Washington teens lend a hand in Carson Valley | RecordCourier.com

Washington teens lend a hand in Carson Valley

by Caryn Haller
Emma Gregory, 16, who is interning at the Nature Conservancy checks the growth of a caterpillar she is raising.
Jim Grant | The Record-Courier

By inspecting each milkweed leaf with a magnifying glass for larvae, students from Tacoma, Wash., saved nearly a dozen monarch butterflies at the Nature Conservancy’s River Fork Ranch.

As part of conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future program, four Science and Math Institute High School students traded in their summer vacations for green jobs constructing hiking trails, monitoring monarch butterfly eggs, rehabilitating an outdoor classroom, creating habitat for western pond turtles and willows and monitoring water quality.

“I wanted to explore being in an environmental situation,” Mady Zent said of applying for the program. “I feel completely different already. Before, I wasn’t as invested in nature, and didn’t see the possibilities in the work.”

Water monitoring along the Discovery Trail in Genoa was the 17-year-old’s favorite project.

“We were in nature and I had one objective, to make sure we had the water quality checked out,” she said. “I felt immediately you can see what is happening up there and what needs to be changed.”

Amanda Smith, 17, said she enjoyed all the work projects.

“The butterfly monitoring is sad when you find nothing, but today I found a larva so I’m really excited,” Amanda said. “I’m learning that being a citizen scientist is just as important as being a scientist, especially with the monarchs.”

Once the larvae hatch into caterpillars and change into butterflies, the students will tag them and the data will be part of the Southwest Monarch Study. The purpose of the project is to track the migration of these butterflies.

“It really helps gathering data because not everybody can be everywhere,” Amanda said. “I really love being here. It’s amazing.”

Pulling weeds and clearing the space for field trips to The Nature Conservancy was Kaisa Nordal’s favorite project.

“It’s so satisfying,” she said. “We live in the city, but after this I’ll be more inclined to go out in nature. When you’re in nature, you have more interest in protecting it.”

The students arrived in Carson Valley on July 6, and are staying until July 31 completing projects at Gardnerville Elementary School, the Pacific Crest Trail (near Blue Lakes in Alpine County) and at Independence Lake Preserve.

“It’s fascinating for them because they come from such a different climate. It’s neat to expose them to other regions,” mentor Lucie Kroschel said. “They’re also learning life skills like living together, cooking meals and budgeting. These kids are more or less urbanites.”

Emma Gregory, 16, is wanting to pursue a career in the environmental field.

“I’m learning a lot about butterfly life cycles, the area and the wildlife,” she said. “It’s definitely more deserty, and it’s a very different environment.”

Carson River Project Director Duane Petite said the students are helping The Nature Conservancy complete its conservation work.

“It’s critical to achieve our objective,” he said. “Without them these tasks would not get completed.”