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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
VENTURA FWO: Fourth Graders in the Owens Valley Get Outdoors for a Thrilling Field Trip to Fish Slough
Region 8, October 31, 2008
Michael Glenn and Kate Eschelbach with a group of 4th grade students at Fish Slough, an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in the Owens Valley (photo:Joy Fatooh, BLM)
Michael Glenn and Kate Eschelbach with a group of 4th grade students at Fish Slough, an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in the Owens Valley (photo:Joy Fatooh, BLM) - Photo Credit: n/a

by Kate Eschelback, Ventura FWO
In late October, over 300 fourth grade students from the Owens Valley traveled with their classes by bus to visit a site called Fish Slough, seven miles north of Bishop, California – and it wasn’t for Halloween. There wasn’t any candy, or costumes, or even haunted sloughs to traverse. Yet, for some, it was a chance to overcome a fear of experiencing the outdoors and to learn that spending time in nature isn’t so frightening, it is fun!

The Eastern Sierra Watershed Project (ESWP) education program, in partnership with the Hands on the Land Program through the Bishop office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), provides outdoor environmental education programs in the spring and fall for students at several grade levels throughout the Owens Valley.  Two wildlife biologists from the Service's Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, Michael Glenn and Kate Eschelbach, had the opportunity to assist and learn from the 4th grade program at Fish Slough this fall. 

The fourth grade program at Fish Slough introduces the students to the unique aspects of this desert spring ecosystem through participation in four studies during their day long field trip.  This year, the field trips for six participating schools took place from October 28-30th.  The four studies include activities that focus on plant communities, geology, archeology and the Owens pupfish. The students learn to identify rocks, learn about the ancient Paiute Native American culture, study how plants adapt to living in the desert and learn about pupfish and their habitat.

Michael and Kate assisted the program as biologist docents by leading the Owens pupfish station along with Joy Fatooh of the BLM. Each hour, a new group of approximately 25-30 fourth graders rotated to the pupfish station and were asked to help gather clues as to why the Owens pupfish (Cyprinodon radiosus), which used to thrive throughout Fish Slough and the entire Owens Valley, is now only found in very small areas and is an endangered species.

Each student had a journal for note taking that provided questions and activities to guide their exploration of eight aspects of pupfish ecology:  water, substrate, emergent vegetation, aquatic invertebrates, little fish, big fish, birds and large mammals. For each aspect, they were asked if it was living or non living and native or non native. They learned that there are only four native fish in the Owens Valley and that they all have Owens in their names. They also learned that introduced species, such as bass, mosquito fish, and even cows might have had an affect on the pupfish and were asked to think about why.  The students were encouraged to take notes, draw pictures, ask questions, and think broadly about connections between the pupfish and its environment.

The notes they gathered while in the field were revisited by Joy Fatooh the following week to help them “solve the mystery of the missing pupfish”. The students played “detective” while in the field, but practiced important scientific techniques throughout the experience. The classroom-based follow up session served as a reinforcement of what the students learned on their field trip not only at the pupfish station, but for all four of the stations as well.

In the end, the students might not have been in costume, but they were all scientists for the day! The students were able to experience through touch, sight, sound, taste and smell their way to a new appreciation for their local environment.  And they learned that being outdoors, exploring their surroundings, and learning about fish, rocks, plants, and culture is thrilling at any time of year! 

More information on the Eastern Sierra Watershed Project's educational programs, lead by Leigh Parmenter and Katie Quinlan is available on the Internet

Contact: Kate Eschelbach and Michael Glenn, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, CA 93003, kate_eschelbach@fws.gov or michael_glenn@fws.gov, 805.644.1766

Contact Info: Kate Eschelbach, 8056441766 x259, kate_eschelbach@fws.gov