From Beaches to the Mountains

'Firstbloom' tribal program inspires next generation of conservation stewards

Photo essay by Hazel Rodriguez
August 16, 2017

From the sandy beaches of Ventura County to the wilds of Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, the Bishop Pauite’s Firstbloom science program inspires young tribal youth to be stewards of their environment while celebrating their tribal culture with local fish and wildlife biologists. The Firstbloom program provides environmental education to fourth and fifth grade students and strives to provide hands-on opportunities for children to learn about native ecosystems while encouraging use of our public lands.

This photo essay by Hazel Rodriguez, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, captures young tribal leaders on their most recent adventure this summer with local biologists as part of an overnight camping experience in Ventura County.

While students learned about the coastal resources and endangered species that make the California coast so unique, a team of local biologists learned about the rich history of their tribal culture. The group camped overnight at Ventura’s local state beaches to learn about shorebirds and our coastal ecosystem and had the once in a lifetime experience of seeing California condors in the wild at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. From beach dune nature walks to gazing at condors in the wilds of the Los Padres National Forest, join us as Firstbloom goes to science camp!

The Firstbloom group meets Service biologists at a Ventura beach campground. Firstbloom is an environmental education program created in collaboration with Bishop Paiute Tribe and Devils Postpile National Monument.

Service biologist Lara Drizd leads some of the young ladies of the Firstbloom on a beach walk discussing native plants, insects, and local birds of Ventura, California. The Firstbloomers were filled with many questions, and Drizd provided an immersive learning experience allowing the girls to touch, smell, and listen to the nature that surrounded them.

"An environment-based education movement--at all levels of education--will help students realize that school isn't supposed to be a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world."
           — Richard Louv, from Last Child in the Woods

Service biologist Jenny Marek leads another young group on the beach, pointing out the local shore birds including protected western snowy plovers. “I love the challenge of explaining complex ecological processes in way that will hopefully capture the imagination of some of these kids so they may feel a connection to the natural world, and possibly even choose a career in conservation,” Marek said.

The kids of Firstbloom are strong believers in “leaving no trace” and take pride in removing trash throughout the beach and campsite. Bryanna Vaughn (right) discusses the harmful effects of plastics to wildlife, oceans, and to people. Minimizing their impact to their campsite, the kids properly store food away from wildlife, recycle, and use biodegradable products.

As night falls, the fun doesn't end. Brooke Sheridan from California State Parks joins the group for a night observation moth station. Sheridan sets up a mothing kit composed of white sheets attached to metal poles. A blacklight illuminates the station attracting various moth species. Sheridan (right) and Service biologist Drizd (left) identify the variety of moths landing on the illuminated sheets.

Surprise! A white-lined sphinx moth makes a special appearance just before bedtime. One of the fastest flying insects on the planet, resembling a hummingbird in flight, this moth stole the show!

Up and at ‘em: The group makes the rugged trek to Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge near the small town of Fillmore. The students learn about the federally endangered California condor,  America’s largest iconic bird.

A special treat: The group sees their first wild condor soaring high above them.

Inspired by their first sighting of wild California condors, Firstbloom students plant juncus and dogbane, versatile plants important to the Chumash tribe, a local tribe that hold special significance for California condors.

Joy and laughter fills the air, as biologist Mike Glenn recounts the day’s events by a toasty campfire. From pollinators, endangered shore birds, and to the iconic California condor, the Firstbloom science camp not only teaches children about wildlife biology, but also builds self-confidence, promotes teamwork, and a sense of community.

Making lasting memories at science camp, Service and California State Park biologists create extraordinary experiences for the children of Bishop Paiute’s Firstbloom group. The unwavering dedication of community leaders like Michael Glenn and Bryanna Vaughn and programs like these help shape our youth to be stewards of their environment and pass along cultural knowledge.

Hazel Rodriguez is an information and education assistant with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ventura, California.