Sturgeon Pen Pals

Al and Gretchen talk about sturgeon with West Salem Elementary sutdents for Environmental Day. Photo courtesy of Lisa Jones/West Salem Elementary.

 

It started with a question: How many students along the Mississippi River would be able to recognize a lake sturgeon? In the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin, kids are often exposed to the outdoors. It’s a rolling landscape of streams, wetlands, bluffs, prairies and caves, and many students fish with their parents and grandparents, sometimes from their own backyard. But, what about the fish that don’t end up on the end of their hook? How much do they know about fish that are less common?
The Midwest Fisheries Center has a long history with lake sturgeon conservation. Since the 1990s, the center’s biologists have worked with tribes on restoring and monitoring lake sturgeon populations. Helping young people become more knowledgeable about lake sturgeon conservation keeps the program relevant, and in turn, it helps the biologists feel that the public values their work.
Taking the lake sturgeon into the classroom and telling their story to the students could only help. At West Salem Elementary School’s Environmental Day this last spring, I asked the students if they thought lake sturgeon lived in Wisconsin. Among six classrooms of 20 children, only half of the students were certain lake sturgeon could be found in the state, and only a couple students could identify the sturgeon in our tank.
I led the students through a series of questions to introduce them to this charismatic fish: How many of you have ever wanted to see an animal that has lived alongside a dinosaur? How big do you think a lake sturgeon can grow? How long can they live? Rather than presenting the facts, asking questions engages students and gives them ownership of their own educational process. We talked about the 19th Century caviar craze that led to near extirpation for the lake sturgeon in Wisconsin, and how we, the Wisconsin people, brought their fish back from the brink. We talked about the cultural importance of lake sturgeon for First Nations people and how spawning sturgeon was a gift at the end of a hard Wisconsin winter long before there were grocery stores to help us all survive. They witnessed the Menominee Tribe’s fish dance via a video provided by the Wisconsin First Nations. We talked about the bumpy scutes that help young vulnerable sturgeon survive and their cartilaginous skeletons, and the importance of fish passage. All of these details helped the students flesh out the story of lake sturgeon and their own place in its history.
Al Brinkman, Midwest Fisheries Center and Genoa National Fish Hatchery volunteer, and member of the Friends of the Upper Mississippi, talked to the students about the thousands of sturgeon he microchipped at Genoa last summer before they and thousands more were shipped to other states to be released. It was important they understood that sturgeon persist in this state and others due to civic engagement from the Wisconsin people.
I ended the session by asking the students to help me out. I wanted to wish the sturgeon a good journey as they migrate our waterways and as they travel to other states to be released by our hatcheries. I asked the students to write postcards to the sturgeon as they contemplated what these young sturgeon need to survive.


Gallery of sturgeon pen pal postcards at the Midwest Fisheries Center. Photo by Gretchen Newberry/USFWS.

Many of the postcards reflect a newfound value of these ancient fish, their role as a cultural resource and what these unique fish need to survive. Moreover, it provided a conduit of communication between the public and our biologists on this conservation work, and we have enjoyed their enthusiastic and colorful art.
Thanks to Genoa National Fish Hatchery for providing the lake sturgeon!

Raena Parsons receives regional Sense of Wonder award

 

Raena Parsons teaches fish identification to elementary school kids at Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center. Photo by Orey Eckes/USFWS.

Raena Parsons, an environmental education specialist stationed at Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin, is the 2019 recipient of the regional Sense of Wonder award. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service use the Sense of Wonder award to honor employees who have designed, implemented or shown visionary leadership in an interpretive or environmental education program that fosters a sense of wonder and enhances public stewardship of the country’s fish and wildlife heritage. Nominees are evaluated on their ability to use the principles of interpretation and environmental education to create original and innovative methods of connecting the public with our resources and programs.

Raena was selected as this year’s regional recipient due to her extraordinary work as the fish hatchery’s first and only full time interpretative staff person. In addition to visiting schools, Raena welcomes and educates visitors at the Great River Road Interpretive Center, a 5,000 square foot facility that opened in 2018. The new visitor center includes educational exhibits focused on the natural resources of the Upper Mississippi River, the history of the region, the hatchery’s species recovery work and soon, through Raena’s efforts, an exhibit highlighting the center’s rooftop pollinator garden. Raena’s innovative approach connects static interpretive materials with physical interactive interpretation. As a result, visitors are able to get an up close look at how beehives function and how pollinators help fisheries resources and the larger ecosystem. This project is being done in addition to Raena’s ongoing work to engage residents and visitors to the area through interpretive programming for school groups, coordination of hatchery events and providing a presence at community events.

The Sense of Wonder award is coordinated by the National Wildlife Refuge System. Raena’s win as a Fish and Aquatic Conservation employee illustrates that like national wildlife refuges, national fish hatcheries play an important role in connecting the American public to the country’s resources. Raena’s regional selection qualifies her to compete for the national Sense of Wonder award, which will be announced in November at the National Association of Interpretation conference in Denver, Colorado.

Congratulations to Raena on being selected for this prestigious award! Learn more about Genoa National Fish Hatchery and the Great River Road Interpretive Center to plan your visit today.

They Grow up so Fast!

Hines Emerald Dragonfly larvae have been growing rapidly on station. May 30 arrival (left) and (right) just 23 days later. Credit: Angela Baran Dagandesh, USFWS

BY ANGELA BARAN DAGENDESH, GENOA NFH

Summer is here and the Hine’s emerald dragonfly larvae arrived on station May 30th, hand delivered by the University of South Dakota (USD) staff and students attending the Captive Rearing and Augmentation Work Group meeting at Genoa National Fish Hatchery, (NFH). Genoa NFH began working with the dragonflies in 2015 after receiving funds through the Cooperative Recovery Initiative Grant, allowing the station to purchase equipment, build a mobile rearing unit and hire temporary staff. Over the last four years, the program has grown to include the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Brookfield Zoo and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. This working group has established restored habitat in some of the Forest Preserves as well as creating new captive rearing locations, allowing increased production. Through the collaborative process, all parties are beginning to share information about new rearing techniques or how they have handled any complications so the program as a whole is growing and the larvae are receiving the best care possible.

This summer the station received larvae on May 30th and placed them into cages in the mobile rearing unit on May 31st. This mobile rearing unit allows the larvae to be in a highly visible tank to monitor the small larvae closely during the first couple weeks on station as well as serving as a temporary quarantine facility, keeping the larvae in an isolated water source. The mobile unit was designed to use pond water, drawing from the pump station it is located next to. This source water coming from the ponds is full of natural food sources for the larvae, teeming with zooplankton to eat and is also at the ideal rearing temperature for the larvae. Water conditions were ideal early summer and the larvae grew enough to be moved to larger cages out in one of the hatchery ponds on June 22, 2019. The cages will be checked periodically throughout the summer to monitor the larval growth and the ponds are monitored daily for oxygen levels and temperature. At the end of the summer, the larvae will be weighed and measured again and then transferred back to USD for final larval growth and eventual emergence in 2020.

 Endangered Hines Emerald Dragonfly. Credit: USFWS

Sturgeon Pen Pals: Connecting Wisconsin Students with their Lake sturgeon

Gallery of sturgeon pen pal postcards at the Midwest Fisheries Center. Credit: Gretchen Newberry, USFWS.

BY GRETCHEN NEWBERRY, MIDWEST FISHERIES CENTER

It started with a question: How many students along the Mississippi River would be able to recognize a lake sturgeon? In the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin, kids are often exposed to the outdoors. It’s a rolling landscape of streams, wetlands, bluffs, prairies and caves, and many students fish with their parents and grandparents, sometimes from their own backyard. But, what about the fish that don’t end up on their hook? How much do they know about fish that are less common?

The Midwest Fisheries Center has a long history with lake sturgeon conservation. Since the 1990s, the center’s biologists have worked with tribes on restoring and monitoring lake sturgeon populations. Helping young people become more knowledgeable about lake sturgeon conservation increases public awareness promotes the value of this work.

Taking the lake sturgeon into the classroom and telling their story to the students could only help. At West Salem Elementary School’s Environmental Day this last spring, I asked the students if they thought lake sturgeon lived in Wisconsin. Among six classrooms of 20 children, only half of the students were certain lake sturgeon could be found in the state, and only a couple students could identify the sturgeon in our tank.

The students were led through a series of questions to introduce them to this charismatic fish: How many of you have ever wanted to see an animal that has lived alongside a dinosaur? How big do you think a lake sturgeon can grow? How long can they live? Rather than presenting the facts, asking questions engages students and gives them ownership of their own educational process. We talked about the 19th Century caviar craze that led to near extirpation for the lake sturgeon in Wisconsin, and how we, the Wisconsin people, brought their fish back from the brink. We talked about the cultural importance of lake sturgeon for First Nations people and how spawning sturgeon was a gift at the end of a hard Wisconsin winter long before there were grocery stores to help us all survive. They witnessed the Menominee Tribe’s fish dance via a video provided by the Wisconsin First Nations. We talked about the bumpy scutes that help young vulnerable sturgeon survive, their cartilaginous skeletons, and the importance of fish passage. All of these details helped the students flesh out the story of lake sturgeon and their own place in its history.

Al Brinkman, Midwest Fisheries Center and Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) volunteer, and member of the Friends of the Upper Mississippi, talked to the students about his work coded wire tagging thousands of sturgeon at Genoa NFH last summer. It was important the students understood that sturgeon persist in this state and others due to civic engagement from the Wisconsin people.

The session ended by asking the students to help me out. I wanted to wish the sturgeon a good journey as they migrate our waterways and as they travel to other states to be released by our hatcheries. I asked the students to write postcards to the sturgeon as they contemplated what these young sturgeon need to survive.

Friends of the Upper Mississippi Pollinator Garden

Our monarchs have returned to our pollinator garden! Check out this young caterpillar on our milkweed plant in our front lawn garden. Thank you to the Friends of the Upper Mississippi River for the pollinator garden. Stay tuned for more species we have found in our urban pollinator garden. We have counted up to five caterpillars on our milkweed plants. Photo: Gretchen Newberry, USFWS.

Community Days

The Midwest Fisheries Center and the Friends of the Upper Mississippi were at Onalaska and West Salem Communities and had a great time with the fishing game and a puzzle quizzing folks on their fish ID skills.

Figure 1. Photo: A table with a paddlefish mount, activity backpack, a puzzle, brochures and people casting with fishing poles in the background, by Gretchen Newberry/USFWS.

Students try pipetting into wells, as part of Whitney Genetics Laboratory’s station. Photo: Gretchen Newberry, USFWS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

helps the students with fish identification. Photo: Gretchen Newberry, USFWS.

Spring Outreach Events Reach More Than 3,000 People!

A family smiles with their catch at Kids Spring Fishing Day in May. Photo by Megan Bradley/USFWS.

 

More than 3,000 people connected with hatchery staff at outreach events and school trips this spring, including more than 1,900 kids! Staff traveled to 9 outreach events at schools, museums, and nature centers conducting programs on mussels, fish, and other aquatic organisms. On station, staff hosted 21 school field trips ranging in age from pre-school to college. Students toured hatchery facilities, explored the Great River Road Interpretive Center, and some groups had the unique opportunity to view fish relocation operations. A highlight from this season includes Kids Spring Fishing Day on May 18, 2019, where close to 250 people joined hatchery staff and volunteers for a day of fishing fun. 136 children first walked through a set of 4 learning stations. After an hour of learning more about fish and conservation, the kids were allowed to put their newfound knowledge to practical use with a 2 hour open fishing event on a stocked hatchery pond. Most children went home with their five fish limit. A light lunch was provided by our Friends group, and many door prizes were distributed thanks to local area vendors supporting the event. Many thanks to the staff, sponsors, volunteers, and Friends of the Upper Mississippi for making this event possible.
Are you interested in bringing your group to the hatchery? Contact the hatchery Environmental Education Specialist, Raena Parsons, for more information. Raena_Parsons@fws.gov or 608-689-2605.

Tomah VA Medical Center Fishing Tournament a Success!

Staff measure the fish caught at the Tomah VA Medical Center’s Fishing Tournament. Photo by USFWS.

The 29th Annual Hospital-Wide Tomah VA Medical Center’s Fishing Tournament was held on Wednesday, May 15. The 7th and 8th grade class (125 students) from the Tomah Middle School escorted the Veterans to the VA’s Fishing Pond. The Annual Fishing Tournament is co-sponsored by the Vernon County American Legion Associations, the Genoa National Fish Hatchery, and the Midwest Fisheries Center (which includes the following offices: Fish and National Wildlife Conservation Office and the La Crosse Fish Health Center). Staff from the Genoa National Fish Hatchery stocked 500 Rainbow Trout in preparation for the annual fishing tournament held at the VA pond. Genoa National Fish Hatchery staff and volunteers also provide an annual fish fry for the veterans. The Vernon County American Legion Associations donated 100 pounds of flat head catfish that were served after a successful morning of fishing. The Tomah VAMC houses 270 veterans focusing on medical specialties such as acute medicine, acute and long-term psychiatry; vocational and social rehabilitation; Alzheimer’s assessment and management; residential substance abuse treatment and post-traumatic stress disorder.
By: Darla Wenger

Pond Production Season Begins at GNFH

Clouds reflect off a hatchery pond. Photo by Raena Parsons/USFWS

Pond production season is in full swing at Genoa NFH. As a new employee at the hatchery, I’m making my first journey through the annual cycle. I was promised it would be busy and hectic at times, and I haven’t been disappointed. We kicked off the season dividing bloodstock out from their overwintering ponds. The Yellow Perch are the first to take action. We barely got them into their pond in time from the overwintering pond, with eggs and milt running from the fish as they were going into the pond. These will be ready to be harvested in mid-June and sent to their new homes in several state and federal waters. Walleye were next. Once fry were hatched from the egg battery, four production ponds were stocked with around 100,000 fry each towards the end of April. Since then, we have focused on water quality and zooplankton production to start growing these guys up. Phase 1 harvest is underway as of this writing. From there, ponds will be re-stocked at new rates, with any surplus going to state and tribal partners. As waters have warmed, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Bluegill, and Black Crappie have started to do their thing. About 16,000 Smallmouth Bass fry were pulled from the nests in the end of May and restocked into 2 ponds to continue grow out. Soon, it will be time to conduct the phase 1 harvest on the others and divvy them to their new ponds to continue growing. As I take my first trip through a production season, I continue to learn something new every day. I can’t help but ponder the future for these fish. Some may find their way onto somebody’s fishing line and provide a meal or a smile. Some might produce the offspring that somebody catches years down the road. Fun to think about the possibilities! By: Nicholas Bloomfield
Genoa National Fish Hatchery’s mission is to recover, restore, maintain and enhance fish and aquatic resources on a basin-wide and national level by producing over 35 aquatic species of varying life stages, participating in active conservation efforts with our partners, and becoming a positive force in the community by educating future generations on the benefits of conservation stewardship.

New Interactive Multimedia Display Installed in Interpretive Center

        The Mississippi River Multimedia Gallery sits out front of our Mississippi River Room, located on the bottom level of the Great River Road Interpretive Center. Photo by Raena Parsons/USFWS.

Thanks to our generous sponsors: Friends of the Upper Mississippi, Friends of Pool 9, Dairyland Power Cooperative, and the Wisconsin Mississippi River Parkway Commission, the Great River Road Interpretive Center has a new interactive multimedia display. Produced by Hamline University, The Mississippi River Multimedia Gallery features a wide variety of multimedia content ranging from photo galleries about hatchery programs to educational games and videos. Users have the opportunity to explore the vast history, culture, and story of the mighty Mississippi while also getting more in-depth information about the work Genoa National Fish Hatchery accomplishes annually. Stop by the interpretive center soon to explore this wonderful addition! By: Raena Parsons