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  • Training the next generation of scientists

  • Mitchell Colvin squeezes several drops of green liquid into a vial containing his water sample. He lowers the vial into a plastic box containing several colored, plastic filters then attempts to match the colors.
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  • Mitchell Colvin squeezes several drops of green liquid into a vial containing his water sample. He lowers the vial into a plastic box containing several colored, plastic filters then attempts to match the colors.
    Behind him, in the Applegate River, dorsal fins on a pair of spawning salmon catch the sunlight for an instant then disappear beneath the water's surface.
    "(The) pH is about 7 — good to go for fish; not too acidic, not too basic," says Colvin, a senior at North Valley High School in Merlin.
    Colvin and his classmates are spending the day in Cantrall-Buckley Park near Ruch, learning about all things salmon. Approximately 5,000 school children in Oregon each year partake in this one-day outdoor-education class, Salmon Watch, developed in 1993 by the nonprofit group Freshwater Trust (formerly Oregon Trout).
    Today's students are led by science teacher Greg Patch, a longtime Salmon Watch devotee.
    "The kids here today are not taking science this year. I'm giving them a chance to go into the field," says Patch.
    Learning in the field — as opposed to the classroom — is an opportunity Patch values. These types of opportunities are few and far between.
    "Many of these kids have never done this, had this chance," Patch says.
    The Salmon Watch curriculum is divided into four units: salmon ecology, water quality, macroinvertebrates and riparian ecology. A unit lasts 30 to 40 minutes, then each group of students rotates to the next unit.
    In the salmon-ecology unit, a series of bottles serves to teach about a salmon's early life. In the first bottle is a cluster of unhatched eggs. The next bottle holds a group of alevins, each with a yolk sac attached. Each successive bottle shows a further development in the young salmon, ending with a 2-inch fry.
    "I learned about salmon eggs. Sand can destroy the eggs even though the water is running. Just a little bit of sand," says Ethan Prow, a North Valley senior.
    In addition to the salmon life cycle, students learn about what makes good habitat, the difference between wild and hatchery fish, and how a fish finds its natal stream.
    "A salmon doesn't use its eyes to find its way back, it uses taste and smell. The minerals in the water of each stream are different," says Derek Mauldin, Salmon Watch instructor, to the assembled students.
    After salmon ecology, students put on waders and walk into the stream. Their task is to turn over cobbles and catch the debris in a kicknet. They hope the debris will catch macroinvertebrates — the bugs that become a salmon's meal.
    The bugs are classified according to family. Because of the huge number of macroinvertebrate species, it takes a highly trained scientist to classify one of these bugs to the species — or even genus — level.
    Today's find includes mayflies and stoneflies, bugs that are intolerant of pollution. This indicates good water quality, something salmon and students alike can appreciate.
    Salmon Watch is taught to children from grades 5 through 12, a challenge that requires constant adjustment on the part of the instructors.
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