Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CFWEP Students Win BIG
At High School State Science Fair

Inadvertently left out of the last Restoration and Education Newsletter issue were Butte High science fair superstars, Chris Doyle and Danielle Bay. The two senior Bulldogs have worked the past two years radio-tracking a herd of transplanted bighorn sheep in The Highlands mountains south of Butte. The team won top honors in their category at both the Southwest Montana Regional and Montana State Science fairs. These gold medals advance Doyle and Bay to the International Science & Engineering Fair, to be held in Reno, NV later this month (we'll keep you posted on how they fare!).

Following is a guest blog written by their equally all-star studded scientist mentor, FWP biologist Vanna Boccadorri. The project has been a huge success due to the above-and-beyond efforts of Boccadori, not to mention very key support from the International Elecrical and Electronics Enigneers (IEEE) Butte Chapter and the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS). Thanks to all and CONGRATULATIONS, CHRIS AND DANIELLE...and VANNA!

A Tale From the Highlands Bighorn Sheep Herd

Vanna Boccadori
Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks

“Once upon a time in a land not so far away, there were some bighorn sheep wearing radio collars that were transplanted to the Highland Mountains, south of Butte, MT….”. Okay, while this is not a fairy tale, it is a story with a happy ending.

Four years ago I became the Butte Area Wildlife Biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. In addition to managing the wildlife in one of the most beautiful corners of Montana, I was also handed the responsibility of managing the Highlands bighorn sheep herd, whose range included the Highlands and East Pioneer Mountains. The Highlands herd, as it is popularly known, was once a thriving population of bighorn sheep known for its abundance of trophy rams. Unfortunately, in the mid 1990’s, the herd suffered an all-age die-off that left less than one hundred surviving individuals. Since then, the herd has struggled to rebuild itself.

In an effort to help the population along, the management decision was made to relocate sheep to the Highlands. In February 2007, seventeen bighorn sheep were transplanted from the Ruby Mountains and in January 2008, sixty-five sheep were transplanted from the Sun River herd. Amongst these, radio collars were placed on twenty-five adult ewes so that their post-release movements could be monitored. A big thanks to Montana FNAWS for funding a portion of the collars as well as some of the capture expense (along with the National FNAWS and several other state chapters).

After the first transplant, an article appeared in the local paper describing the event, including mention of the fact that some of the sheep were radio-collared so that they could be tracked. Enter Matt Vincent, director of the Clark Fork Watershed Educational Program (CFWEP). CFWEP is a nonprofit, place-based, hands-on science program for local school kids aimed at instilling an understanding and appreciation of their local environment.

Matt stopped by my office after reading the article and asked if there was a way to involve local high school kids in tracking the sheep. Sounded reasonable to me – more eyes and ears out there checking on the sheep, plus fresher legs than mine climbing up and down mountains in search of those nimble critters. It didn’t take much effort to recruit more than a dozen high school students and several of their science teachers to sign up for what quickly became known simply as “The Sheep Project”. So in March 2007, I and wildlife manager Kurt Alt spent a day in the field training the students and their teachers how to track the radio-collared sheep using telemetry equipment, how to map sheep locations on topographical maps, and how to collect group composition and habitat data.

The students were then organized into groups, with teachers, CFWEP staff, myself, an FWP wildlife technician, and occasionally parents, serving as chaperones. Each weekend, a group of volunteer trackers would grab the box of tracking supplies from my office and head to the hills, tracking sheep and gathering useful data.

Over the past two years, the students and chaperones have logged more than 150 tracker days, more than 20 students spent at least one day in the field tracking sheep, more than half of those students stayed involved with the project for at least one year, and four students stayed involved for both years of the project. Three of these student trackers went on to get seasonal employment with FWP and several of them helped me at check stations in the fall.

Two Butte High students, Danielle Bay and Chris Doyle, who have been with the project since its beginning, when they were sophomores, asked if they could use the data we’d been collecting to put together a project for Science Fair. So this past winter, I worked with Chris and Danielle, now seniors, to compile and analyze the bighorn sheep data in order to address the hypotheses of their study. The result was a 40-page report and a knock-out display board that earned them not only first place at both the regional and state level, but also garnered them scholarship money and the grand prize of an all-expense paid trip to Reno, NV in May to compete at the national Science Fair.

Overall, The Sheep Project has been a successful endeavor in that much more monitoring of the sheep occurred than if I was doing it myself, and several local students and teachers now have a much greater awareness of bighorn sheep and are likely to keep this interest for their lifetime and share it with others. I owe a sincere thanks to all the volunteers on the project, Matt Vincent and his CFWEP staff, FWP folks who helped out, and the MT-FNAWS Board, especially Casey Johnston!

Montana Chapter FNAWS has been incredibly supportive of the Highlands Sheep Project and the involvement with the students. They invited Chris and Danielle to present their study at the annual banquet in Bozeman this past March, and generously allowed me to auction off a day in the field tracking sheep with the students, with 100% of the bid to go directly back to this project. Even more generous, MT-FNAWS matched the high bid of $450 (paid by an equally generous couple from Colstrip) so now there is $900 earmarked for the continuation of the Sheep Project. This money will go towards reimbursing the students for gas money for their vehicles when they are tracking sheep, and other needed supplies. Out of gratitude for all the support MT-FNAWS has given the Highlands Sheep Project, four of the students became new members of the Chapter this year.

Moving forward, the Highlands Sheep Project will continue, providing a venue for local students to grow their appreciation and interest in the Highlands bighorn sheep herd. I will step out of the role as project leader and hand this duty over to Matt Vincent and his staff at CFWEP, who are better equipped than I to handle the logistics of the project and keep it going. This will allow me to focus on other aspects of the Highlands sheep management that require more rigorous attention. I will stay involved with the Sheep Project as a “technical advisor”, providing management perspective and context to future student research and Science Fair projects. I look forward to many more productive years working with MT-FNAWS to put sheep and students on the mountain!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Earth Day Film Showings at Montana Tech

In honor of Earth Day 2009, the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program (CFWEP) is hosting free film showings at Montana Tech on Tuesday, April 21 and Wednesday, April 22. Film showings begin at 7:00 p.m. each evening in Room 101 of the Chemistry & Biology Building on the Montana Tech campus. Brief discussions will follow each film. The featured films all address conservation and environmental topics.

On Tuesday, April 21, the featured films are Bugs of the Underworld and Red Gold. In Bugs of the Underworld, extraordinary, award-winning underwater video footage follows the life cycles of mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, and other amazing stream bugs. In Red Gold, flyfishers and salmon enthusiasts will gain valuable insights as they see an award-winning documentary weighing the economic and ecological impacts of the Pebble Mine, a proposed copper, gold and molybdenum mine and the sockeye salmon fishery of Bristol Bay, Alaska.

On Wednesday, April 22, the featured films are The Legendary Mountain, The Lorax, and Mining Camp Makeover. The Legendary Mountain, an Anaconda Company production from 1974 about Butte and the mining and smelting process, presents a unique take on the city and the industry that built it. The animated featured The Lorax brings Dr. Seuss’ classic cautionary tale about our relationship with the natural world to life. Finally, Mining Camp Makeover, produced by BP-Arco, summarizes the recent environmental clean-up and restoration work in the Butte and Anaconda areas.

For more information, visit the CFWEP website at http://www.cfwep.org/, or contact Justin Ringsak, 406-491-0922, jringsak@mtech.edu.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

CFWEP Restoration & Education
Newsletter: April 09 Edition

The latest edition of CFWEP's Restoration & Education Newsletter is now available online (pdf format). Go to cfwep.org to download it and hear all the latest and greatest from up and down the Clark Fork Basin.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Community Rallies
‘Round Silver Bow Creek

During a sunny April evening at the Butte Chamber Visitor Center on the banks of Blacktail Creek, Butte musician Mike Tierney sang about Evel Knievel while a group of eager Cub Scouts and other kids dove into sample buckets of live aquatic bugs from Blacktail and Silver Bow Creeks. Other youngsters drew colorful sketches on the sidewalks with the assistance of artist Shawn Crowe from the Butte-Silver Bow Arts Foundation. As the kids learned the basics of stream assessment, their parents and other local citizens learned about the past and future of the Silver Bow Creek restoration from local community members and agency representatives active in the restoration process. Through the work of the Citizens Technical Environmental Committee (CTEC), the Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee (CFRTAC) and CFWEP, Butte came together to show support for restoration at the Rally ‘Round the Creek.

While CFWEP was on hand to provide stream bugs and to run a mini-field trip on basic stream assessment, presentations on Silver Bow Creek by Ian Macgruder from Kirk Engineering and Jim Kuipers from Kuipers & Associates were the centerpiece of the Rally. Ian and Jim are the technical advisors to CTEC and CFRTAC, respectively, and they discussed the Superfund process, which is not exactly speedy, and potential recontamination issues to keep in mind as the community looks toward the future of Silver Bow Creek.

Historically, Silver Bow Creek was used by Butte mining interests as an industrial sewer to remove mine tailings wastes from the immediate area, causing them to settle in the creek channel and throughout the floodplain. The sandy looking material in the Google Earth image below is tailings.

Ongoing remediation and restoration has removed tailings from the floodplain and streambed. Clean soil is hauled in, and the channel is then rebuilt and revegetated.

Restored sections of Silver Bow Creek like this reach near Ramsay show vast improvement in terms of vegetation and water quality.

Different sites along the Upper Clark Fork River are being remediated and restored on different schedules. In an ideal world, the clean-up would proceed from the headwaters around Butte and Anaconda downstream to Deer Lodge and the Milltown Dam near Missoula. In reality, Superfund is a complex process that involves a lot of negotiating between the Environmental Protection Agency, the State of Montana, local governments, and the Potentially Responsible Parties, or PRPs, a technical term for the private companies liable for environmental damages.

Due to the nature of the Superfund beast, downstream sites like the Milltown Dam and portions of Silver Bow Creek are being restored prior to completion of work on the primary sources of contamination around the Anaconda smelter site and the mine dumps of the Butte hill. While a lot of good work has been done downstream and around the headwaters, because mining and smelting wastes in Butte and Anaconda are being left in place and treated on site, the potential for recontamination of Silver Bow Creek and the Clark Fork from surface runoff, while low, does certainly exist. CTEC and CFRTAC are committed to keep the communities of the basin informed of such issues as the restoration continues to move forward.

Restoration doesn’t occur overnight, and even when completed, monitoring and maintenance are necessary to ensure the long term health of the environment. By coming out to support the success of the amazing Silver Bow Creek restoration up to this point, and by looking to the future, Butte and the surrounding communities are cruising right along on the road to environmental recovery.
  • Read about the Rally in The Montana Standard here.
  • Get the latest Silver Bow Creek update from the Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality and the Natural Resource Damages Program here (pdf file).

Get Out on the River:
CFWEP Seeking Spring Fieldtrip Volunteers

We are looking for watershed experts and interested local citizens to serve as fieldtrip leader volunteers for our school visits.

Spring 2009 Semester School Fieldtrips: 7th Grade
Thursday, April 23rd: Anaconda Middle School @ Anaconda
Thursday, April 30: Ramsay School @ Ramsay (7 & 8th grade)
Thursday, May 7th: Philipsburg School @ Philipsburg
Thursday, May 14th: East Middle School @ Butte
Friday, May 15th: East Middle School @ Butte
Friday, May 29: Deer Lodge School @ Deer Lodge (8th grade)
All fieldtrips run ~8:30am – 1:30pm

Fieldtrip Volunteer Training
Thursday April 30, 2009 -- 5 – 6pm
Location: Montana Tech Student Union Building
Hear what CFWEP is, learn about our school visits and gain the ability to be a fieldtrip leader using our protocols. Not required to be a volunteer, but will help you immensely. RSVP advised.

Additional opportunities available. To RSVP for training or for more information:
Jen Titus, CFWEP Field Coordinator
496 - 4691, jtitus@mtech.edu
Montana Tech Petroleum Building Room 003

Jen Titus is the Montana Water Educator of the Year!

In the world of environmental education, no one is doing it for the money. The work is its own reward, but a little recognition never hurts. Every year, the Montana Environmental Education Association (MEEA) honors those dedicated individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty with the Water Educator of the Year award. At the 2009 MEEA Conference in Helena on Friday, March 20th, the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program’s own Jennifer Titus received the Water Educator of the Year award before a crowd of teachers, administrators, informal educators, and state agency reps from Montana’s environmental education community.

It’s a good time for us at CFWEP to thank Jen for her hard work and commitment, and also to look back on all of the amazing things she has done not only for our program, but for literally thousands of students and teachers across Montana.

Jen came to the CFWEP in 2006 as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA). At the time, CFWEP was a fledging program just getting off the ground. Jen took to CFWEP like a stonefly to clear, rushing water. She quickly put her own touches and improvements on the program’s curriculum. The lessons cover environmental science education and the environmental history of the Clark Fork Basin, the nation’s largest complex of Superfund environmental clean-up sites. Not only was Jen instrumental in developing the CFWEP curriculum, but she has also spent thousands of hours traveling across western Montana, visiting classrooms, delivering lessons, coordinating activities, supporting teachers, and leading field trips. Her teaching has always received stellar reviews from both teachers and students, and she is in great demand around the basin.

As part of her work, Jen has helped forge a network of expert volunteers and scientists from around the region, bringing them into classrooms and into the field, where they work directly with students as volunteer field station leaders and guest lecturers. Because of Jen’s dedication, thousands of Montana students have been exposed to biologists, engineers, geologists, foresters, and more from groups like Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP); the Forest Service; the Montana University System; the Department of Environmental Quality; and the Natural Resource Damages Program, to name just a few.

Jen’s work doesn’t stop there. She has also has been key in soliciting the support of several local chapters of Trout Unlimited (TU) and FWP to create a successful Trout in the Classroom program for eight western Montana schools. Under this unique program, classes receive a trout tank, paid for by a TU chapter, and trout eggs donated from FWP hatcheries. As the eggs hatch and the young trout develop in their classroom, teachers and students launch into a wide variety of topics, from biology to ecosystem studies. Jen personally travels to each school to set-up the tanks and show teachers and students how to maintain them, and she also spends a day with each participating class, leading them in a trout dissection with fish again donated from state hatcheries.

In the past year, Jen also took the initiative in creating an after-school science mentorship program at East Middle School in Butte (for more, refer to the science fair article in this newsletter). The program pairs students with scientist-mentors who help to guide and advise the students in creating and executing a research project for the local science fair.

While most of Jen’s time is spent working directly with students, she has also served the region’s teachers through CFWEP’s numerous teacher training programs. Through workshops and other professional development programs, Jen has shared environmental science curriculum materials, lessons, activities and information about the Clark Fork Basin environment with more than 100 teachers. After a few hours with Jen, teachers are much better equipped to return to their own classrooms and incorporate environmental education into their everyday lessons. Aside from the CFWEP core curriculum, Jen has also developed other environmental education lessons and activities that she is eager to share with teachers and students.

Her professional accomplishments aside, Jen is also an amazing environmental educator on a personal level. Her enthusiasm for the environment and for teaching is unmatched, and it is contagious, leading students and teachers to develop relationships with her outside of the classroom. Jen is always urging students to take action, to not only learn about their environment, but to work to promote its health. She never talks down to students, and she particularly excels at communicating the complexities of environmental science to students in language they can understand. Ask her about her Harry the Raindrop story sometime; it explains the water cycle in a way that makes it perfectly understandable to grade school students, and it’s a great little piece of storytelling.

We can imagine no one more deserving of the Water Educator of the Year award than Jen, not only for what she has done for CFWEP, but for what she has done for so many students, teachers and scientists in western Montana. Jen brings people together, and brings the environment to people in ways that are fun, relevant and educational. She truly deserves our sincere thanks and appreciation. Congratulations Jen!