Monday, November 9, 2009

CFWEP's Fall Season Wrap-Up

Hi there!
My name is Marisol and this is my first of hopefully many contributions to this blog. I graduated in May of 2009 from Binghamton University in NY with a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies. I am taking some time off to work, be an americorps volunteer, and to hopefully get a better feel for what I would like to pursue in graduate school. I am very excited to be a part of CFWEP and I look forward to meeting everyone else who is also involved with the organization. I had a lot of fun and learned SO much during the fall season. Below is the wrap-up that I wrote for the CFWEP newsletter. Hope you enjoy it!

Photo Above: A panoramic view of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork River confluence before the dam was removed.

The fall season started off in September with Hellgate Middle School, followed by Lewis and Clark Elementary, Bonner School, and St. Joseph’s Elementary School. The students spent three days in the classroom with guest lecturers who provided a concise overview of current and historic circumstances surrounding the Milltown Dam and its removal.

The first lecture providesd an overview of the idea of watershed health, and a history of the Milltown Dam and of mining in Butte. It aimsed to create a well-rounded understanding of the circumstances that led to the building of the dam and the role that Butte played at such a pivotal time in American history.

The second lecture givesave a more in depth look at the numerous environmental hazards that have resulted from mining, which have affected not only Butte and its residents but all those who live downstream on the Clark Fork. This lecture also discussesd why the dam was removed and the related environmental impacts, both short- and long-term.

The third and final lecture discussesd the concept of parameters and readiesd students to go out into the field to conduct their own scientific assessments and comparisons of sites on the Blackfoot River, upstream of the dam, and on the Clark Fork River, downstream of the dam. These assessments included diversity in macroinvertebrate populations, riparian vegetation, pebble counts, and water chemistry, all as indicators of water quality and ecosystem health.

The data that the students collected was valuable to their own understanding of ecosystem and watershed health and succeeded in introducing many of them to the scientific process. Because there are real and on-going issues surrounding the pollution of the Clark Fork, a river in which many of them play and fish, it is a great way to help them to think critically about pollution and the importance of keeping their rivers clean.

Photo Above: Doug Martin from the NRDP talks about the restoration of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot River confluence with local students.

As an Americorps volunteer I had a great time interacting with the students and very much appreciated what came to be a crash course in the history of Butte in America, the impacts of mining on people and the environment, and in the many ways that citizen science can aid professionals in their work.

It was after the data was collected and the students were gathered around to look at the results more closely that I noticed how attentive they were. It was as if a lightbulb would go off in their heads as their compared pebble counts to better understand areas of erosion versus those of deposition, or the conductivity of the water affected by the mine waste versus that which had not. When these results were brought back to them in ways in which they were truly understood, like why barely anything can live in water affected by acid rock drainage being the equivalent ofis similar to why nobody would want to soak in a bath of lemon juice, it was evident that they got the point of what we were teaching them by the great questions they came up with. Some of them were very simple questions that, in true kid-manner, really got at the heart of the matter. Unfortunately a lot of the time it would be difficult to simplify what often turned into a complex explanation.
That, I think, is one of the best challenges of working with kids. There is no better test of your understanding of a complex issue than if you can simplify it enough to make it make sense to a class of 5th graders. So I thank them for the challenge because it helps me to really get down to the heart of the matter and to contemplate some of the really difficult questions.

CFWEP would like to send out a thank you to all of the teachers, students, and parent chaperones that participated in making this season a great success. We would especially like to thank everyone at St. Joseph’s who came out on the last, very cold and frozen field trip in October when it snowed. We had a real bunch of troopers!

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