On September 28, 2016

Science at the Hatchery: lessons in conservation and learning

By Julia Purdy
CHITTENDEN—Tuesday, Sept. 20, was Conservation Field Day at the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery in Chittenden for over 100 fifth- and sixth-graders from Chittenden, Leicester, Proctor, Rutland Town, Shrewsbury and Mount Holly. School buses delivered the groups and their parent-chaperones at 9 a.m. and the children spent the day in structured activities, learning about forest and stream ecology; tree identification; fish species, culture and wild habitat; soils and wetlands; and the behavior of wild streams.
Colorful sleeve patches and beige shirts were a common sight as the students also learned by example about careers in natural science and biology from uniformed personnel from both the state and U.S. fish and wildlife services and the U.S. Forest Service.
The day began with small-group tours of the Atlantic salmon rearing program at the hatchery, led by hatchery manager Henry Bouchard and William Olmstead of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. During lunch, students camped on the lawn and gathered to feed the landlocked salmon swarming in the open-air pool.
After lunch, the student groups finished rotating through field stations spread out along Furnace Brook, which also provides the water for the Atlantic salmon rearing units.
At the “Fish and Streams” stations, Shawn Good of the Vt. Dept. of Fish & Wildlife described his profession and how he became a fish biologist. He netted some small trout for students to get a good look at and quizzed them about fish species in Vermont and their habitats. Chris Alexopoulos, a fisheries and wildlife technician with the U.S. Forest Service, demonstrated “fish shocking,” showing how electroshocking is used to temporarily and harmlessly stun fish in the water, enabling them to be identified, measured and weighed. A brown trout was captured, along with bottom-feeding sculpins and insects that fish feed on.
At the “Forests” station, Lars Lund, Vt. Dept. of Forests, Parks and Recreation, taught the group how to identify tree species, using leaves and a plant identification key that he had developed. At “Soils,” Angie Quintana of the U.S. Forest Service encouraged students to think differently about dirt, examining handfuls for iron deposits and learning how bacteria in soils have contributed to medicines. The flume table, which reproduces the behavior of streams by flowing water through a bed of plastic beads, was staffed by Shannon Pytlik, a river scientist with the ANR River Management Program. Students placed tiny houses and miniature “trees” along the “stream,” observing how fast-moving water undercut the banks and pushed the plastic beads downstream.
The group leaders were friendly, accessible and informative while reinforcing listening, respect for the subject matter, and good manners. When it was time to leave, there were choruses of “Thank-you” to the instructors.
Nanci McGuire, district manager of the Rutland Natural Resources Conservation District (RNRCD), conducted the pre-departure debriefing by asking for raised hands to answer two questions: “what you learned” and “what you liked.” The best-liked were the flume table (“you shouldn’t build houses on a stream”), fish shocking (noting the “special boots and clothes”), and forestry. Feeding, identifying and handling fish was also memorable.
What did students remember? Fish live under fallen trees, different fish require different water temperatures, large culverts are needed to handle floods, fish need streamside trees. All too soon, the schoolbuses arrived and the students quickly lined up to board.
“That age group is a great group to reach out to,” said Ethan Swift, watershed coordinator with the ANR, “to get kids away from electronic distractions and out into nature at their time in life to understand and enjoy natural resources.”
Science at the Hatchery has been held twice a year since 1998. The event was cosponsored by the RNRCD, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), with the participation of the U.S. Forest Service and assistance from  second-year students from Stafford Technical Center’s forestry and natural resources program, with their advisor Dan Lovell.
The hatchery in Chittenden was established by the state of Vermont in 1906 and was known as the Pittsford Hatchery until 2009, when it was renamed for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had visited it. From 1995 to 2004 it raised trout for New England and lake sturgeon for the Finger Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. It now raises brook and lake trout and both landlocked and sea-run Atlantic salmon, and participates in the landlocked salmon restoration program in Lake Champlain.
The hatchery is open to the public 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 365 days a year. It is located at 4 Holden Road, No. Chittenden.

Photo by Julia Purdy
Chris Alexopoulos of the U.S. Forest Service introduces Students to a 12” brown trout hatched wild in Furnace Brook.

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