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McKinley Elementary School's Eco-Team.

By Cindy Hudson

Winter and spring in Oregon can be cold, wet and muddy, but thanks to seed grants from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), 10 schools in the Portland area are learning the joys of getting outside and getting their hands dirty despite weather conditions.

Part of the NWF's Eco-Schools USA program, the $1,000 seed grants are funded by the Gray Family Foundation. The grant is used for green school projects like the one at Beaverton School District's McKinley Elementary School. In fact, McKinley is one of only three schools in Oregon to be awarded native tree seedlings through the NWF's Trees for Wildlife program this year.

"A lot of students at our school live in apartments," said ESL teacher Debbie Abel, who works with fourth and fifth graders on several projects. "For some, this is the only opportunity they have to explore outdoors."

That exploration has included digging for worms and learning about slugs—fun! Students are also identifying native and non-native trees on campus and writing up tags with facts about them. Each tag contains a QR code linked to plantsmap.com, where anyone interested can find out more information.

But the school's biggest project is yet to come. McKinley is using the seed grant to purchase native plants such as wildflowers, ferns, herbs and shrubs as well as plant tags, ID books, soil, mulch, garden chairs and a mason bee condo. In honor of Earth Day later this month, students, parents, staff and volunteers will be planting 200 trees on the school's extensive grounds as part of their efforts as a Certified Schoolyard Habitat.

A few miles away at French American International School, science lab instructor Molly Hamill said pathways available through Eco-Schools USA are helping teachers provide the curriculum that connects students to the outdoors and tie together the whole community.

When third graders explore the wooded trail on the school's property, they are asked to look for signs of wildlife among the trees. Deer, owls, snakes, salamanders, frogs and even coyotes! And yes, all of these species have been spotted in the natural area.

"At the beginning of spring in the forest, the sound of birds is incredible," said Hamill, noting that they can identify five different kinds of woodpeckers in the area. Students are excited to improve habitat for wildlife like birds and more by planting more than 50 tree seedlings awarded to the French American International School through the Trees for Wildlife program.

Hamill also said information from Eco-Schools USA makes it easy to tie in what's being taught in the classroom to further learning. "We have freedom to pull in ideas and involve kids and go from there," she said, explaining that it's a lot more interesting and effective when you can teach kids about the parts of a flower, and then help them plant milkweed and watch the butterflies show up when those flowers bloom.

Yet some of the biggest buzz on campus, said Hamill, was generated by a project the seed grant made possible. Fish Eggs to Fry, a program administered by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife with help from the NWF's Oregon affiliate, the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, provided Hamill with trout eggs to nurture until they hatched and could be released into a local waterway.

In February, Molly Orr, AmeriCorps member with the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, and NWF delivered 500 rainbow trout eggs to the 20-gallon aquarium the school purchased with grant funds. For two weeks, Hamill said the aquarium became the most popular site on campus, providing learning opportunities for both students and adults. "We had kids checking the pH, temperature and the conditions of the fish," said Hamill. "First graders journaled about the progress and recorded changes in what they saw." Those first graders, she said, also learned that not all fish grow up to be clownfish, like Nemo.

The interest extended to the headmaster and other staff, who Hamill said stopped by the aquarium regularly, and parents who came in when they dropped their kids off in the morning.

When the trout were large enough, staff released them into a local pond approved by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Now that the school has the equipment, Hamill hopes to sign up for the program again in the fall, when Chinook salmon eggs will be available.

That kind of enthusiasm and continuity of learning is exactly what Morgan Parks, Oregon education coordinator for the NWF, loves to hear. "School budgets are stretched thin," said Parks. "Because the (Eco-Schools) pathways are linked to curriculum standards, it can help take the load off teachers."

Parks said other schools receiving grants are working on a variety of pathway projects, including removing invasive species and replacing them with native plants, creating monarch butterfly gardens and community gardens, performing energy and waste audits and developing a bioswale on school grounds.

By David Mizejewski

The annual population status report for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) has been released showing a 27 percent decrease from last year's population.

Populations of this once-common iconic black and orange butterfly have plummeted by approximately 90 percent in just the last two decades. The threats to the species are the loss of habitat in the U.S.—both the lack of availability of milkweed, the only host food plant for monarch caterpillars, as well as nectar plants needed by adults–through land conversion of habitat for agriculture, removal of native plants and the use of pesticides and loss of habitat in Mexico from illegal logging around the monarchs' overwintering habitat. The new population numbers underscore the need to continue conservation measures to reverse this trend.

A Look at the Numbers

The population is evaluated by measuring the number of hectares occupied by the monarch butterflies in their overwintering habitat in Mexico. This year there are an estimated 109 million monarchs occupying just 2.91 hectares (7.2 acres), down from 150 million last year covering 4.01 hectares (9.9 acres).

The monarch population found west of the Rockies, which migrates to California rather than Mexico, has also severely declined but looks to have remained at the same level as last year.

Despite the alarming overall decline in the monarch population, there is some reason to be cautiously optimistic about efforts to help monarchs. Shortly after last year's population numbers were released, severe late-season storms hit monarch overwintering sites in Mexico, which scientists estimate killed anywhere from 7.4 percent of the population to as much as 50 percent of some of the overwintering colonies. This mortality was not reflected in the official population number last year, meaning that far fewer monarchs actually survived to migrate north in the spring of 2016.

In the best-case scenario of a 7.4 percent mortality, the monarch population that actually migrated north was just 139 million, not 150 million and so only decreased by 22 percent rather than the 27 percent based on pre-storm population numbers. In the worst-case hypothetical scenario of 50 percent mortality from the storms, only 75 million monarchs would have survived to migrate north in 2016 but were able to build up their population to the current number of 109 million, showing a possible 45 percent increase in population.

Whether it was favorable weather conditions throughout the rest of 2016 or the restoration of habitat for monarchs across the U.S.—or both—these various scenarios show that if given the right conditions and habitat, the species has the potential to recover.

Get Involved to Save Monarchs

Even so, in any scenario, the species' population remains dangerously low. Immediate action is needed to protect and restore monarch habitat. The good news is that on the local level, individuals can get involved by planting native milkweed and nectar plants right in their own yards.

The National Wildlife Federation is a member of the Monarch Joint Venture, a coalition of groups working together to save monarchs and has made monarch conservation a priority, working to recover the species in the following ways:

Mayors' Monarch Pledge

The National Wildlife Federation has engaged more than 260 mayors and other community leaders in pledging to restore monarch habitat by planting milkweed as a caterpillar host plant, nectar plants for the adult monarchs, eschewing pesticides and other actions that support monarch populations. These cities and municipalities in the monarchs' main migratory flyway, from Austin, Texas to the Great Lakes, are committing to create habitat and educate citizens about how they can make a difference at home.

Get involved in the Mayors' Monarch Pledge.

Garden for Wildlife

This signature program educates millions of Americans each year on how to restore habitat for birds, butterflies such as the monarch and other wildlife right their yards, gardens and neighborhoods. The National Wildlife Federation recognizes such garden spaces as Certified Wildlife Habitats. More than 200,000 Certified Wildlife Habitats have been designated in suburban yards, community gardens, schools, places of worship, parks, botanic gardens, zoos and other public spaces. Entire communities, cities and counties such as Austin, Texas and Broward County, Florida have achieved Certified Community Wildlife Habitat status.

Get involved in Garden for Wildlife.

Monarch caterpillar in a Schoolyard Habitat in Connecticut. Linda Swenson

National Pollinator Garden Network

The National Wildlife Federation has helped convene an unprecedented number of conservation and gardening organizations, as well as garden industry members, to launch the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, a campaign to raise awareness on what Americans can do to help pollinators and register a million pollinator and monarch friendly gardens by the end of 2018.

Learn more about the National Pollinator Garden Network.

Large Landscape Habitat Work

The National Wildlife Federation is working with partners in the agriculture industry to establish more monarch-friendly practices such as adding preserving native plant buffer zones around fields and riparian areas, adjusting mowing schedules and spraying practices to minimize impacts to pollinator habitat. We are also working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, our state affiliates and state Wildlife Agencies to create state plans to conserve grasslands, establish power line right of way habitat and promote roadside habitat planting along monarch's main migratory route.

Learn more about Large Landscape Habitat Work.

Butterfly Heroes

This annual campaign aims at engaging kids and families in butterfly conservation. Participants pledge to plant butterfly gardens and receive a starter kit from the National Wildlife Federation which includes native milkweed or nectar plants for monarchs and educational and how-to information on creating a butterfly garden. This spring the campaign kicks off on March 27 and goes through May 19.

Get involved in Butterfly Heroes.

David Mizejewski is a naturalist, author, blogger and national media personality with the National Wildlife Federation.

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By National Wildlife Federation Staff

In honor of Valentine's Day, National Wildlife Federation staff members shared favorite wild places and hidden gems—from national parks to national forests to wildlife refuges.

As naturalist David Mizejewski said, "What a gift."

Not only do they inspire and amaze millions of visitors, America's wild public lands provide habitat for an extraordinary range of rare and vulnerable wildlife species.

Explore some of these special places through the eyes of National Wildlife Federation naturalists, scientists and educators. Go ahead and fall in love!

1. Channel Islands National Park (California)

Island fox.Tim Coonan / National Park Service

My family has visited many national parks over the years, but one of my favorites is Channel Islands National Park off the southern California coast. It's a true gem for many reasons and since you can only get there by boat or small plane, it's one of the least visited national parks. Special memories from our day trip include taking a guided hike which led to stunning coastal views, along with a snorkeling adventure and several sightings of the island fox, only found on the Channel Islands.

—Kath Race, K-12 program coordinator, education

2. Mojave National Preserve (California)

Black-tailed jackrabbit at Mohave National Preserve.National Park Service

My favorite national park is the Mojave National Preserve, California. Why? Hole-in-the-Wall Rings Loop Trail and group campsite. It's a short hike, compared to most. Nevertheless, magic surrounds its trail and it's transformative. I remember my first visit, walking through a small valley and its walls filled with holes. Over millions of years, eruptions spewed layers of lava and uneven cooling and gases captured during the eruption formed the "holes." They make for great photos. Looking at pictures, I came to realize that I don't have a favorite park, but that I have a favorite realization. On my first visit, I came to realize the power of the wild. The wild brings us together and surrounds us like a warm embrace.

—Tony Bautista, California environmental education manager

3. Yosemite National Park (California)

Gallison Lake.Beth Pratt / National Wildlife Federation.

I call Yosemite my North Star—it's a place that always centers and guides me and has since I first stepped foot in the park almost thirty years ago. I worked in the park for over a decade, got engaged and married there and have explored much of its 1,169 square miles. Half Dome and Yosemite Falls usually dominate the scenic photos you see of the park, but the most beautiful place in Yosemite for me sits far in the backcountry, a lovely turquoise gem of a lake placed within the glacier-carved setting of the Cathedral Range. I've never known such absolute peace as when I relaxed in the embrace of its soft meadows, gazing at the rich blue Sierra sky and listening to the chirping of my favorite critter, the pika, echo off the rocks.

—Beth Pratt, California executive director

4. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Hawai'i)

Masked boobies, a species unique to Papahānaumokuākea.Kaleomanuiwa Wong / NOAA

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is one of the largest protected areas in the world—encompassing 583,000 square miles of ocean waters, including 10 islands—and there's no other place like it. The Native Hawaiian people consider it the place where life begins. It is also part of the seascape used by wayfarers in traditional ocean voyaging by canoe. As a protected area, it helps to preserve top predators such as sharks and jacks. It includes the migratory routes of many threatened and endangered marine species, including whales, Hawaiian monk seals, sharks, sea turtles and seabirds. Its rich biodiversity is amazing and new species are discovered every time scientists explore the area. It is truly a world heritage site set aside for our children and generations to come.

—Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of NWF affiliate Conservation Council for Hawai'i

By Anna Kramer

Think about our national parks. What comes to mind? Many of us think of spectacular landscapes, family adventures and, of course, incredible wildlife.

These places we love are all of those things, but they are also places created to protect and restore wildlife. Our national parks, wildlife refuges and other wild public lands provide crucial habitat for wildlife, especially endangered species.

The National Wildlife Federation is part of a coalition of more than 40 outdoor and sportsmen's organizations calling upon candidates seeking public office this November to pledge to protect our public lands and the wildlife that call these places home. Thousands of friends of wildlife have already pledged to protect our wild public lands and wildlife—and urged candidates and politicians to do the same.

Endangered species don't have representatives in Congress: They need you to speak for them. Take action and ask political leaders and candidates to pledge to protect our public lands!

Meet five of the many incredible endangered species and the public lands they call home.

1. Black-Footed Ferret

2. Whooping Crane

3. Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep

4. Piping Plover

5. Hawaiian Monk Seals


These are only five of the thousands of threatened and endangered species reliant on our nation's public lands. Whether their habitat is primarily found on a wildlife refuge, a national park or forest, or other wild public lands the sale or transfer or our public lands could be devastating for some of the most vulnerable wildlife in the U.S.

With only weeks to go before the November election this is an issue too important to ignore. Urge our political leaders and candidates to pledge to protect our wild public lands.

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