August 13, 2014
Innovative Pacific Lamprey Geocache Project Combines Recreation and Conservation
Amanda Fortin (503) 872-2852
After 350 million years, Pacific Lamprey have a new way to migrate: virtual routes along Pacific Northwest waterways using geocaches.
This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released four handcrafted Pacific Lamprey geocaching Travel Bugs™ to engage the public in learning about Pacific Lamprey and regional partnership efforts to conserve the species.
Geocaching, a technological take on orienteering, is an outdoor activity in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) device to locate hidden containers (“geocaches” or “caches”) and fixed objects (“waypoints”).
Pacific Lamprey are culturally and ecologically vital. An important ancient food for Native Americans in the Columbia Basin and a natural aide to salmon and steelhead populations, Pacific Lamprey are a powerful indicator of watershed health.
For the first three to seven years of their lives, lamprey larvae bury into river bottoms and filter feed, transporting sediment and improving water quality. Relatively weak swimmers, Pacific Lamprey are an ideal food source for migrating fish. After spawning and dying they continue to nourish our waterways; their bodies are important sources of marine derived nutrients for local river and stream ecosystems.
Sean Connolly, a biologist with the Service’s Division of Fishery Resources in Portland, Oregon, came up with the idea two years ago when he found a Travel Bug™ while geocaching with his son in Central Oregon.
“We found a handcrafted wire fish with a special tag that had really beautiful Native American art on one side and a special code on the other side,” said Connolly. “I looked up the code, learned that it was a geocaching travel bug that had a special mission, and a lightbulb went off.”
Inspired, Connolly worked with colleagues to create the carved wooden lamprey Travel Bugs™ with scannable Quick Response™ codes and gave them the mission that native lamprey have been completing for 350 million years - migrate.
The four Travel Bugs™, cached near Orofino, ID, Toppenish, WA, Ilwaco, WA, and Portland, OR, all have specific missions to follow upriver or downriver virtual journeys. The Service worked with Pacific Lamprey conservation partners such as the Yakama Nation, Nez Perce Tribe, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Oregon State University, and Washington Parks and Recreation to establish key visitation sights along mission routes.
Modeled after Pacific Lamprey migratory routes, the Travel Bugs™ will rely on human transport from geocache to geocache to move up—or down—river corridors. The public can learn how to help the Pacific Lamprey Travel Bugs™ migrate by visiting j.mp/Pacific Lamprey.
The Service encourages users to respect geocaching rules on state and Federal lands. Lamprey Travel Bugs™ can visit any location, but where caches are not allowed, participants are urged to log their visit, take a picture of the lamprey travel bug, and upload it to Geocaching.com's website. The lamprey travel bug can then be left in a nearby legitimate cache. Always check with site staff locally about specific regulations.
“The fate of our Pacific Lamprey travel bugs and whether or not they fulfill their missions to migrate up- or downriver is in the hands of people, just like our real-life conservation efforts,” said Jana Grote, Aquatic Conservation Division Manager. “We wanted to use Pacific Lamprey travel bugs as a symbol for letting everyone know they can help protect this amazing species that has been around since before the dinosaurs.”
For Additional Information visit the Pacific lamprey website, the Willamette Basin Pacific Lamprey Travel Bug website, and the Portland, OR - Vancouver, WA Metro Area Pacific Lamprey Travel Bug website.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.