Inspiring the Next Generation of Environmentalist: Another Successful Salmon Expedition Season for SYRCL’s Education Department

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“We only protect what we love, we only love what we understand, and we only understand what we are taught.” 

Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Environmental educators at the South Yuba River Citizens League just finished up another season of Salmon Expedition field trips on the lower Yuba. These trips take students to see spawning wild Chinook salmon, learn about the history of our watershed and the Nisenan people within it, and visit the Lower Long Bar restoration site. This program has been running for seventeen years and this year was our largest one yet! The Expedition season runs from early October to mid-November, when we can expect to see spring and fall run Chinook, with trips going out five days a week. This year SYRCL educators hosted more than 2,000 students, teachers, chaperones and community members.  

This program is about more than just getting kids out on the river. SYRCL educators also visit students in the classroom before and after their field trips. During the pre-field trip lesson, students learn the salmon lifecycle and challenges these anadromous fish face on their long journey. On the field trip, students see first-hand the impacts of the California Gold Rush, spot salmon redds, and learn how restoration is revitalizing the ecosystem. After the field trip, SYRCL educators return to classrooms to reiterate concepts from the field trip and dive deeper into the benefits of restoration work along the lower Yuba. When we revisit schools, the lasting impact these trips have on students is very clear. A teacher from Edgewater Elementary said that students from her class “loved seeing the salmon, and the information [taught]about the Nisenan people was extremely important for them to learn. They bring it up in class often and want to learn more.”  

Some of the information taught throughout the program is not always easy for elementary age students to digest. SYRCL’s education team has worked to carefully curate program curriculum that address hard topics in ways that students can understand. We use modeling activities to conceptualize the way humans have changed the watershed over time. Students model how the Gold Rush impacted the Nisenan, the salmon, and the river’s hydrology.  

SYRCL’s education department is made up of 3 individuals who have years of experience in environmental education. Teachers this year stated that we have “excellent student management, which is rare on field trips!” One teacher said, “[I] love everything about how [SYRCL] instructors get students’ attention [and use] strategies for helping them remember terms” (Gabrielle Tejada).  These trips would not be possible without the dedication of SYRCL’s education department, but we could not do this work on our own.  

SYRCL partners with the river rafting company H2O Adventures to get students (and adults) safely down river while simultaneously pointing out salmon, redds, eagles, and all sorts of awesome wildlife. The guides really make these trips possible by keeping students safe on the river and acting as the salmon experts on their boats.  

Contributions from varied funders also help make the program accessible to more students every year. Thanks to the continued grant funding from the Yuba Water Agency, Yuba County 4th graders are able to participate in the program at no cost. The Yuba Water Agency grant also funded the expansion of SYRCL’s gear loaner program and allowed us to purchase custom Salmon Expedition water bottles for each Yuba County student that attended the field trip. Funding from the Teichert Foundation and the Latrobe Fund helped offset student field trip costs throughout Nevada County.  

This year SYRCL hosted 2,034 students, teachers, chaperones, and community members on either school field trips or community weekend trips.  

Students need to experience and build a connection to the natural world for the sake of their development. They also need to increase their environmental literacy so they grow into adults who understand that we all depend on nature.  SYRCL is proud to offer these trips to students throughout the Yuba River watershed. Our hope is that these trips expose students to content and places they would have not seen otherwise. Getting children into nature and thinking critically about the role humans play in protecting it is a major focus of SYRCL’s education department.

If you would like to help ensure more students are able to participate in SYRCL’s education programs, please consider donating today.  

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