This is the second of two articles about Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge’s watershed conservation plan. The first article appeared in the March/April issue of Refuge Update.

Environmental education is a critical management tool at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah. “We can’t move forward with our landscape–level conservation plans if the public doesn’t understand why working on the watershed is important,” says refuge manager Bob Barrett, who is as enthusiastic about a student essay contest on the marbeled godwit as he is about critical resources for waterfowl in the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.

The Friends of the Bear River Refuge has created an Enduring Legacy Education Endowment to guarantee annual funding for educational programs. The goal is to generate $1.5 million by December 2012 that would be held “outside the Service and invested privately, generating enough funds to support education outside of the refuge budget,” says Anne Truslow, a facilitator with the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

Catch ’em While They Are Young

Watershed and water quality protection are part of the state–approved curriculum for Box Elder County fourth–graders. Every child participates in two field trips a year, first to the upper watershed and later to the refuge, where the children test water and learn about wetlands and watersheds.

“All the research shows that if you don’t communicate the fundamentals about the watershed by the time kids are 12, it’s difficult to get those ideas understood and hard to get the ideas supported,” says Barrett.

One year, the winner of a student essay contest went on an airboat ride to help tag a marbeled godwit and assist in collecting data about the species. The young woman is now in high school with a strong interest in pursuing a career in science, nurtured at least in part by that early experience on the refuge.

There are internships for high school students to help promote the Youth Conservation Corps, and Utah State University students earn credits toward a recreation management degree by volunteering on the refuge.

Linking Internationally

The Linking Communities, Wetlands and Migratory Birds Initiative has generated a very productive relationship between the refuge and Weber State University in Ogden, UT, says refuge visitor services manager Kathi Stopher. The initiative focuses on education, ecotourism and avian conservation in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, the Great Salt Lake in Utah and the Marismas Nacionales complex in Nayarit, Mexico—all stops on a migratory pathway for many of the same species of shorebirds.

For instance, under the direction of Weber State ornithologist John Cavitt, University of Nayarit student Paulina Martinez documented habitat preferred by snowy plovers during breeding season on the refuge. Later this spring, she will submit a report to the refuge concluding that snowy plovers are less likely to nest on dikes with large rock sides. “That could become a management tool to discourage nesting on dikes,” says Cavitt.

“We consider these our birds,” he says, “but in fact it’s better to see that they are birds from Mexico that spend a little time here at the refuge. By participating in these projects, we can have an impact on the entire range of our species.”

Cavitt is developing an online ornithology class in Spanish for students at the University of Nayarit, and this spring he is taking a class of Weber State students to Mexico for a six–week hands–on experience in the Marismas complex.

Back at Bear River Refuge, “my goal is to wear out the visitor center,” says Barrett, utilizing every square inch of the expansive James V. Hansen Wildlife Education Center just off Interstate 15 near Salt Lake City. On a more philosophical level, the Linking Initiative measures success when “we each, in our own place and time, see a migratory bird and know our responsibility for its well–being.”

Karen Leggett is a writer–editor in the Refuge System Branch of Communications.