Story and Photos by Ty O’Neil
Scroll down for a gallery of images from the field trip.
Wednesday morning a Lyon County school bus from Fernley pulled into a small, quiet parking lot at the McCarran Ranch Restoration Site, and an excited mass of third graders poured out into the spring sunshine.
The students were there to release into the Truckee River the roughly 50 rainbow trout their class raised. Under the students care the fish grew from eggs into fry ready to be released. The young trout were just a fraction of the estimated 1,000 fry that will be released into Nevada’s waterways through this statewide program.
Before the release wildlife educator and volunteer coordinator Tricia Dutcher talked to the young and somewhat rambunctious audience about the Nevada Department of Wildlife, its work in the preservation of habitat, and the department’s responsibility in monitoring and issuing of hunting and fishing licenses. Dutcher’s questions to the students were answered eagerly, if not always correctly.
The field trip’s venue was a fitting location to discuss matters of preservation as the McCarran Ranch Restoration Site is one of the oldest parts of the lower Truckee that has been restored to its natural state. Martin Swinehart of the Nature Conservancy, the organization that runs the McCarran Ranch Restoration Site, explained how the Army Corps of Engineers had trenched the Truckee making it into what he described as a bathtub shape. After restoration, the Truckee provides ample habitat for a variety of animals, including the students fish.
After Dutcher’s talk the students were broken into three groups rotating through three separate activities.
Erin Garlock ran the first activity regarding water in Nevada which was as educational as it was fun, and occasionally a little wet.
At the second activity station Christine Seliga showed students a variety of hides from aquatic mammals including beavers, muskrats, raccoons, river otters, and minks. The first question each group asked was about the origins of the hides. Seliga explained that some of the animals had been hit by vehicles while other hides were donated by hunters. The skulls, mostly replicas, were another talking point as kids compared teeth and head shape between predators and prey animals.
The highlight was the third activity, releasing the fry into the Truckee. Students went through some learning steps before release. First students were handed a small pendant-sized tank containing one or two fry. After a briefing on the correct and careful way to transport the fish, Dutcher led the kids to a table on the river’s edge.
Small plastic tubs and piles of spoons quickly were surrounded by an unsure but always eager crowd. Dutcher explained to use the spoons to look through the water and sediment in the tubs looking for bugs that the fish would want to eat. The sediment, which was gathered on location, was teeming with a variety of invertebrate life forms, many of which Dutcher explained were mayflies.
After the group discussed and approved of the validity of the habitat it was time to release their rainbow trout. Single file, students lined up with fish pendants at the ready. Dutcher assisted students and showed them how immediately after release the fry would seek shelter.
While some students were a little saddened to see the fish go, everyone was excited to see them in the wild.
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Ty O’Neil is a lifelong student of anthropology with two degrees in the arts. He is far more at home in the tear gas filled streets of war torn countries than he is relaxing at home. He has found a place at This Is Reno as a photojournalist. He hopes to someday be a conflict photojournalist covering wars and natural disasters abroad.