WHS outdoor class present at MRC summit


September 29, 2022

Diana Zimmerman

Wahkiakum High School outdoor education instructor Jeff Rooklidge, center, and a group of students described their learning activities at the recent Coastal Marine Resource Committee Summit.

Last week the Wahkiakum Marine Resource Committee and the Washington State University Wahkiakum County Extension Office hosted a three day Marine Resource Committee summit, which was attended in person and through Zoom by members of other MRCs around the region, like Grays Harbor County MRC, North Pacific Coast MRC, and Pacific County MRC.

They toured Columbia Land Trust's Nelson Creek Restoration Project, the new fish processing center at Wahkiakum High School, and listened to presentations from several scientists and experts working on a variety of projects in the Northwest, including a Bogachiel landslide study, a Rialto Beach landslide study, changing ocean conditions, seafood tourism, and more.

On Friday, a group of Wahkiakum High School students and their teacher Jeff Rooklidge talked to attendees about their studies, experiments, and successes in the field and in robotics.

Rooklidge expressed appreciation to the local MRC, and spoke about how grants from the MRC had enhanced students' learning experience.

He said the grants were "helping students connect the dots to concepts they are learning in the classroom to real world applications," and spoke of environmental partnerships made possible through the MRC, with organizations like U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Washington Department Fish and Wildlife, Columbia River Kayaking, local conservations districts, local guides, Abernathy Fish Technology Center, and more.

Rooklidge said an MRC grant helped students travel up to the Region 5 WDFW lab, where they received training in protocols for ground surveys and salmon spawning surveys. Students adopted Duck Creek and have been conducting spawning surveys for 10-15 years.

One of the students reported seeing one of the biggest salmon runs in a long time this year and talked about getting to witness male coho salmon fighting for courtship rights. Later in the spring they saw lampreys spawning in the Elochoman River.

Another grant gave students an opportunity to see underwater ecosystems, and they were able to receive more training from the Abernathy habitat manager, someone from Oregon State University, and others.

"Our kids in the spring have been doing snorkel surveys looking for juvenile fish," Rooklidge said. "They love that, it just brings to life salmon biology when they get the experience."

He told attendees about a summer internship at the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-Tailed Deer, where students are employed for eight weeks and receive credit for school. They band purple martins, monitor nest boxes, do projects on Long Island in Willapa Bay, including habitat restoration projects, and learn about marbled murrelet habitat and old growth.

"The MRC sponsored a fantastic internship opportunity with the conservation district,"Rooklidge said, "with one local student job shadowing every step of a salmon rehabilitation project."

They also funded several field trips which allowed students to get outdoors and experience wildlife, and do all kinds of survey work with local guide and outfitter, M.D. Johnson. They went to the Cowlitz River to dip smelt in one instance, and talked about ecosystems.

The kids have gone on Lewis and Clark guided kayak tours, reenacting the local route, and talked about how the area has changed since Lewis and Clark were here, as they considered how changing habitat affects local wildlife.

"I'm so thankful for Carrie [Backman] and Donna [Westlind] and all of our MRC committee," Rooklidge said. "Giving these kids these experiences is just so worthwhile and so is seeing these kids get excited about getting outdoors and connecting with the environment."

Afterwards, some of the Wahkiakum High School and 4-H Mecha Mules robotics team shared their experience going to Washington DC and to the University of Maryland to compete in SeaPerch last spring, where they placed second overall in the open class, and their engineering design and team videos got fifth place. They also placed second in the pool mission course and third in the pool obstacle course, and were recognized for real world innovations.


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