Snorkeling the Stream

By EMILY BOGAN

Deciphering good fish habitat can be difficult, especially from the bank. Therefore, Wildlife in the West students got all the way in the water to see for themselves the different habitat types within the banks. Bull trout are one of the focal species of the program, offering a different view of “wildlife” than the common terrestrial species we always hear about. Studying the tributaries that bull trout use to spawn can help us learn more about and protect this native fish. To do this best, students went from waders to full on wet suits and snorkels. All of the students agreed this was one of the most direct forms of “hands on learning” they have ever experienced!  

 
Students geared up for snorkeling a bull trout stream (Dunham Creek) in the Blackfoot. During our afternoon in Dunham, multiple cyclists flew past on their way to Ovando during the epic Tour Divide race which follows the Great Divide mountain bike route.  We hope the bikers appreciated all our cheering, but assume they were puzzled by a bunch of people in wetsuits spread out along a random, lonely stretch of gravel road.

Students geared up for snorkeling a bull trout stream (Dunham Creek) in the Blackfoot. During our afternoon in Dunham, multiple cyclists flew past on their way to Ovando during the epic Tour Divide race which follows the Great Divide mountain bike route.  We hope the bikers appreciated all our cheering, but assume they were puzzled by a bunch of people in wetsuits spread out along a random, lonely stretch of gravel road.

 
Students got to view underwater habitat with both masks and an underwater viewing scope, or bathyscope.

Students got to view underwater habitat with both masks and an underwater viewing scope, or bathyscope.

One of the major learning points from the stream ecology section of the program was the new hydrology and stream feature terminology the students learned. Some had no previous knowledge of the intricacies of streams and how to identify or talk about them using correct language. University of Vermont student Eli Estey says he feels “more prepared” to go back to school having a better knowledge of what goes on beneath the water. 

 
 

Floating down a stream is fun no matter what, but our time in the water proves it is also a great learning opportunity. Although the water was frigid and some students could not stay in more than 15 minutes, they still learned a lot by actually getting in the water instead of just looking at the surface. This hands-on approach is what makes Swan Valley Connections so special and Wildlife in the West such an awesome program. Getting the wet suits on may have been a struggle, but it paid off with a great afternoon in the water!