Eye On Nature is a collaborative program offered by the Nisqually River Education Project, Chehalis Basin Education Consortium (CBEC), Nisqually Reach Nature Center (NRNC), and Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Our program generates nature literacy in students by giving them an opportunity to experience and learn about the rich diversity of the Nisqually estuary. Nature literacy is more than the intellectual knowledge of place or the names of flowers and birds detached from a meaningful context. It encourages students to use all their senses in the field to understand the interdependent web of life. Nature literacy awakens habits of perception and cultivates a rich knowledge of place that will inspire future stewardship of our wildlife resources.
Eye On Nature field trips take place at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, which has one of the few undeveloped estuaries left in Puget Sound. More than 80% of estuaries in Puget Sound are gone due to diking, draining, and development. The program connects underserved South Sound students from elementary and middle schools in North Thurston, Clover Park, Chehalis, Rochester, and Centralia School Districts and the Wa He Lut Indian School with the unique landscape and biodiversity of the Refuge, providing science education and a lifelong connection to nature.
Participating teachers go through a hands-on training to review the cultural and natural history of the Nisqually. Teachers also learn about the citizen science NatureMapping project to inventory and monitor natural resources, and receive Fostering Outdoor Observation Skills (FOOS), an Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies curriculum. Participating classes receive a pre-trip presentation at school, along with a customized Eye On Nature Field Guide to identify native plants and animals, including threatened salmon, that students are likely to see at BFJNNWR. The guides will include a BFJNNWR Trail map and a NatureMapping data sheet to record the species they encounter on their trip. The field guides serve as an education tool for learning and will be taken home to share with families, extending learning and outreach.
Activities during the field trips allow students to be their active, energetic selves while fostering enthusiasm for native plants and wildlife. Most students will walk 1.5+ miles throughout their trip, learning about estuary restoration at BFJNNWR and the importance of habitat for threatened Chinook salmon, migrating birds, and other species. After the trip, students engage in data analysis, using their curiosity to ask questions to test their theories. Their data can answer questions: Do deer live in Nisqually? Do swallows return the same month each year? Are there fewer young trees where we find invasive plants? Students respond enthusiastically to the meaningful work of searching for, identifying and gathering data on wildlife and nature. At the end of a field trip last spring, one student described his day as “one of the first good days of school…one of the first times I’ve made myself useful”. Eye On Nature reinforces a very important lesson: as young as they are, they too can be scientists.