Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Provides Students a Hands-On Education
“There are some things you can’t learn from a book; you need to experience them to really understand,” Sarah Stalcup explains to me as she stands thigh deep in Upper Dominguez Creek on the Uncompahgre Plateau. Sarah and her classmate, Caitlyn Bonkoski, are the first students to participate in the Delta High School Apprenticeship in Science and Engineering sponsored by the US Forest Service. The 6-week summer apprenticeship offers local students the opportunity to job shadow several different Forest Service professionals and work experience assisting on a riparian monitoring project. “The students will help collect and analyze the data. At the end of the program they will give a presentation of their results,” stated Clay Speas, Forest Service Aquatics and Wildlife Manager.
The project for this year was to establish permanent riparian monitoring plots on Upper Dominguez Creek. The Forest is working with grazing permittees to create riparian pastures and upland water developments to reduce livestock grazing pressure on Dominguez Creek. Some of the improvements will be installed this year with the remainder installed next year. The plots the students are installing will evaluate changes in stream side vegetation and stream health from reduced livestock grazing and improved livestock distribution.
The students are under the direction of a teacher mentor, Robin Liston, Delta High School Biology teacher. “This has been a great experience for the kids. Often times, science concepts are abstract when presented in the classroom. With this program, the kids are actually participating in a real project with intrinsic value and watching science professionals at work,” said Robin. When asked about the apprenticeship, Caitlyn stated, “It gave me something fun and educational to do this summer which doesn’t happen often for teenage kids in Delta.”
The riparian monitoring effort is a part of a larger project underway to translocate Colorado River cutthroat trout, a species of special concern in Colorado, to a 13 mile stretch of Upper Dominguez and LaFare Creeks. “This location will offer the longest piece of continuous habitat on the forest,” stated Mike Carrillo, Forest Service biologist. The riparian improvement project compliments cutthroat trout recovery efforts by ensuring Dominguez Creek is in good ecological health while supporting multiple uses like grazing on federal lands. Clay explained, “We are establishing baseline data this summer and plan to return every 3 years to re-monitor the reaches.” Sarah and Caitlyn also plan to climb into a pair of waders again this fall to obtain post livestock grazing data. “These data will be used in a science fair project later this school year,” said Sarah.
The apprenticeship is funded by a 10-year grant received by the Forest Service through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (and its associated partnerships). The goal of the project is to enhance the resiliency, diversity and productivity of the native ecosystem on the Uncompahgre Plateau. “We hope to continue the apprenticeship for the life of the grant,” stated Clay.