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Project Wild America Youth Ambassadors 2016

Posted on Apr 4, 2016

Hi all!  It’s been a while since I last wrote…there has been so much going on! First, let me catch you up a bit on what is coming up for this summer.  I’m admittedly sharing things a bit out of order, as I have lots to tell you about our how well our hemlock woolly adelgid surveys went, the wrap up of our snowmobile cell phone tour, another recent publication, winter raptor surveys and a great winter season with some fantastic interns. I’ll be writing about all of these things shortly, so please stay tuned!

Spring is upon us now, and we are looking ahead and setting goals for our summer field season. One of the projects that I am now beginning to plan for is our second annual Project Wild America Youth Ambassadors program. For those that don’t remember, last year we hired a group of six high school students and two college students (serving as  crew and crew leaders respectively) to spend their summer working alongside RTPI conservation staff studying the Chadakoin River in Jamestown, NY.

PWA Crew & Leaders (2)

2015 Project Wild America Youth Ambassadors

The Chadakoin River, at the heart of the city, has been the lifeblood of the community since the city’s establishment in the early 1800’s. From the city’s humble beginnings to centuries later, the river has experienced significant changes. Where the river once meandered through wilderness, able to spill over its banks in times of high water, it now winds through city buildings, concrete walls and dams that contain it and disconnect it from much of its original floodplain. Industry took its toll on the river as furniture factories, metal companies and others utilized it as a water source and waste disposal. The quality of the river suffered, as did its reputation; a legacy that one of sticks with the river to this day. However, our Youth Ambassadors came to a refreshing conclusion last summer: the Chadakoin is recovering as evidenced by the diversity of life that persists within and around it. Through their explorations and efforts, the PWA initiated changes in the perception of the river both within themselves and within the local community.

Hailey holding a snapper

Throughout the summer months, our PWA students were continually inspired by the life found within and around the river.

Working with these students, I had the opportunity of teaching them the proper biological protocols used to survey turtles, birds, plants and more. I also had the joy of watching them transition from timid, uncertain observers into confident, hands-on explorers. By the end of the program, they were physically worn from six weeks of challenging field work, but they walked away with a deepened understanding of the ecology of their own backyards and the creatures they share this space with. During this program, I was reminded of how within this city, during its time of great industry, a young Roger Tory Peterson was inspired by the nature that was determined to live within the city limits. Roger took his experiences and inspirations from his hometown of Jamestown NY, expanded upon them as he explored the world documenting species and rendering them in his field guides to the benefit amateur naturalists the world over.  At the end of the program, it was amazing to think that this place that once nurtured a budding naturalist can still inspire and profoundly influence the youth of today, as demonstrated by the experiences of the students that worked along the Chadakoin River last summer.

Working the Seine Net

PWA students participated in a number of monitoring projects carried out by RTPI and developed some excellent techniques, such as seining!

In the spirit of continuing Roger Tory Peterson’s work exploring the natural world and exciting others to do the same, we will be running the Project Wild America Youth Ambassador Program for its second year. Our hope is to study and learn more about this natural system and inspire more students, families, friends and community members through these efforts. There is still much to explore within the Chadakoin River corridor, and so much of our focus during this year’s program will be on the river once again. If you are an interested student (or if you know of someone that might be interested) I encourage you to inquire about participating!! We will be looking for two qualified college students to serve as crew leaders and six to eight high school students to serve as crew members. Applications can be found below, or picked up at RTPI. Completed applications can be dropped off in person or emailed to myself, Elyse Henshaw at ehenshaw@rtpi.org.

PWA Crew Leader Application

PWA Crew Application

I am very excited for what the upcoming field season has in store, and I look forward to once again being immersed in water, mud and adventure alongside another great crew of students that will be doing the same as we explore and discover the natural wonders within the boundaries of our own city!

Elyse Henshaw
Conservation Technician