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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Angela James’ Love of Outdoors Feeds off ‘Enthusiasm, Optimism and Eagerness' of Kids

Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service
Angela James
Angela Palacios James prepares for the release of native fih.

Angela Palacios James, a Fish Biologist with New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has three broad job duties: fish culture, field work and outreach. Her job varies widely depending on the time of year, but most mornings start with a round of feeding the fish at the office, cleaning tanks and ensuring the tank systems are functioning properly. Currently, they are caring for endangered Colorado pikeminnow for a research project and various Middle Rio Grande fish species for the Native Fish in the Classroom (NFIC) program. In NFIC, students raise native fish in their classroom while learning about ecology, biology, conservation and socio-economic issues regarding water resources.

During the spring, Angela spends a lot of time running the NFIC program. “I am out on the Rio Grande collecting fish and preparing fish for students. Or I am preparing for activities, presentations and field days for the NFIC classrooms or other outreach events as they arise. This includes answering calls from teachers and making last-minute runs to schools when something may be wrong with their fish or tank systems.”

Angela James
Angela holds a Colorado pikeminnow.

In the summer, Angela is busiest providing field support for salvage efforts for the Rio Grande silvery minnow on the Rio Grande and fish monitoring in all the major river basins of New Mexico including the Rio Grande, Pecos, Gila/Mimbres and San Juan. Among other places, that takes her rafting on the San Juan River to monitor razorback and Colorado pikeminnow or heading into the Gila wilderness for Gila trout monitoring.

Oh yeah, and she has regular office duties, too, writing monthly station reports, gathering permit data, etc.

5 Questions for Angela

1. What inspired you to work with young people?

Since I was 17, outreach has worked its way into most of my jobs.  When I lived in Missouri, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) opened up summer positions to expose inner-city kids to the outdoors and related fields of work. This is what led me to enter the field of fisheries. While at MDC, I had the opportunity to work with inner-city kids, elderly people, and people who were mentally and physically challenged, teaching them to fish. I was just as excited about being outdoors, seeing a fish, and touching a fish and any other critter that happened to pass us by as the people we were working with. My desire to share my excitement and curiosity about the natural world inspires my work with young people. I hope that they will be as awestruck and excited by the outdoors and all the creatures that live there as I am.

2. What is your favorite part of working with kids?

This is combined with the first question. That inspiration to work with the kids, to share my excitement, is fed by the students’ excitement. My favorite part when working with kids is their enthusiasm, optimism and eagerness about the natural world. It’s the best thing in the world to see their face light up when they have a fish in their hand, identify an invertebrate or release their native fish into the river.

Angela James
Angela and students calculate feed rates for the Rio Grand cutthroat trout she just delivered to Monte Vista Elementary School. Photo by Jessie Jobs/USFWS

3. What is the best way to connect youth with nature?

Give them the opportunity, the more opportunities the better. Someone may not be into fishing and archery but take to bird watching. They may think fish are slimy but be in awe while watching a butterfly come out of its cocoon. We have to be able to engage them and not underestimate how much they can actually do and comprehend.

4. How do we compete with video games, TV and the Internet?

I think this question ties in with #3.  We have to provide the opportunities with enough variation to spark the interest and curiosity that each kid has. Once you spark their interest it’s easier to keep them outdoors. We should also harness some of the technology to expand their horizons when it comes to species and natural processes that goes on around us. They may still watch TV but just maybe if we catch their interest, they’ll watch the nature channel instead of Spongebob. 

Angela James
Angela works with a  Youth Conservation Corps member.

5. Why is working with youth important?

We have a species, the Rio Grande silvery minnow, which has been listed for 21 years now. I was just graduating high school then, so I was considered youth when it was first listed. Who would have thought I would be working with this fish now, after 21 years of listing? Our youth today, will be the ones fighting for the survival of our plethora of species and all our natural resources in the future. There is no easy answer to environmental issues; they cross generations.  The youth will inherit the issues of today, and we need to ensure they are aware, have empathy and the knowledge to take on these challenges.

Children who spend time in nature are healthier – physically, mentally and emotionally, studies show. To foster a connection with nature, the Service encourages children and parents to go outside. National Wildlife Refuges and other Service facilities sponsor fishing days, hikes, workshops to learn about hunting, the nation’s amazing wildlife and more. The Department of the Interior also is committed to helping youth connect with nature. The Service is also determined to develop the next generation of conservationists. 

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