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Hands-on experiences teach importance of preserving watershed

Shelby Schleve scrunched up her nose at the butter clams lying open on the picnic table, their slimy innards exposed. But it didn’t take long for the Sequim Middle School eighth-grader to start poking at the clam’s digestive system for a closer look.

“We’re learning there’s some pretty nasty stuff in the watershed,” she said, after hearing about fecal coliform bacteria from animal and human waste, a tell-tale sign of water pollution.

That’s the effect the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Clallam Conservation District and Dungeness River Audubon Center were going for during their annual field day for local middle schoolers — making students aware of the water quality problems in Dungeness Bay and what needs to be done about it.

Appealing to a teenager’s interest through food also proved to be a good educational tool. With a plastic model representing Dungeness Bay, Jennifer Coyle-Bond of the conservation district added cupcake sprinkles to represent animal waste and fertilizers, soy sauce to represent oil from cars and powdered chocolate to represent loose soil from construction zones and logging. All were flooded into the “bay,” using spray bottles mimicking a rainstorm, creating a mucky body of water.

For the past four years, the tribe and its partners have been conducting these daylong field trips on Dungeness Bay. The students learned about nonpoint source pollution and how different land uses can affect the water quality of the bay. Most importantly, they were reminded of ways to keep the pollution from getting to the nearby streams and the bay.

In conjunction with the field stations on the bay, students also visited the Dungeness River at the Audubon Center where they learned about river dynamics and native riparian vegetation.

“Dungeness Bay is still impacted by both elevated bacteria and nutrients, but we have seen a downward trend over the last five years, particularly the last three years in our bacteria counts,” said Hansi Hals, the tribe’s environmental planning manager. “Much of the work the tribe and their partners have done to implement best management practices on farms, identify and fix failing septic systems and remind dog owners to pick up after their pets seems to be paying off.

“Educational days, even in the pouring rain, are really important to spread the word,” she said. “In our watershed, we have many new residents each year and focusing on public involvement is important.”

For more information, contact Hansi Hals, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe environmental planning manager, at 681-4601 or hhals@jamestowntribe.org; or Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, at 360-297-6546 or troyal@nwifc.org.

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