Public Lands Stewards: Not Your Average Business Trip

ellie-demarseI recently had the amazing opportunity to spend two weeks in sunny California…for work! My AmeriCorps Public Lands Stewards position at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery involves Latino outreach and Spanish/English translations, and what better place to research bilingual outreach than southern California? My wonderful supervisor, Julia, worked with a couple of Fish and Wildlife employees and partners in CA to set up my trip. The main goal of the trip was to gain exposure to well-established bilingual programming and apply what I learned to future bilingual programs at the Hatchery. I could write a novel about all of the neat things I learned and cool people I met on my trip, but I’ll just give you the highlights…

Otter Selfie at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Otter Selfie at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

My trip began in Monterey, CA. While there, I spent two days shadowing educators at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I got to see programs for a variety of ages, from preschool through high school. I especially enjoyed watching the preschool programs. Preschoolers are great to work with, because everything you tell them absolutely blows their minds. Aquarium staff introduced the preschoolers to different ocean habitats and the creatures that live in those “homes.” The kids got to see (and sometimes touch) different plants and animals that live in coastal habitats, and it was amazing for me to see the wonder in their eyes and their excitement at feeling a slimy kelp leaf or a rough abalone shell. The best part about this preschool program was that it was entirely bilingual. Most of the students were learning Spanish at home and English at school, so the aquarium staff smoothly switched between the two languages to help the kids learn new vocabulary in both English and Spanish. I plan to use this style of interpretation in future tours that I give at the Hatchery!

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium

After enjoying a few days with the otters and beaches of Monterey, it was time for the next leg of my trip–San Diego! I spent a week exploring the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex and learning about the challenges faced by urban wildlife refuges. The Complex consists of three urban refuges, and each refuge faces its own unique set of challenges.

The San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is entirely surrounded by the city of San Diego and the San Diego Bay. The site is an important place for migratory birds, but the refuge’s proximity to a large city can make it challenging to maintain a healthy, natural ecosystem.

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Tijuana Slough NWR is close to the border with Mexico along the Tijuana River. This refuge is situated between two large cities–San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. Both nature and pollutants do not recognize international borders, so the refuge is affected by both. Because Mexico and the United States have different environmental policies, it can be difficult to manage this type of refuge without communication and cooperation on both sides of the border.

Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge

Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge

The third refuge in the Complex is the San Diego NWR. This is a large, noncontiguous refuge outside of the city. San Diego NWR has many access points, making it difficult for staff to enforce NWR regulations and monitor trail usage.

My trip to San Diego taught me that urban refuge management must focus on managing the people that impact the refuge and not just the plants and animals on the refuge itself. My experience at the San Diego Refuge Complex has inspired me to seek future employment in the urban refuge system.

I feel lucky that I had the chance to experience so many interesting things on my trip. I want to send a HUGE thank-you to my supervisor and all of the other people who helped make this trip happen!

Rosy Boa Selfie at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Rosy Boa Selfie at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

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Public Lands Stewards: “To Adventure Is To Find Yourself Whole”

 

Erica Bingham

Let me just come right out and say it—my time as a member of Mt. Adams Institute’s (MAI) Public Lands Stewards (PLS) program, hands down, has been the best experience of my life. There are still eight weeks left and every expectation I had has already been surpassed. I came here looking to discover a career path and ended up discovering things about myself I had never known. I have let go of my anxiety, stepped out of my comfort zone and allowed myself to become fully immersed in every aspect of this AmeriCorps program. I am finally living the life I have always wanted for myself. My time here has been such an incredible adventure, it is hard for me to put into words all of the different things I’ve experienced and learned. I am hoping that these pictures will allow you to get a glimpse of the extraordinary journey I have had the privilege of being on over the past four months.

This summer, I have been lucky to call the beautiful shrub-steppe of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge (CNWR) my home.

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This is the first time positions as Refuge Technicians have been offered at CNWR, through the Public Lands Stewards program. Therefore, my fellow coworker Jack and I like to think of ourselves not as refuge technicians, but rather, refuge pioneers.


FYKE NETTING

The Northern Leopard Frog is a threatened species in the West and will potentially be reintroduced to CNWR. In order to determine possible threats to the Northern Leopard Frog, a huge part of our time has been spent setting fyke nets in various ponds to establish which species are already living in the water systems on the refuge.

Deciding the locations for the nets allows us to explore and get to the know ins and outs of the refuge.

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Each evening we set two nets in four locations.

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In the morning we empty each net into a bucket and count and record every individual species that was caught. This is an example of what one of our net catches looks like.

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Carp, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch and bullfrogs are the most common non-native or invasive species that we catch. Just the other day, we caught over 5,000 pumpkinseed sunfish at one location! Tree frogs, painted turtles, sculpin, and tiger salamanders are among the native species that we often come across in our nets.

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“Sculpin”

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“Tiger Salamander”

Occasionally we get to travel down to Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge to work with two other PLS members, whose mission is to protect the endangered Oregon Spotted frog (like the one I am holding below) by using fyke nets to remove invasive species.

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ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS

Several times throughout the summer, I had the opportunity to assist with environmental education programs. One week, the Hey Kids summer program came to CNWR and I was able to help children and young adults establish a connection with nature. I taught them how to properly use binoculars, bird watching techniques, how to identify native plants, and introduced them to some local species.

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INVASIVE PLANT MAPPING AND INVASIVE WEED ABATEMENT

It’s funny, but spending time this summer mapping and terminating invasive plants and weeds, has actually sparked within me a newfound interest for plants. Since these experiences, I have developed a new hobby as I became fascinated with identifying and learning about various wildflowers, shrubs, and trees.

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“Invasive plant mapping on Saddle Mountain using GIS systems”

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“Invasive weed abatement along the White Salmon River”

Here, I am holding a species of Indigo Bush. This is considered invasive because native species are outcompeted by it as it forms dense thickets in prairies and along rivers.

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FENCE REMOVAL

This was one of our first assignments. The physical labor not only built character, it built muscles I would end up needing for future projects!

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INJURED WILDLIFE RESCUES

Often times people report an injured animal and either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will be called out to rescue the animal and transport it to a wildlife rehabilitation center. I had the opportunity to assist with the rescue of this Swainson’s Hawk pictured below.

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SANDHILL CRANE BANDING

This was definitely one of my favorite projects. Working that closely with such a majestic species gives you a very gratify feeling and I am just so thankful to have been included in such an amazing event.

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Other opportunities I participated in, that I unfortunately have no pictures of to share with you, included: Washington ground squirrel monitoring, nighttime bullfrog hunts, a boat tour of the White Bluffs Scenic Area and Hanford Reach National Monument, and a ride-along with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service federal wildlife officer. I told you I have experienced A LOT!! And that isn’t even including all of the things I did during my free time on the weekends! Let’s see I’ve also: explored two major cities, Seattle and Portland; hiked to 5 different waterfalls throughout Washington and Oregon; cliff jumped into Punchbowl Falls; saw a concert at the Gorge Amphitheatre which overlooks the beautiful Columbia River; camped in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and along the Klickitat River; and, one of my greatest accomplishments, climbed Mt. Adams to about 10,200 ft. in elevation.

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None of this could have been possible, however, without the encouragement and support from the MAI staff and my fellow PLS members, who I now am honored to call great friends. In just four short months, I have formed friendships and bonds that I know I will carry with me the rest of my life.

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I’m not quite sure what the next chapter of my life will look like. I may land a job in a conservation related field. I may apply to a federal law enforcement academy to become a park ranger. I may even go back to school to pursue a Master’s degree. Whatever it is though, I am certain I will succeed. Mt. Adams Institute and AmeriCorps have given me all the experiences, tools, and confidence I need to achieve anything I set my mind to. They are an extraordinary organization that I am so incredibly grateful I got to be a part of. Thank you MAI!

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Public Lands Stewards: “Let’s measure smiles!”

Erynne van Zee

“Let’s measure smiles!” is by far my favorite camp quote from this summer. I am staffing MacGyver Camp this week, a design-build-tinkering camp where students use teamwork, creativity, and tools to design and build benches, water filtration systems, and ultimately an “elevated village” (we’re trying not to instill the idea that a treehouse is a must because a house on stilts would be just as cool!). As students built benches Tuesday morning and learned to use various tools, one camper practiced using a measuring tape by measuring everyone’s smiles. Just one of those moments where I stood back and smiled, soaking in the charm and playfulness of the gesture.

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As a Public Lands Stewards Intern with Cascade Mountain School camps this summer, I’ve had the opportunity to fill almost too many roles to count: camp “logistics guru”, shuttle driver, overnight counselor, chef, Band-Aid dispenser, hiker, gardener, fundraiser, the list goes on. I’ve spoken Spanish with parents, mastered booster-seat-tetras in the van, and counted views of five different mountains (Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier) from the top of Steamboat Mountain. Each role brings new challenges, learning opportunities, and excitement, but most importantly, the diversity of roles I’m playing allows me to be involved in sharing the outdoors with students ages 6 to 18, making science fun, developing teamwork and outdoors skills, and encouraging students to be creative and curious.

There are many happy memories and stories to share from this summer, so here are my favorite photos from each camp I’ve worked at. Enjoy!

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Black Butte School tours Mountain Laurel Jerseys raw milk dairy in Trout Lake.

Photo 3Mountain Camp 1 camps out the last night.

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A student drinks from his rainwater catchment system at MacGyver Day camp.

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Campers finish up each day at Farm Camp with raspberry picking at Broadfork Farm.

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High School Mountain to Valley students gear up for their four day backpack through the Mt. Adams Wilderness.

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The view from Stagman Ridge where Mountain to Valley students hiked out from backpacking.

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Nature Art Camp students created a “wild-being” with natural materials they found around campus.

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Students learn to sew bags from cloth they solar printed at Nature Art Camp

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MacGyver Overnight campers come to a consensus about their “elevated village” design. They designed the entire structure themselves.

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VetsWork: “A Mix of Work and Play. It is All Adventure.”

David Blair

The middle section of my service term has been a nice little ride. Getting out in the field more to do trails and recreation projects has been a lot of fun. As the snow melted I got to see and help work on some of the higher elevation sites like getting the Cascade Peaks Info Station ready for opening.

One of the great opportunities has been getting my hands dirty with the trail crew. I’ve gotten to see some beautiful areas on Mt. St. Helens and then also had the chance to take volunteers out on several projects to do trail work.

The latest recreation project I had a hand in was helping to mix and pour concrete along with setting posts for the installation of boot brush stations at Ape Cave. They will play an important role in helping to keep White Nose Syndrome out of the cave by decontaminating visitor footwear before they enter and after they exit the cave. Hopefully this action will prevent White Nose Syndrome from contaminating Ape Cave and will keep any bats in the cave healthy.

Some other highlights include:

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Artwork: In July I helped lead 12 elementary students for an overnight Volcano Camp. It was a really great experience. I got to lead the kids on hikes, a GPS scavenger hunt and assist with many other great activities. As part of the camp the kids had Arts and Crafts time. In the first project each child was given a piece of a picture relating to Mt. St. Helens and asked to paint it. The painted fragments from each child’s artwork will now be pieced together like a puzzle and displayed for all to see. The second project had the kids painting picture frames to display their group picture from camp. These they got to take home for the memories.

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Trashcano: As a parting experience from the Volcano Camp our campers got to experience Trashcano. I simulated a volcanic explosion using a trashcan, liquid nitrogen and water balloons. This was the highlight of the weekend and all the kids enjoyed throwing around any water balloons that didn’t break.

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Mountain Goat: Saw this mountain goat on a hike up the Sleeping Beauty trail. A great example of the wildlife that exists in our forests. Mountain Goats returned to Mt. St. Helens seven years after the eruption. Since then they have grown to a sizeable number as the regrowth on Mt. St. Helens continues.

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Rafting: One of the highlights of mine was whitewater rafting during our July Quarterly Training. Never having rafted before I was really excited. With such a big raft it was a team effort to paddle in the right direction and navigate the rapids. I plan to do more rafting in the future and maybe even purchase a kayak.

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VetsWork: “The Economic Value of Self Worth”

Heather Love

This blog may not be the most light and fluffy, it comes with a TRIGGER WARNING. But what brought me to find my niche within the world of fisheries with the help of Mt. Adams Institute’s VetsWork Program is what has shaped my success so far in the program. And it’s an ugly story.

I spent 6 years in the US Coast Guard (CG), bouncing all over the world traveling to my little heart’s content as a mechanic onboard ships. I dabbled in other areas of the CG, getting qualified as Boat Deck Supervisor and Small Boat mechanic while in the Middle East, onboard USCGC Monomoy. I did pollution investigation and environmental response at Marine Safety Unit Duluth, MN. I was also working on qualifications to become a qualified law enforcement officer to do boardings at one point, but I could never stick to just one thing. There was never any follow through or completion of these shortsighted ambitions I had. I thought I was truly a “lifer”. But I wasn’t happy, I knew I was smarter than turning a wrench, but all my paths were dead ends within the CG. If I wanted to change rates, I would’ve taken a hit in rank so I chose to continue to move up in the world of Machinery Technician (MK). I finally landed my dream unit coming back from the Middle East, USCGC Healy. I was told it was going to be a career killer for me, and in hindsight, they were absolutely right but for the wrong reasons. By February 2008, I was on the verge of making MK1 (E-6), my life was lined up for me as a “Career Coastie”, but things started to get out of control with my mental health and it broke me.

I’ve always dealt with depression during deployments, it was always attributed to Seasonal Affective Disorder which has the same effect on a person when the sun never sets. When you’re in the areas of the world say Antarctica or the Arctic, where the sun never sets, it starts to get to you. So I’d go in to the Corpsman, get on anti-depressants and then experience now what I realize was a manic episode, I’d promptly go off the meds, and I would cycle all over again. These unmanaged issues over the course of 6 years cost me advancements within the CG, and other opportunities that would’ve allowed me to become a much better Coastie. Finally in February 2008, I was diagnosed with Bipolar. I lost it. I was scared. I couldn’t stand to face my comrades, I couldn’t face the reality, I definitely could not face the stigma, I couldn’t face the idea of not being trusted with a gun, or that my fellow Coast Guardsman would not be able to serve alongside me knowing that I was mentally unstable. I lived and breathed the Coast Guard, and I felt my world shatter with a simple diagnosis at 24. Without even allowing myself adequate treatment, I opted out of the CG the fastest way possible even though I still had 4 years left on my enlistment. I went straight to my Command within a week, and I got out under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) with an Honorable Discharge. This isn’t the story I tell most people. I always leave out the part of my mental illness diagnosis. It’s easier to blame the CG for kicking me out under an unju st archaic law, DADT, rather than saying that there was something wrong with my brain. I was discharged on April 30, 2008. I served exactly 6 years 29 days with 5 and half years of sea service, 6 months shy of receiving the Enlisted Cutterman’s Insignia, 1 day away from advancing to E-6. How the CG handled my discharge and how I was treated is a story unto its own. Turns out the Healy wouldn’t be my career killer, I was the one who killed my career.

I was suddenly thrust upon the civilian world, something everyone in the military dreams of happening one day, but for me, I was lost. I lost all structure, discipline, the financial stability, the comradery, everything that I solely depended upon for the first 6 years and 29 days of my adult life. I held myself together the best I knew how with my partner standing firmly beside me the whole way through it. I immediately enrolled at Cascadia Community College for Fall 2008, was later accepted to University of Washington Bothell (UWB) to pursue a degree in Conservation Restoration Ecology. I obtained this degree within four years and graduated in 2012 with a 2.8 GPA. Mental Illness is the easiest to blame for my ups and downs, the difficulty with getting out of bed, the lack of energy to turn in assignments, or even to show up for class. During my senior year at UWB, I was a rock star aside from my grades. By then I had an ADA accommodation which made life easier when having to skip classes to see my therapist or psychiatrist. I was very active in bettering my mental health, but by 2012, something happened that I never experienced before. I was given a new medication, and immediately went into a full blown manic episode that lasted almost a year. At school, I was incredible. I was the recipient of the University of Washington’s Women in Leadership Award for academic school year 2011-2012, received the Program of the Year Award for 2011-2012 from UW, was the president of the Gay Straight Alliance for the second year in a row, planned/organized/performed all outreach/solicited funds for a month long campaign on campus to address recent hate crimes, and managed a budget of well over $15,000 for our little club. I was maintaining 3.0 and above in all my classes, taking 5 classes (25 credits) with 3 labs during spring quarter of 2012. What people didn’t see was who I was at home. I was angry, destructive in my relationship, agitated, irritable, and just flat out mean to those I love and that meant the most to me. I was destroying my world from the inside out, but I had no clue because my mental illness presented me from seeing what was truly going on around me and who I had become.

Sleeping Lady

View of Sleeping Lady Mountain from the office at Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery.

To me, everything was amazing. Everything fell right into place like it should have. I had been accepted to Evergreen State College to pursue a Masters in Environmental Studies for Fall 2012, as a professor once said “[I] was a force to be reckoned with”, and I knew it. . Then it all fell apart. I started destroying relationships that I had worked hard to forge for my future, I walked off of a pretty prestigious internship with the City of Bothell because my integrity was questioned after a week on the job and I couldn’t mentally handle criticism, I aced an interview with WA Department of Ecology’s Spill Response department only to be turned down due to me not having knowledge of their Area of Operation of Vancouver, WA (I lived on the north end of Lake Washington in a Seattle suburb). I was crushed. I laid in bed for 3 weeks. I immediately came off my manic high and plunged into a deep depression. I thought it was all over. This was June 2012. I continued to make some pretty erratic decisions that summer that almost cost me my long-term relationship. In the end, it cost me graduate school, my family, and any future prospects.

My self-worth at 28 was null. I had convinced myself that I didn’t matter. On a starry night in August of 2012, I took 60 pills. I have a science degree – I understand the implications of 60 pills in the correct combination will essentially end one’s life. I woke up the next morning delirious, helped my partner with a grocery shopping list, and went back to sleep. I woke again later in the day coming to realization that my plan did not work. I had to do damage control. I texted my partner what I had done and that she needed to take me to the hospital immediately. I walked into the ER with the blood pressure of a coma patient, and absolutely surly. The doctors could not explain why or how I was alive. I was angry that my suicide “intent” did not work. It was not an “attempt”, I did exactly what I was supposed to, but my body rejected my theory, and thus I wound up in VA Puget Sound Psych Ward for 5 days. I was able to talk myself out of the ward, saying that I was fine, putting on a show so I could get out. Looking back, I should’ve been there for a month, at a minimum. I was released from the psych ward with the exact same medications I was admitted on, put on the VA’s High Risk list, and immediately took off to WI for 4 months abandoning my partner and our two boys.

Ever since I got out of the CG, I was under the continuous care of a psychiatrist. I was able to make the right decision for seeking out a counselor and psychiatrist in WI. That was the only thing I held onto and made sure I continued self-care. I understood the implications of what I had done attempting suicide, but to this day I have no idea why I’m alive. I’m not religious person. I don’t believe in a creator. But whatever happened to me that night…I realized I survived for a reason and I was going to work like hell to get myself back on track. Finally, after over a year of spiraling out of control in both directions, I saw the light. I had the correct medication combination and the pieces all fell back into place. That’s when I came to the realization that going to WI was a mistake, and was not where I was supposed to be, so I headed back to WA to be with my partner and our two children.

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Snowshoeing tour of hatchery grounds with supervisor, Julia. February 2016

After graduation, I spent 3 years doing what I felt was absolutely nothing with my life. I worked odd summer jobs here and there, too afraid to get an actual job because of my diagnosis. I didn’t just have Bipolar Disorder, I WAS the Bipolar Disorder. It overtook who I was. My identity was of mental illness, I was too paralyzed to do something that required responsibility. I completed a lot of projects at home – mastering the art of hand painting letters on to signs, mastering the art of pallet creations, I taught myself to bake – I even opened up a made-to-order pie business called Healy’s Pies. Summer of 2015, a friend tapped me to be her head baker at a local restaurant. After 4 months in the position, I started to feel pieced back together, like a whole person again. I felt normal enough to take on the world. I found a weird, little ad on Craigslist offering an Information and Education Assistant Position with US Fish and Wildlife Service through Mt Adams Institute VetsWork program. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I did know that I was ready to face the world again and no longer allow myself to be a burden of my own mental illness. I was no longer going to allow myself to be defined by bipolar disorder II with mixed episodes. It’s just something I have, like a manageable toothache.

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Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery visitor sign in log. Very interesting comments.

My self-worth is now of economic value. I have always had the skills – the professionalism, the integrity, the devotion to be a dependable employee. But once I lost myself after that Dept. of Ecology interview, it took me years to realize that if I do not find myself to be of value, I then believe that no one, including an employer, will not find me of value also. Fortunately, I landed this gig as a VetsWork AmeriCorps Intern with USFWS at a hatchery in WA. I’m worth something to someone, to an agency, to a nonprofit, to other people. I’m valued. I am no longer an unemployed disabled veteran statistic. I’m now a contributor to my community, to society as a whole. I have worth.

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1.2 million Spring Chinook released into Icicle Creek April 2016

Special Olympics Snowshoe race

Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery hosted the Special Olympics in March 2016

I’ve fallen in love with fish, specifically salmon. I teach children and adults all about salmon. I’ve led and assisted in a number of programs with the I&E Dept. at the Complex’s 3 hatcheries, and have assisted the Conservation Office with ongoing studies doing collection of field data. I’ve been open and honest with my direct supervisor at US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and she’s helped me through some of my toughest obstacles of easing into the work place after what I’ve put myself through over the last few years. She has been an amazing mentor to me, and I literally could not ask for someone better. I’m already making plans for grad school again, this time possibly in natural resources with a focus in fisheries and wildlife management.

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Teaching high schoolers about Fish Health during Kids in the Creek. May 2016

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Teaching macro invertebrates to 5th graders from the Entiat School District during Entiat Outdoor Skills Days. June 2016

I can’t describe how amazing my internship has been thus far, so I’ve included a few photos to give an idea of what’s been going on around here. I can say for sure that my photography skills are back to up to par like the time I wanted to be a professional photographer. I never imagined I’d be in the place I am today, both mentally and physically. The last few years were pretty dark, but I’ve managed to pull through. I never dreamed of teaching the salmon life cycle to hundreds of school children, or building a soil science curriculum from scratch for 6th graders, or installing a 2400 sqft monarch butterfly/pollinator garden right out in front of the hatchery with over 350 native plant species, but here I am and I’m rockin it. I look out my window and gaze upon this garden that’s become an important part of our hatchery tour to stress the fact that USFWS is more than just fish, I look out there and I smile because I did that. It was me. The economic value of my self-worth is immeasurable, but I see it reflecting back at me from this garden every single day.

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Fish dissection and weighing of gonads with the USFWS Mid-Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office for the ongoing maturation study. June 2016

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Enumerating of fertilized, wild steelhead eggs at Winthrop National Fish Hatchery.

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Beaver on display at Winthrop National Fish Hatchery. I helped trap it. June 2016

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The area of the future monarch butterfly garden. May 2016

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Monarch garden with plants installed. Not quite finished. A 4’W x 155’L gravel path is yet to be put in and the rest of the mulch to be laid down.  June 2016

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Biggest Fish of the Day – 11lb fish caught at Winthrop Kids Fishing Day. June 2016

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VetsWork: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.”

Heather Vaughan

After transitioning out of the military, I found myself longing for a job where I could get out from behind a desk and make a positive impact on the community immediately around me. The VetsWork Internship has given me exactly that. One of my biggest passions is educating people about how they can make a better tomorrow through caring for and working with our environment. Because let’s face it, things are kind of a mess right now in the world and we have to pick our battles carefully so as to not get overwhelmed. Well, conservation and preservation of our natural resources is the battle that I’m going to be fighting. And it all starts with education. So while there will always be the necessary jobs at the Forest Service, (making sure camp sites are maintained and doing paperwork), there are the more rewarding tasks of educating the community on how to live in harmony with the environment and preserve it. Having an office that is mostly outside is also a huge perk for me, as I’m a natural tree-hugger. Science has even proven that hugging a tree every so often is good for you!

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This was a delightful way of teaching cub scouts all about the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles and how to make a clean camp. Using the “Talking Hat” to keep order, we discussed all the good and bad things about the camp that had been set up. The older kids nailed all the rules of LNT that had been broken including the wild flowers that had been picked. (Leave what you find, take only pictures.) One of the best things about teaching kids these principles is that they will go back home and hopefully pass this knowledge on to their parents. Kids can be great reminders of the things that we should be doing right.

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For those of us that love being outdoors, sometimes it can be hard to look around the woods, beach, or mountains and see the pollutants of previous hikers and tourists. It can be discouraging even to know that our fellow human beings can be capable of. I’ve nearly spent a whole day on vacation just cleaning up fireworks along an area of the beach. Seeing the plastic and remainders of old campsites is disheartening. But if you ever do feel that way, remember what Edward Hale said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do”.

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Trail maintenance is a huge part of the Forest Service. Fall and winter are the heavy trail maintenance times. So in preparation for that, I attended a week long class on how to maintain trails. Drainage was a huge portion of the class and understanding how people use trails. Needless to say, it was a great week to be outside.

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I’m happy to be a part of the Forest Service and for anyone else out there thinking about a career change, just know that taking a step out of our comfort zone can be very rewarding. I was very timid about retiring from the military after having only know that since I was 17. This VetsWork position reaffirmed my decision to retire from the military. I can still serve my country through AmeriCorps and feel a great job satisfaction. If we could all be so lucky as to find meaningful work that we love to do, we would be a lot better off. Taking the opportunity that was presented to me through VetsWork has been a great experience and I have no doubt it will take me places. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my days working towards the good of conservation, educating the community about Leave No Trace, and maintaining the trails. Come visit the Pisgah National Forest to see all the great work being done. Hope to see you out and about the Grandfather Ranger District!

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Public Lands Stewards: Grounded in Nature with Cascade Mountain School

Erynne van Zee

As I picked blueberries and cherries last weekend in the shadow of a cloudy Mt. Hood (Wy’east), I meditated on what ‘community’ and ‘home’ mean to me. In the past year, I’ve called five different places Home: Chicago, IL; Boston, MA; Corvallis, OR; Istanbul, Turkey; Hood River, OR. In three of the five, I knew zero people in the area the day I moved, each time opening myself up to the search to find friends and a sense of community.

Hood River falls into the category of one of those three. Before I moved to Hood River to work for Cascade Mountain School and Mt. Adams Institute in Trout Lake, WA as an educator for their outdoor/environmental summer camps, I had once ridden my bike through Hood River on a bike trip around Mt. Hood and had stopped at Ground for coffee on a road trip to Idaho. I moved to Hood River looking forward to reconnecting to my roots in the Pacific Northwest and exploring the Gifford Pinchot National Forest with campers. I knew that if finding my sense of place and purpose in this new community were slow and challenging, I could always fall back on nature and trees – forgiving and resilient, embracing and nurturing, accepting and grounding.

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I dove right in to my job at the end of May, no time to dwell on transitions back from living in Istanbul since January. My first day, I was told Cascade Mountain School is built on reciprocity. Our students last year gave 400 hours of service to the Trout Lake Valley and Hood River. In return, we’ve received over 350 hours of instruction in ecology, sustainable agriculture, stream restoration, glaciology, cheese making, and more from the generous experts (and all volunteers) in these communities. As I’ve learned what goes into running environmental education programs from my dual perspective as assistant organizer and educator, I’ve witnessed the reciprocity that is pivotal to Cascade Mountain School’s mission and programs.

The intricate layers of community in Trout Lake and Hood River make these places unique. I’ve met third-generation Trout Lakers, role models with roots in Yakama Nation, many Portland transplants, and families connected to the seasonal agriculture work in the organic valley. Fortunately, the warmth and openness of people here has allowed me to feel grounded and welcome with surprising ease.

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As I’ve started to connect the names on registration forms with faces, I’ve begun to realize the extent of my own roots in the Pacific Northwest. Like the Armillaria fungus family whose mycelium has been found to connect over 2000 acres, I’ve discovered my local networks are much larger than I thought. A K-8 teacher who brought his class to CMS in early June was my OMSI outdoor school teacher in 2006. A good family friend used to be Trout Lake neighbors with one of my program directors. And the woman I rent from in Hood River helped organize my high school cross-country ski races. For the first time in the past few years, I am able to call myself a local (to the Pacific Northwest) and reaffirm that the world is actually quite small and connected.

I’ve been asked, “Does this feel like the middle of nowhere to you?” Compared to the past five months I spent living in Istanbul, Turkey, Trout Lake is geographically in the middle of nowhere. Population-wise, definitely: 16 million Istanbuls to 900 Trout Lakers. But the strong sense of community support and countless new friends, neighbors, parents, and coworkers who have welcomed me in to their circles makes this feel far less rural.

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As camp approaches and med forms arrive in the mail box, as we develop curriculum and prepare to purchase over 50 loaves of bread this summer, I’m itching for campers to start arriving. I hope this summer that I’ll continue to uncover the many faces and experiences behind the reciprocity at the core of Cascade Mountain School, Mt. Adams Institute, Trout Lake, Hood River, the Columbia River Gorge, and beyond. I am amazed and humbled by the people who generously support these unique opportunities for students to explore the outdoors and discover their own sense of place amongst mountains, rivers, and farms.

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VetsWork: Practical Application – Making an Impact at Mount St. Helens

David Blair

Before this VetsWork internship, I was working towards a career with nonprofits, but still had a craving for that outdoor experience. The Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is a place where I can apply my skills and knowledge to practical uses. Having the opportunity to use my skills with the United States Forest Service has provided me with the ability to expand my horizons into areas of work and play that I have always loved. I am learning very quickly the unique pieces of the natural resources discipline. The Forest Service compliments my knowledge and is honing me into a fine piece of the puzzle.

I am so grateful to have a whole building of staff willing to guide me along as I step out to take on projects, learn new things, and take charge of my own projects. My supervisor, Amy Wilson, has been extremely helpful with introducing me to all the staff and helping me to develop my own niche with many training opportunities to speed me on my way.

At the Mt. St. Helens Science and Learning Center at Coldwater, I helped prime and paint the entryway along with a bunk-room which will be used for overnight guests. We turned the entry way from a dull dungeon gray into a vibrant white. It looks so much more welcoming now.

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Final touches on painting the entryway and bathroom area of the Science and Learning Center at Coldwater.

As a Volunteer Engagement Specialist, I’ve had the chance to meet many people in the area who coordinate volunteers for various projects on the Monument. So far my work has been in the planning and preparation phases of getting trails and recreation projects lined up. I’m looking forward to getting some volunteer groups out in the field and making serious impacts that create a more enjoyable experience for all users of these recreation sites and trails.

Through the month of March I was part of Team Teach with Smokey Bear. While traveling to schools in Clark and Cowlitz County I helped educate 745 elementary students on fire safety and wildlife preservation. Some days I would dress-up as Smokey the Bear, while other days I would give the presentation. It was a wonderful experience and I got my feet wet with the education/interpretive side of things. All the kids now know that “Smokey’s friends never play with matches or lighters”, so I am helping to make an impact.

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Smokey Letters Caption: Some Thank you drawings and letters received from the wonderful kids who got a visit from Smokey Bear.

With this wonderful opportunity, I plan to enrich my skill sets and also give back by showing people just how glorious the heritage they have received is. My dream is that people will be inspired by the wonders around Mount St. Helens and recognize the need for doing their part to help manage and care for public lands. This will lead to a true appreciation of the good fortune bestowed.

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After a long day of painting at the Science and Learning Center at Coldwater, we stopped at a viewpoint to take in how great Mt. St. Helens was looking that day.

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VetsWork: Experience, Connections, Selfless Service & Gratitude

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With only weeks to go in this internship I feel it is important to reflect on my experiences and what I am grateful for. For the past ten months or so I have been all over the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest conducting invasive species treatments, inventories, and rock pit surveys from highway 542 to Mt. Rainer National park. In July the temperature reached 100 degrees and most of my time was spent hauling an herbicide backpack sprayer around in an attempt to slowly eradicate noxious weeds. In all, I treated over 100 different infestations. At times, weeks were blocked out on my calendar with somewhere to be and usually something to kill. For this I am thankful. I got to see many places here that I had never been. I stood at the top of Artist Point and basked in the absolute majesty of the Shuksan-Baker area, rafted the Sauk River looking for knotweed, and stood near the base of Mt. Rainier and watched the White River as it slowly deposited mass amounts of glacial till. You might recall from my last blog that I had hoped to get a picture of a black bear and a cougar. While I didn’t manage to get my camera out, I did come across both species.

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None of this could have happened if it wasn’t for a lot of people. First I would like to thank my girlfriend Tasha. Without her help and understanding I would not have even taken this internship. She moved 350 miles from where we lived, where she grew up, to allow me this opportunity. This year she took care of our daughter Kadence, had to make do yet another year with very little income, and lived at my mother’s house in Snohomish while I was away most of the time working. I also owe my mother thanks for letting them live with her for the year.

The staff at the Mt. Adams Institute are really the people who put these internships into motion. All of them, Aaron, Laura, Katie, and Brendan put forth a lot of effort to see that we as interns had all the support needed to accomplish our missions. In the army there are core values that are hammered into you at basic training. One of those values is selfless service. These people have this value in spades.

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Finally, everyone I have met here in the Forest Service, particularly the Botany team, has been more than friendly and helpful. Shauna, my supervisor and north zone botanist, has been particularly helpful. While I suspect that she knows virtually everything about botany and the Forest Service in general, she won’t always answer my questions outright. Instead, she would sometimes give me just enough of a push in the right direction for me to figure out the problem myself. I find that knowledge gained in this fashion sticks with you longer than more conventional methods. And of course I can’t forget Carrie, the south zone botanist, and Kevin, the ecology and botany program manager, for all their help and guidance in both the office and field settings.

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For those that are reading this blog from somewhere other than the Mt. Adams Institute website you should know that this internship is made possible in part by AmeriCorps.  I mentioned in a previous blog that even after nearly 8 years of military service and two bachelor’s degrees, I searched for any environmental government position, from the municipal to federal level, for a year and a half and wasn’t even offered an interview for a single job. Then I came across the Mt. Adams Institutes’ Vetswork program and everything fell into place.This program is designed to give veterans experience working in conservation, natural resources, and ecological fields. I now feel that I have the experience and connections to officially start the career that I have been slowly making progress on since I graduated high school. It seems that the hardest part is just getting your foot in the door.

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If you are a veteran and are reading this with interest thinking, “I want to do that!” I say to you, “You can!” The Mt. Adams institute recently posted next year’s internships on their website, www.mtadamsinstitute.com. They are now taking applications for positions across Washington and Oregon in Forests such as, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie, Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla, Deschutes, and Mt. Hood as well as Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, and King County Conservation. There will also be opportunities for internships in Missouri, Virginia, and North Carolina coming soon.

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VetsWork: Turkeys Galore (and some of the human variety!)

Erica Wolf-bio-header(Big)

There is always someone that needs to be dropped off or picked up. Since many of the districts, including mine, have been combined, it takes several hours to get from one end of the district to the other. One time a coworker and I drove over an hour to meet up with one of our Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) because someone had dumped a stolen wheelchair lift. Another day, I drove for most of it in order to paint over graffiti in the most secluded areas. They have to be pretty motivated to carry the cans of spray paint all that way. As I drive, I like to keep an eye out for the various “critters” in the areas. Turkeys. SO MANY TURKEYS. The road actually belongs to them in many of the areas, and they get quite cross if you want them to move out of the way. How dare I! They are very big too, so I have mentioned them to a relative who loves to hunt them. I have seen many deer, innumerable squirrels, groundhogs, snakes, hawks, chipmunks, and other types of birds that I am still learning the names of. But not one bear. So friends and family members, bears are not likely to attack me… unless I do something silly.


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We DO have sightings out here, so for anyone camping please use the bear boxes provided if you are on a Forest Service campground. If they don’t, please bring a bear canister and use it. There was a bear sighting at a campground that I worked in yesterday, and the following morning one of the volunteers was cleaning up the campsite. There were sticks used to cook marshmallows left on the wood stack. So silly, silly turkeys. If the bears are attracted to sweet smelling foods please do not leave them on the wood pile. Yes, sharing is caring. Just not in this situation.

These are some photos of my district. I hope you enjoy!

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VetsWork: Learn Something New Everyday, About Yourself or the World Around You

Here we are at the end of spring and at the beginning of summer. As the summer solstice approaches, the days are incredibly long and I am able to enjoy more sunsets. I do not know why, but even though I’ve been in Oregon for 3 summers now, I am still surprised by how late the sun sets here. Being that I am from Florida, the days in the northwest are much longer than the southeast –I believe it’s by a good hour or so. I love long days! They allow me to be outside more on a daily basis and my husband and I are able to enjoy at least a part of the day together after work. Plus, it’s no fun waking up when it’s dark outside.

I have finally found my groove in the office and am even accurately remembering names of the lovely people around here. I still can’t believe how nice everyone is and how willing to help out with things. I have remained quite busy these past few months and have continued to learn something new every day. I truly believe that if a person doesn’t learn something new every day, whether it is about themselves or about the world around them, then they are not living life properly. If you just realized you are one of these people – it’s not too late to learn something today! If you ever want to hear a random and often useless fact, I’m full of them.

Last month we had our Watershed Field Days for the area 5th graders and it was a lot of fun! It was nice to see the results of our work in trying to organize it this year. In total, there were nearly 800 students that were able to participate in learning about everything watershed related. The students were in eight groups and rotated between different stations throughout the day. They learned about water quality, plant identification, macroinvertebrates (as pictured below), wildlife, weather, soils, first foods, and stream stabilization. It was an exhausting yet fun filled week for me.

 

Another event I was able to participate in was the Salmon Summit held in Kennewick, Washington. This is a celebration and learning day for the area’s 5th graders who have participated in “Salmon in the Classroom”. The kids would release the salmon raised from eggs in their class and release them into the river and afterwards spend the day learning from various presenters about salmon related matters. This was something that was looming since I started in February. At first it was a little intimidating to be asked if I could lead a 20 minute interactive presentation of my choice to multiple groups of kids. That day had come and I prepared a presentation from almost scratch. I decided to do an activity about invasive species of the Columbia River. In the beginning it was going to be how these invasive species affected the salmon, but that was a little easier said than done. It morphed into the most interesting invasive species of the Columbia River. While figuring out how I was going to pull it off, I decided to go with colorful and part interactive and part teaching. I ended up with 6 species and was able to turn it into a game of sorts. I posted the picture of the board I came up with. I’d read a story about the animal or plant and then have the kids in 6 different groups and they’d work together to put up the cards in the correct box. Pictured below is what the finished result would look like. It was fun and I think the kids enjoyed it. The teachers would even come and tell me that they learned something from it. I got help from another VetsWork member – Jonathane Schmitt who does the invasive species work around Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

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Overall, it has certainly been an eventful past two months. We are gearing up for Natural Resource Career Camp for Young Women that takes place at the end of the month and then I’m off to Ukiah to tackle the wilderness portion of the internship – which will hopefully include more aesthetic forest/nature photos. I am also scheduled to attend Incident Qualification (a.k.a. red-card) training in a couple weeks and will be working alongside the GreenCorps crew on that.

 

My husband has been looking all over the western portion of the U.S. for permanent wildland fire positions. The good news is that he got a job! The bad news is that it’s 9+ hours away in Nevada. I want to finish the internship out so we’ll be living in different states for the time being. It’ll be hard but we’ve lived apart before and it probably won’t feel too different than a regular wildland fire season since he’s hardly home during that time anyways. The place he’s going to seems nice. Looks like it’s going to be high desert terrain which is similar to the area we’re in now. I’m looking forward the possible opportunities that I may have down there after the internship!

 

That’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading!

VetsWork: Dissecting Freddy and Franny Fish

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Fish are interesting little creatures. 

The first thing you may notice when you hold a fish is that it is slimy. This slime protects the fish from predation, lowers resistance while traveling through water, and also protects the fish from fungi, parasites, and disease.

After you’ve gotten a hold of this slimy little guy or gal, the first step is to cut open its vent. If fish had chins, you would cut all the way up to the chin. It is critical to cut all the way up to the chin; otherwise you would not expose the heart and other organs. Remember not to cut to deep; you might puncture some of the other organs!

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Now that we have cut our fish open, we need to determine if it’s a male or female.

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Franny the fish should have two eggs sacs. I say Franny should have two egg sacs because depending on her maturity, she may not. If not, eggs will likely come gushing out upon the table-and floor.

Clean up is less than fun.

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While Freddy the fish should have two milt sacks. I say should, because I found one fish that had neither eggs nor milt sacks.

When Franny is mature she will deposit her eggs in a particular location. Then Freddy will find Franny’s eggs, and fertilize them.

All of this happens from the vent hole including excreting waste products.

The next step is to cut out the digestive system. This includes the liver, the gall bladder, the stomach, the pyloric caeca, and the spleen.pic 4

Liver

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Gall Bladder

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Stomach

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Pyloric Caeca

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Spleen

Remember when I said to cut up to the chin?

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Here’s Freddy’s heart! In person, it actually looks like a little nose.

Notice this balloon like structure.

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This organ is called the swim bladder. Fish can adjust the amount of air within the swim bladder in order to hover at different levels in the water.

These are the kidneys.

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Notice that the kidneys look like a little pool of blood. The kidneys are very fragile organs. Even with the tenderest of care, you may end rupturing the kidneys, and then you have a pool of blood in your hands. The joy of clean up!

Next are the eyes.

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The key to popping out the eye is putting enough pressure behind the eye socket to tear the flesh to get underneath the eye. The students typically love this part.

The gills are last.

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I normally cut the gills out last because they are filled with blood and don’t want my hands to become a bloody mess.

With the time that has normally been allotted to me, I don’t normally have time to crack their melons open and look at the brain. Someday soon; I hope!

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