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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Conserving the Future…Connecting Generations with Wildlife

Region 3, December 28, 2012
Junior Friends Alex Hastings and Elder Reuben Svingen intensely concentrated on the dissection of an owl pellet.
Junior Friends Alex Hastings and Elder Reuben Svingen intensely concentrated on the dissection of an owl pellet. - Photo Credit: n/a

“Teach me (about nature)!” Anna Botsford Comstock wrote in reference to a teacher, “And she will suddenly find herself young.” Young again for certain!

The elders of Sheridan House and Mill Street residences in Fergus Falls delighted in a study of winter birds on the last Friday of December 2012 at Prairie Wetlands Learning Center. The Black Capped Chickadee and Great Horned Owl were the featured birds. Taught by the Junior Friends of Prairie Wetlands Learning Center, these elders of the community of Fergus Falls, some over 90 years in age, had smiles of joy on their faces as the Junior Friends, all under 15 years old, shared the wonder found in the winter resident birds of West Central Minnesota.

After preparing the elders for a study of feathered winter residents, the Junior Friends concluded the study by dissecting an owl pellet with one or more of the gathered community elders. Questions came, minds were stimulated.

“How often does an owl make a pellet? What kind of rodents are in the pellets? Is this a leg bone? There were many more as young and old teamed together and connected with wildlife.

Sixth grade naturalist Alex Hastings, shown in the picture, led Reuben Svingen in the dissection of an owl pellet. This duo of youth and experience discussed and organized each small rodent bone found within the pellet. Mason and Reuben displayed intense concentration as they made each new bone discovery.

The Junior Friends of the Center has grown from just four in early August of 2012 to 18 in late December 2012. The idea for Junior Friends began with one or two young former Fergus Falls Public Schools Prairie Science students expressing their wish to continue to be connected with the Center. To accommodate these wishes, Prairie Wetlands Learning Center Instructional Systems Specialist David Ellis organized two summer habitat restoration projects, one to remove invasive Buckthorn and a second to remove Canada thistle.

 It was hot and work, but these young friends were willing! By late August Prairie Wetlands Learning Center Director and Visitors Services Manager Matt Conner shared his idea that this group of young nature aficionados be called Junior Friends of Prairie Wetlands Learning Center. It is an idea and label that fits and works well as a natural means to engage preteen and teens with nature at the Center.

Now, five months later, the Junior Friends are consistent volunteers for the Center. All of them have previous training. Each has spent one or two years as a member of the Prairie Science Class, all are accomplished young naturalists able to share their nature skills with others. So far they have also shared their time in volunteering for habitat restoration projects, volunteer work for Center events and they even did a video project for connecting people with nature for another Minnesota refuge in late August.

The enthusiasm and creativity of these young friends of Prairie Wetlands Learning Center offers great potential both for the Center and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The plan to add other young people interested in nature-even if they do not have experience with the Prairie Science Class requires only a willingness to serve as a Prairie Wetlands Learning Center volunteer to gain experience with nature and the Center before becoming a Junior Friend.

On this final Friday in December six of these Junior Friends made nature connections with fellow earth dwellers six to eight decades older than they are. This day was the fourth consecutive month the Junior Friends have planned and presented a program for the elders of the Fergus Falls community. On this particular Friday, the Junior Friends developed their communication skills, gave back to the community and shared their delight in nature with others. The young helped the old to become “young” again by connecting them with nature. It was an amazing intergenerational experience!



Contact Info: David Ellis, 1-218-998-4484, david_ellis@fws.gov