Monday, October 5, 2015

Washington Middle School’s flagship program is underway!

Washington Middle School on Thursday October 1st kicked off its first flagship program event and WEN was able to participate! This week’s lesson was based on the different types of aquatic macro invertebrates that inhabit our local streams and rivers.  Students were not only taught the general importance of macros as indicator species of pollutants but students also received an in depth lesson on the different feeding groups within our local macro invertebrate community.

                Students were informed of two ways to categorize macroinvertebrates: how the food is obtained and or the type of food that is consumed.  While both are proven to be accurate, macros are omnivores and may feed on different food sources seasonally. Therefore we focus on how food is obtained by macros as means for categorizing. Macro invertebrates are divided into five primary categories.  Scrapers, shredders, collectors, engulf- predators and piercers.

                As a way to test the ability of macros to break down and consume detritus, students in pairs collected leaves and created leaf packs. Leaf packs are roughly softball sized and are contained by netting with small holes to allow macros to freely move in and out of leaf packs.

                The leaf packs are currently submerged at student chosen locations in ponds near Washington Middle School. We will revisit Washington Middle School’s flagship program this week after having collected the leaf packs. In class students will weigh their leaf packs and compare them to the pre-pond submersion weight that was obtained last Thursday.  After comparing the two weights, students will consider the influence that macros had on the total weight changes and rate of consumption.

                Thanks to all of our students, Washington Middle School’s flagship program coordinator Mike Lessard and the faculty that helps keep applied science in the classroom! 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Trickles and Sparkles : An April Stream Team Excursion

     Last weekend Becca and three brave volunteers headed out to a stream in Lolo on a chilly, overcast Saturday. Halfway along the drive, cell phone service slipped away, and soon after we turned off the main road, so did the pavement. Becca gritted her teeth and clutched the steering wheel, trying to convince the car to drive steady and straight, rather than slide off in the mud. However, the mud could've been thicker, the grooves in the road deeper, and the pellets of rain harder, and we made it safely to our destination.

      The infrequently used trail to the river led through a patch of woods, full of plants soaking up the remnants of the recent April rainfall. The colors brightened with the moisture. The trail stopped abruptly at the water's edge, and we skirted carefully under some low hanging branches of pine to the small clearing (pictured left) where we set our supplies.

     The small trees stretched their brilliant burgundy new growth out to us, each branchlet tipped with a soft yellow-green bud. The floor was scattered with white trilliums, reminding me of home. (In Washington, 5th grade camp took us to the Olympic Peninsula, where they were everywhere.)
The stream was quite gorgeous, frothy and glittery. I put on the waders I had found in the basement (an adult pair this time, so I wouldn't have to cram into the kid overall-waders! They were patched up in places, but that means the holes were all sealed off, right?)

     While setting up the transect I noticed a gradually cold trickle on the back of my leg. It was just the water rushing past running off with my body heat, I thought at first. The waders don't have much insulation. But the cold feeling persisted, and dominated one leg more than the other... I turned my head for the fifth or sixth time and noticed a large rip down the back of the wader. To my great disappointment, the waders I had put my faith and excitement in had let me down. As long as I faced upstream, the front of my leg would mostly block the current from seeping in until we finished measuring the stream's width. Then I could put on the back-up, slightly-too-big waders I had brought just in case.
     When Becca and I reached the center of the stream I noticed some strange lights on a boulder resting on the riverbed. They weren't flickering with the current, so it wasn't just sunlight reflecting off the surface of the water. Next to the boulder was a smaller stone, riddled with tinier lights. I made note of the location in my head so I could return later.
    I made it to shore, not too soaked, and only on one leg, and walked over to the pile of waders. I picked one up, and set it aside. It was the left boot and I needed the right boot. I picked up the other one and.... it was a left boot too! Since it was too big for my foot, I decided I could probably wear it on the wrong foot and it wouldn't be too uncomfortable. It would fit, at least, and was better than having a leak. Becca graciously let me borrow her spare wool socks.

    I went back into the river and found the rock I had kept in mind. It did indeed sparkle.

   By this point the next task was pebble count. Becca had brought gloves for us this time, hoping to spare our hands the frozen, numb experience of Stream Teams past. I went to put a pair on and I had the opposite problem as the waders. I had two right hand gloves! The gloves turned out to be ineffective anyway, as the water was deeper than they were long, and just poured in through the top. Also like the waders, the rubber was not very insulating. Becca and Jeremy gave up on the gloves, while I stayed near the shore where it was shallow and only dipped my right hand in to pick up rocks. During this procedure we found that the stream was littered with glittering rocks.


    We concluded the expedition as always, with thermoses of hot water, little cups, and packets of instant hot chocolate. Despite unexpected gear malfunctions, we got the information we came for (plus a little fun), making this another successful, if extra interesting, Stream Team.

-Cassie Sevigny, WEN volunteer