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Eco Days Lessons for the Future

By Staff | Oct 2, 2015

Rugby High School seventh graders find fun in learning on a recent Eco Day field trip

In September, the seventh graders from Rugby had the privilege of going to the Balta Dam for the award winning Eco Ed Camp, where students develop a sense of environmental stewardship and heightened awareness of environmental quality in the community. The statewide Eco Ed program is a two- day camp/one day tour that helps students learn how their everyday actions affect the environment. The kids were required to visit five different stations (prairie, soils, woodlands, wetlands, and water quality), with each station providing them with information concerning certain aspects of the environment.

Even though this event is very important and there is a lot of information for the students to learn, the developers of the camp wanted to make sure the students had fun, so they would stay engaged and retain more.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, some 12,000 students have attended an Eco-Ed tour or camp in North Dakota to date. As one former student put it, “I had so much fun at camp that I was surprised that I actually learned something!”

Kasey Okke, an agriculture education teacher in Rugby, believes this camp is vital, not only for our state, but the entire world. Okke said “Eco friendly farming is very important to our state, as well as the rest of the United States, and all of the countries around the world. Producing a crop food is a task that is not easy, nor will it get easier with the diminishing amounts of land, and the demand for food rapidly increasing. I believe the Rugby area is full of progressive farmers and ranchers that understand that taking care of the land will pay dividends in the long run. The precision use of fertilizers and chemicals, and the use of no-till, strip-cropping, and contour-cropping has vastly improved the land and what it can produce. Thank you farmers and ranchers for what you do for our community and state!”

When speaking with Melissa Goddard, a junior high science teacher at RHS, she thinks this camp is important because “this is real world application. Students tend to retain the information much better when it is hands-on. This program also gives them an opportunity to learn more about different careers that are a possibility for them. Students whose parents are farmers can see that what they have learned from their parents really is applicable all over the region and the state. It makes them feel proud that they know what the presenters are talking about.”

Yolanda Schmidt, extension agent/agriculture and natural resources for North Dakota State University, who taught the Prairie/Rangeland section at Eco Ed Day, said, “I enjoy teaching this section as I have always enjoyed and been fascinated by the diversity of plants that inhabit them. One of my favorite classes in college was my intro to Rangeland Management class – especially learning to identify the plants and grasses. It is my hope that some of the youth who attended will become as captivated by our rangelands as I did.” She continued, When we talk about rotational grazing and how not overgrazing helps maintain healthy plant root systems which prevents runoff and erosion it is amazing to see them using what they’ve already learned in science class about photosynthesis and plant development to apply it to managing and maintaining healthy rangeland.” She concluded, “My favorite part of this lesson is the plant id part where I pick about 8-10 of the grasses, forbs, and shrubs growing in the area and we have a little plant id lesson. Some of the plants are even know to have medicinal uses so the kids get a kick out of that. I hope to develop a 4-H Range Judging team in the next year or two”

In speaking with the students there you can tell they had a blast, and they all were eager to share their thoughts and experiences of Eco Days:

Lauren Voeller: “Us seventh graders went on a field trip called “Eco Days.” My favorite thing we did was water quality. We learned about aquatic animals. We went in the water with waiters. This was a very fun field trip.”

Ethan Brandt: “I had a fun time at the Eco Ed trip. My favorite thing there was the water quality person. He was funny and we got to go into the water and learn about our environment.”

Timothy Groves: “We learned about Wetlands, Walter Quality, range lands, trees, and soil conservation. It is important to learn about our environment and keep it clean!!”

Isaiah Bundy-Smith: “My favorite thing I did was going in the water and scoop up all the different parasites and animals in the water. We learned about the water quality and different things in the water. It’s important to know about it because it shows you the different things in our environment, and what’s in the water.”

Christian Loughman: “When we went on our ECO Ed trip we learned many different things, including rangeland, water purification, trees, wetlands, and water quality. I think it was important for us so when we go into the wilderness we know something about the environment we are exploring.”

Blake Haakenson: “One thing I learned on Eco – Ed was on range land, cows like only grass and goats like to eat the other leafy plants. This is important because if you know this you can get other animals with your cow to balance the plants and weeds don’t take the pasture over.”

Cole Wentz: “During our Eco Ed day I learned that soil affects almost everything in the environment. It was important because I understand the environment a lot more than I did before.”

In order for an educational camp to fulfil its potential, it requires instructors that are passionate about the subject. Luckily for the kids who attended the Eco Ed camp, that is just what they got. Kenneth Anthony Fornet from Jay Clark Cellar National Wildlife Refuge was there, and he says “This day is important because we really want to communicate to our communities, especially to our young people, the importance of wetlands and pass that heritage and that legacy on to the next generation.”

Angie Berthlamy, from Dakota College at Bottineau, is a natural resources professor. She spoke to the children about taking care of soil and the water that goes through it. She told us that “The camp is really important because we need to teach our young people the importance of taking care of our natural resources.”

One of the unintended consequences of Eco Days was to see how local farmers cared for their land. This care was evident when viewing the waterways; even though nestled next to farmlands, they were alive and well with aquatic life. Coming from Wisconsin and a county where 32 percent of the wells tested are contaminated by manure runoff and the waterways in the county are labeled dead by the EPA, it is refreshing to see farmers who love and respect the land they farm so much they take care of it.

Schmidt, who has contact with the local farmers as an extension agent, said, “I think our local farmers and ranchers do a great job taking care of the land in their care. Many of them also take advantage of conservation programs offered through our local Natural Resource Conservation Service and Pierce County Soil Conservation District. There are a number in the area practicing minimum tillage and beginning to utilize cover crops.” She concluded, ” I also get very excited to see and hear of new shelterbelt tree plantings going in. That’s great to see too!”

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