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Mother Nature’s helpers

By on August 26, 2015 in Articles, Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments


By Jane Zanol

Have you ever wondered how you could help the environment?

People who have taken the Wenatchee Naturalist class are doing just that. The class, created by Susan Ballinger, not only teaches people about the three ecosystems within the Wenatchee watershed, it also showcases opportunities for volunteering locally with organizations and projects that positively impact the natural world.

While volunteer work is optional after the class, many people are enthusiastically embracing the chance to utilize their new knowledge and skills.

One way that Wenatchee Naturalist students apply what they learn in the class is teaching others.

In 2013, Hana Butler used the Wenatchee Naturalist class curricula as a springboard to design and teach a year-long, field-based natural resources high school class, with a three-week summer program, for the regional technical learning center, serving students 16-20 years old.

Her students earn credit while engaging with relevant, meaningful projects that help enhance and sustain our natural resources.

As a Leavenworth native, Hana believes high school students in the area need more experiences in nature. She says that the mission of her class is character development, which leads students to care about the larger world.

Hana explains, “I have found that many of my students don’t know what the word ‘naturalist’ means or they associate it with a hobby and people who are kind of hippies or dorky. My work is creating programming that engages youth in hands-on interactions with their community and environment in order to foster a sense of belonging, stewardship and a desire for life-long learning.”

Her students have worked with the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust building trails on Castle Rock, as well as restoration and trash pickup projects. They’ve also worked with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on projects to improve water quality and restore habitat.

They’ve visited the landfill in East Wenatchee and learned about its engineering and maintenance, and with the Chelan County Conservation District, they explored biocontrol bugs for knapweed eradication.

Hana counts all these experiences as great community collaborations, which will prepare the students for summer internships and jobs, as well as their future careers.

While Hana has been working with students, local artist and photographer Lori Aylesworth has focused her efforts on a plant.

But the plant — milkweed — is a vital plant for Monarch butterflies, and Lori discovered that farmers and gardeners have largely eradicated the plant locally.

After the Naturalist class, Lori decided she would learn more about milkweed and promote people planting it. She contacted several experts who helped her understand the connection between Monarch butterflies and milkweed, the only plant species on which the butterflies lay their eggs.

Lori says that milkweed pods “offer a place for Monarchs to lay their eggs, as well as provide nectar for bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.” She collected Showy Milkweed seedpods, which she planted and distributed. She also discovered that Ted Alway at Derby Canyon Natives Plant Nursery in Peshastin sells Showy Milkweed.

She has happily discovered that “there are lots of caring folks who have so much knowledge about helping the Monarch survive.”

In her investigation, she found that the Monarchs are less likely to frequent Leavenworth and areas closer to the North Cascades and much more likely to be found around Cashmere and Wenatchee. She is intent upon bringing the need for milkweed plants to the attention of people in the Wenatchee valley; she even researched and wrote an article for The Good Life about milkweed and Monarchs.

Lori says that “There is a wealth of information, and there are people all over the country who are concerned about the Monarchs. Perhaps together we all can make a difference.”

Three other Wenatchee Naturalist graduates have spent hundreds of hours during the past three years as citizen scientist volunteers for the non-profit organization Conservation Northwest.

At several locations in the Wenatchee Mountains, Cathy Gaylord, Bruce Williams, and Gro Buer constructed and maintained food lures equipped with motion-detecting cameras.

They learned that taking photographs of visiting wildlife is a non-invasive way to sample wolverine population levels in North Central Washington.

The long-term project has been rewarding, according to Gro: “Bruce and I did the wolverine project for three different sites: Chatter Creek, Icicle Road, and Stevens Pass. Learning the techniques and specifications of setting up the sites was based on years of input from other projects. Each time was an adventure and a learning experience which made me intrigued with learning more about wolverines and their habitat needs.”

Cathy Gaylord, a math teacher at Eastmont High School in East Wenatchee, recounts that she “began volunteering with Conservation Northwest doing I-90 animal tracking at the same time I was doing the Naturalist Class. The combination of learning about flora and fauna in our area in the Naturalist classes and field sessions complimented both my volunteering and the Naturalist class experience. The I-90 animal tracking involved documenting tracks to be used in determining use of the new I-90 animal under and over passes.

“Because of the Naturalist class, I also knew the trees I was seeing, the birds and the interactions of the environment I was working on.

“By the end of the class I had progressed to more involved volunteering with Conservation Northwest by being involved in their remote camera rare predator program.”

Cathy says that she and her husband Drew have met many wonderful people through both the Naturalist program and subsequent volunteer experiences.

Their volunteer experiences continue to expand: “We recently helped relocate pygmy rabbits in Eastern Washington, have helped count pika in the North Cascades, and have helped attempting to document grizzly bears in Washington state. I credit the Naturalist class with giving me the skills and opportunities to make these activities possible.”

Wenatchee Naturalist Gro says that the Naturalist class and her citizen science work have enhanced her life as well, recounting that she “was lucky enough to see a wolverine when I was skiing on the Icicle Road outside of Leavenworth. Now, whenever I am up in the mountains, I am hyper aware and hope to see another.

“I appreciate and support Conservation Northwest and am grateful for the opportunity to help with citizen science, which can aid in saving this incredible species.”

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