A.D. Johnston students learn in their backyard


October 24, 2017

Submitted photo

SOPHOMORE BIOLOGY students at A.D. Johnston in Bessemer learn about creek health in the Powdermill Creek watershed in Bessemer. From the left are Melodee Jacobson, Gogebic Community College instructor and U.S. Forest Service forester Craig Johnson, Hubert Molina, GCC student Casey Kemppainen, Alyssa Lewis, Pheobe Napier, GCC student Tyler Aderman, USFS fisheries biologist John Pagel, Asher Carlisle, Jon Gervais, Maddie Udd, Makayla Switzer and Kris Carver.

BESSEMER - A.D. Johnston High School biology students completed their annual watershed assessment of Powdermill Creek with the help of the U.S. Forest Service.

According to teacher Dave Rowe, "The annual field trip is in its 11th year and it resulted in a great partnership between the school and the U.S. Forest Service. Each year my students rotate through a series of stations that allow them to work with and interact with professionals from the Forest Service to gain a deeper understanding of watersheds, ecology and forestry.

"In addition to learning the real science involved, students see real world applications to what they are doing and immediately see the passion and love the Forest Service employees have for their profession and protecting the environment," Rowe said.

This year's field trip revolved around three stations where students learned about fisheries biology, aquatic entomology and forest succession. While working with Forest Service Fisheries Biologist John Pagel, students helped shock the stream. This year turned up 18 brook trout, five sculpins and two creek chubs.

Pagel said, "The fish species present and the numbers of fish in a body of water all comes back to habitat. Certain fish have very specific habitat requirements, where some can live in a wide range of conditions and others have very specific requirements."

Pagel said, "In the case of Powdermill Creek, we typically catch high numbers of brook trout and sculpins and this tells us that the stream is healthy because both brook trout and sculpins require high water quality that provides cool temperatures, lots of food and high oxygenation, but little suspended sediment."

While in the aquatic entomology rotation, students worked with wildlife biologist Brian Bogaczyk and Educational Outreach Coordinator Joe Panci of the Forest Service to assess stream health by looking for macro-invertebrates.

Students waded into various parts of the stream to do the "river dance" to stir up gravel and sediments while other students were waiting downstream with nets to capture invertebrates. On shore, another group of students helped remove the invertebrates from the nets while Bogaczyk and Panci helped the students categorize and identify the invertebrates.

"We want to show the students that different macro-invertebrates have different habitat requirements and that the presence of certain invertebrates can tell us about the health of a stream," Bogaczyk said.

Bogaczyk said, "This year we didn't find any dragonfly larvae, but it is probably a result of our study being conducted later in the season than usual. Timing is very important when you try to find different organisms in various stages of their life cycles."

After identifying and counting macro-invertebrates, Panci helped the students to categorize them by how tolerant they were of pollution. The presence of sensitive species indicates good water quality.  

Panci said, "When we look at macro-invertebrates we can determine water quality by the numbers and variety of species found in the body of water."

In the forest succession rotation, students learned changes within a forest are often predictable and much of the change is determined by the availability of light. Students observed areas that had been farmed years ago in the process of reverting to forest, in addition to gaps in the canopy caused by blow-down storm events and changes along the river caused by beavers.

Gogebic Community College forestry teacher Craig Johnson said, "You have to manage a forest to maintain a healthy age structure and provide habitat for animals and jobs for the people who live near the forests. Management strategies are often species specific and are related to soil types, moisture and the availability of light."

After the field trip students were asked to reflect on their experiences through a variety of writing activities. SophomoreHubert Molina said, "Getting to touch the fish and throw them back was the coolest thing I've done this year."

Tad Rowe said, "The bright colors of the spawning trout was my 'wow' moment."

Sophomore Vai Triggiano said, "Being totally involved was really fun. ...We were literally emerged in the river, experiencing everything."

Dave Rowe said, "Clearly my students have shown me that they have a new heightened appreciation for Powdermill Creek and when you get to know and appreciate something, you are more likely to want to protect it."

Rowe stressed the importance of the relationships between the Bessemer Area Schools and the USFS. "We have been working together for more than a decade to teach ecology and a deeper understanding and appreciation for the organisms that live in this beautiful part of the world and I have seen a new appreciation for the area that we live in."


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019

Rendered 04/23/2019 06:00