Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
High School Students Demonstrate Environmental Skills to Their Peers
Southwest Region, December 8, 2004
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December 8 was test day for the Environmental Science class at Albuquerque's School on Wheels High School. Instead of multiple-choice questions, they showed their classmates how to sift through leaves, bugs and data ? and draw conclusions on the health of the bosque ecosystem. It was an alternative test for an alternative school.

To ratchet up the stress level, the Service invited media to cover the story and congressional staff to attend. The Albuquerque Journal and KQRE television sent reporters. Danny Milo from Senator Bingaman's office participated in the field events. Senator Domenici sent a congratulatory letter.

The students ?took their test? in the Rio Grande bosque at the Jardines del Bosque Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP) site located adjacent to the National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico. They had been monitoring the site for several weeks and adding their data to the growing collection gathered by previous Environmental Science classes.

The Jardines del Bosque site is one of 19 ecosystem monitoring sites along the middle Rio Grande supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through its Middle Rio Grande Bosque Initiative. The School on Wheels has monitored the site for two years. ?I was looking for a program where high school students could get involved in a real science,? said the instructor/team leader, Vincent Case. ?For the past two years, my students have collected the data year round for the Hispanic Cultural Center. They set up the transects, dug the wells by hand and measured out where the vegetation plots would be placed.?

?These are the sort of projects I had in mind when establishing the Middle Rio Grande Bosque Initiative,? said Senator Pete V. Domenici. ?I want to commend that group for bringing together the School on Wheels, the University of New Mexico's Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program and others on this project, and encourage continued partnerships.? The Middle Rio Grande Bosque Initiative protects, enhances and restores biological values by addressing ecological functions within the Middle Rio Grande Students in Case's class learn monitoring techniques by going into the field and doing the actual monitoring. They collect 1) abiotic data such as groundwater levels, water levels in adjacent ditches, and precipitation), 2) biotic data such as litterfall reflecting tree and shrub productivity and dieback, 3) surface arthropod activity data, 4) plant cover data, and 5) Rio Grande and groundwater water-quality data. The data is made available to the University of New Mexico, Jardines del Bosque Research Station, resource managers, and to the local community.

?The student collect aquatic macroinvertebrates such as caddis flies and stone flies which are species that require good water quality,? said Case. ?They will show the other students how to categorize them into three different types of bugs.? Some macroinvertebrates, such as caddis and stone flies, are very sensitive to pollution while others are less sensitive. The type of bugs found in the water can indicate water quality.

?This hands-on approach is a great way to teach students about the significance of the Bosque ecosystem. I applaud School on Wheels, for taking on this important project, and am pleased that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is helping make it happen,? said U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman.

School on Wheels has 200 students in the Albuquerque Public School system. Case emphasized the Environmental Workshop ?is a great opportunity for all bosque programs to show what great work is happening in this collaborative effort.? Collaborators at the Jardines del Bosque BEMP site include Albuquerque Public Schools/School on Wheels, University of New Mexico, Bosque School, National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico, New Mexico Watershed Watch, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, City of Albuquerque/Open Space Division, and the Middle Rio Grande Bosque Initiative/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

?I am pleased to see so many young people taking part in this project,? said Domenici. ?They are developing analytical and scientific skills that will be an asset as they continue their education and careers, as well as, I hope, a life-long appreciation for the unique beauty of the bosque in the heart of Albuquerque.?

Case uses components from BEMP and the New Mexico Watershed Watch/NM Department of Game and Fish. Both programs are supported by grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Founded at the University of New Mexico in 1996, BEMP resulted from teaching and research that, for the previous decade, had focused on the relationship between the bosque's health and the flow regime of the Rio Grande. BEMP staffs, in partnership with Albuquerque's Bosque School, and UNM student interns collaborate with K-12 students and their teachers to track long-term environmental change in the Middle Rio Grande riparian forest, or ?bosque.?

BEMP is growing in size and impact. Cliff Crawford, BEMP founder and Director, reported that during the 2003 ? 2004 school year, over 1,750 students from many different schools participated simultaneously in monthly collections at 19 current BEMP sites. BEMP sites span 174 miles of the Rio Grande bosque from San Juan Pueblo to Lemitar, New Mexico and are located on public, pueblo, federal and Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District lands. While collecting data, students develop in-depth knowledge of their sites throughout the year and learn the essentials and significance of rigorous data collection, processing and analysis. Quality control is provided by teachers, UNM student interns, BEMP staff, and contracted experts. BEMP's high level of confidence in student-collected data underlies the interpretations and conclusions presented in public reports (see BEMP website at http://bosqueschool.org).

Contact Info: Martin Valdez, 505-248-6599, martin_valdez@fws.gov
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