environmental issues in their communities, problem-solve these issues and educate others. It also encourages students to think and act environmentally.
The students' focus on burrowing owls began after touring "The Bufferlands," a 2,650-acre area of open space surrounding the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. During their tour, the class met with Biologist Roger Jones of the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, who taught them about the habitat values of riparian forests and wetlands and introduced them to the burrowing owl. The class then learned how recent repairs to levees around the Sacramento area had displaced more than a dozen burrowing owls.
"The class learned about the decline of burrowing owls in Sacramento County and wanted to help us bring them back. We gave them the opportunity and away they went," said Beatrix Treiterer, deputy project leader for Stone Lakes NWR. Using historical survey data provided by biologists at the Bufferlands, the class built data tables that tracked the numbers of owls by season, breeding pairs and chicks observed since 1996. Using plastic irrigation pipe, concrete block and other materials provided by the refuge, the class eventually constructed six artificial owl dens on the refuge.
"I was impressed by the amount of time and dedication these students had for their project," said Treiterer, who has witnessed scores of student projects on refuges in her 15 years of Service. "They had a great teacher and showed a high level of commitment to a project that no only benefits the refuge but will leave a lasting impression on the kids. They learned a lot," she said.
The class posted details of their burrowing owl habitat construction, owl population data used and other parts of the project including a project song, reports, slide presentations and web blog-- to a project web site: www.savetheburrowingowls.org .
Art Shine, visitor services chief at the California and Nevada Operations Office said the Environmentality Challenge is significantly different from conservation projects performed by most schools on refuges.
'The projects begin in the fall and teachers integrate State standard curriculums for math, science and even English into their environmental project, which can take months to accomplish. This challenges both teachers and students and makes for a quality educational experience," Shine said.
Mitch Carnie has been a teacher for 22 years and has participated in the Environmentality Challenge for the past six years. He said connecting the environmental project to State curriculum standards, especially mathematics, improved his students? focus on the lesson at hand.
"When I would tell the kids, 'today's lesson on ratios or graphing concerns burrowing owls' I would have their full attention. It wasn't about math anymore, it was about the owls, and they weren't even aware they were doing school work," Carnie said.
Carnie's previous class projects ranged from tree planting to improving vernal pool habitat for rare fairy shrimp. The projects earned semi-finalists honors each year. As grand prizewinners, the Sutterville fifth graders will travel with their parents to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., where they will be recognized during a special "Heroes" award ceremony.
"Over time, the kids became more concerned with the burrowing owls than they did about winning a trip to Disneyland," Carnie said. "The project has helped make this year a lot of fun, maybe the best I've had in 22 years."
In California, the Environmentality Challenge is a partnership between The Walt Disney Company and the California Environmental Education Interagency Network. The Network includes representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Environmental Protection Agency; California Departments of Education, Food and Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and the Resources Agency.
More than 30,000 California students in grades 3-5 participated in the Challenge this year. Students who enroll in the program take a pledge to do at least three things to help the environment, from turning off lights and water to recycling, etc. Fifth graders are invited to do a class project of their own design that is evaluated by a panel of educators, scientists and environmental leaders. More than 50 projects were submitted this year from schools in northern California.
'There were some very good projects submitted this year. It was great to see the winning project be one that was performed on a national wildlife refuge," Shine said.
The program began in 1994 at Disneyland in California, and has since expanded to central Florida, Hong Kong and the Caribbean. To date, more than one million students worldwide have taken the Jiminy Cricket Environmentality Challenge.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies
More information about Stone Lakes NWR is available on the Internet at: http://www.fws.gov/stonelakes/