If science can be blended with the arts, Wolftree and The Upper Deschutes Watershed Council have found the path. The proof of that was well demonstrated recenlty at Mount Bachelor Village Conference Center in Bend during the annual Students Speak: A Watershed Summit. Schools from throughout Central Oregon took part in the event, including: Sisters Middle School, Sisters High School, Crook County Middle School, Powell Butte Charter School, REALMS Middle School and W.E. Miller Elementary School of Bend.
Students Speak: A Watershed Summit was organized by staff of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and Wolftree, with the support of The Roundhouse Foundation, The Clabough Foundation, Ray's Market, U.S. Forest Service and Bend Research.
These organizations have been helping to connect students with Central Oregon rivers to get them outside for hands-on research. It’s an experience that guides them through educational activities and helps them understand the role they play in the conservation of their local watershed.
This was an exceptional program where students presented their work in water and wildlife conservation to other students and instructors who were invited to ask question and comment at the end of each presentation.
The program opened at 10 a.m. with REALMS students presenting the conservation work they accomplished at Ryan Ranch Meadow on the Deschutes River south of Bend. Their audience and evaluators were students from Sisters Middle School, Powell Butte Charter School, and Mrs. Spear's class from Sisters High School (SHS).
After the presentation by REALMS, Erica Lowery of SHS said, "I was really impressed by how much REALMS knew about Ryan Meadow Ranch. With each student, I could have a conversation and ask questions about their work. With each of their responses, you could see how much passion each kid has toward the project."
In another conference room, Glenn Herron's Sisters High School biology class was presenting the research they carried out in the Trout Creek Conservation Area to an audience of students and instructors from Crook County Elementary and Rima Givot's Sister's biology class.
These presentations by students for students began over six years ago in a special event put together by Wolftree at Marshall High School in Portland. Each year the program became more detailed and focused on wider fields of natural-resource investigations. It eventually migrated over the Cascades to Sisters where it evolved into a watershed summit and then to Students Speak of today.
Throughout the morning, students from each school had the opportunity to contribute their scientific, artistic and philosophical expressions to a beautiful sand mandala that was presented to the entire student body at the close of the program.
Many beautiful poems were read by students from several schools, each portraying the student's sense of place as they worked together as teams and individuals who sat quietly thinking of their place in the Order of Nature.
A group of 15 students also spent the last four weeks working with Bess Ballantine and Colleen Fox from Wolftree collecting baseline data in Camp Polk Meadow where the creek has been restored to its original meandering channel.
They split into three groups, each studying different aspects of the meadow and creek. One group investigated riparian plants and their distribution along the creek and meadow to help the Deschutes Land Trust calculate their survival rate.
They counted over 2,000 willows along about 500 meters of the creek, while the water quality group took measurements of the water chemistry. The students sampled macroinvertebrates at regular intervals along the creek to assess the stream health in the new channel.
They found the clean water that is adequate for steelhead, trout, and Chinook salmon. They also mapped the abundance and locations of the log jams that were placed to create fish habitat. The wildlife group documented animals and signs they observed in the meadow, noting birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
The students also worked to give back to the land. They pulled over 1,000 invasive mullein plants from the meadow! They also introduced 32,000 steelhead fry at Wolftree's Whychus Creek Discovery Outpost.
As a Sisters High School presentation was nearing an end, one of the middle school audiences had to leave to prepare for its presentation, prompting one of the SHS students to halt in the middle of her presentation and exclaim, "Bye, middle schools; love you guys." That’s proof of the camaraderie and sense of place the students enjoyed in the Students Speak summit.
The exciting day ended with Mrs. Spear's students presenting an exciting selection of hand-clapping, foot-stomping musical presentations composed on the banks of Whychus Creek.