Each spring, as the days grow longer and the promise of summer grows closer, you feel better spending more time outdoors. So, isn’t it nice to learn a little more about Oregon while you’re out there?
Susan Barnes does what many of us only dream about: she gets to know Oregon’s wild places better than we know our own backyards.
In fact, she gets paid to learn about St Louis Ponds near Woodburn.
Best of all, she’ll help you to learn more about the place too - First Hand!
“It’s a wet native prairie and there aren’t many places like this in the Willamette Valley,” noted the state conservation biologist as she led a small group of curious folks through the 260-acre site.
“Be sure to wear boots because you will get wet,” advised Barnes.
Each had signed up to spend half a day with Barnes to see and learn more about an increasingly rare habitat type in western Oregon.
Barnes specializes in Oregon’s non-game species; the animals that are not hunted: “I think it’s important to learn what we have in our own backyard because that‘s what we have the greatest influence over,” noted the longtime biologist.
Barnes shared her knowledge with folks who had signed up for a tour of St Louis Ponds in a program called “First Hand Oregon.”
The program is the result of a new and unique partnership with the nonprofit “Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation.”
“If we care about places like this, it’s best to experience it first hand,” noted WHF conservation expert, Claire Puchy. “Only by getting out here, can people truly learn not only about fish and wildlife species but also the conservation issues associated with them. First Hand gives folks the chance to do that.”
The Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation has ‘walked the talk’ of protecting, preserving and enhancing Oregon’s natural resources for more than thirty years through programs, outright land purchases and public projects across the Oregon outdoors.
Back in the early 80’s they spearheaded the purchase of the lower 12-miles of the Deschutes River and secured public access for hiking, biking and fishing.
They designed and built the popular sturgeon exhibit at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery in the Columbia River Gorge where visitors can see “Herman the Sturgeon” and his buddies anytime.
Most recently, they developed a new Willamette River fishing dock at West Linn so anglers have a riverside location to cast for salmon and sturgeon.
“We do a lot of habitat work,” noted former OWHF Director, Rod Brobeck. “But we also try to provide access; something we can look at and even stand on - like this fishing dock. It’s great for everyone.”
The “First Hand Oregon” educational tours partner with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s land managers, field biologists and others who will spend a day with you, talk about their work and show you the lands that they are responsible for in Oregon.
For example, on a recent tour of the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, Assistant Manager Dan Marvin explained how successive years of flooding from the adjacent Columbia River have deposited increasing amounts of sediment in Sturgeon Lake.
The lake is a critical water body on the wildlife area and it’s beginning to fill in. That could lead to long lasting effects for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl that migrate to the island each Fall season.
“Basically the lake is shrinking,” noted Marvin. “The overall value of this wetland area will be lost as more sediment is deposited through the years.”
The range of “First Hand” classes is remarkable too – including hatchery visits for the chance to learn how salmon spawning is done – to turtle trapping techniques to see and learn more about Oregon’s native amphibian populations – plus many more classes emphasizing outdoor education – it’s a perfect for the curious.
“It’s a great opportunity for informing the non hunting public which is the majority of folks we see on these tours,” said Marvin. They can see what our programs entail and what goes into it to make it such a successful program.”
Back at St Louis Ponds, Barnes said she enjoyed the chance to teach others with “First Hand” wildlife observation techniques.
Bryce Peterson said he enjoyed learning how Barnes does her job:
“It’s an opportunity for me to learn more for sure; about native birds, their habitats and how I can help – even if it’s just in my backyard by protecting and enhancing native plants.”
It’s real science that’s fun, takes you to a new place and can help determine conservation strategies that will make a difference for the future of Oregon wildlife.
“Getting people outdoors to see ‘First Hand’ what’s in their backyards can make all the difference in the world – for information, awareness and appreciation,” noted Barnes.