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USFWS Teams up with iUrban Teen Tech to Combat Nature Deficit Disorder


Bureau: Fish and Wildlife Service

Students closely observing fish biologists as they spawn salmon.
Students get up close with biologists spawning salmon at Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery.
Photo by Meghan Kearney,USFWS.

Over the past decade, nature lovers around the world have formed a few less-than-satisfying conclusions. First, kids are becoming more addicted to technology and less in tuned with their natural worlds. Nature Deficit Disorder is real, and the continuing growth of technology in sectors like video gaming, hand-held devices, and virtual realities are keeping kids glued to screens. Second, as society continues to urbanize, even more youth are bound to cities where nature isn’t as obvious. As these doubts increase, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes it one of our top priorities to get kids back to nature. Luckily, we recently partnered up with iUrban Teen Tech, a group who takes all of these hindrances to connecting with nature and turns them into positive outlets for urban youth.

 Students looking over a bridge at a USFWS fish hatchery.
Students from iUrban Teen gather around the fish ladder to observe salmon at Little White Salmon National
Fish Hatchery. Photo by Meghan Kearney, USFWS
.

This month, the Service’s Diversity and Civil Rights Program, along with Fisheries, External Affairs and the Connecting People with Nature Team organized two field trips for approximately 25 teens from the Portland, Ore.,area to experience the science, technology and nature found within a future fish and wildlife career. I joined the group for their final stop at Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery, where the students learned day-to-day activities of a fish biologist, witnessed the hatchery’s highest salmon return count in more than 100 years, and got up close and personal at the salmon-spawning station.

 USFWS fish biologist taking a scale sample from a fish.

Fish biologists at the hatchery take scale samples from each of the fish. Photo by Meghan Kearney, USFWS.

"What is your favorite thing to do ever?" I asked our youngest and most enthused student. She didn’t blink. "Watch TV!" she screamed. "Watch TV?!" I asked her, "but don’t you like to play outside too?" she paused again as if I had tried to trick her. "Oh yeah, I love to play outside! I like playing tag!" Bingo. This made in easy transition into explaining to her how fish biologists get to "tag" fish (Don’t know what I mean? Check out this video). Turns out, we found her connection. By the end of the day she was begging to help clean fish eggs inside the incubation room.

Students learning about salmon-egg incubation at a USFWS fish hatchery. 
Students learn about the process of salmon egg incubation. Photo by Meghan Kearney, USFWS.

Just a week before – the same group of students visited with biologists from Abernathy fish Technology Center to learn about fish genetics, and how this process helps conserve the Pacific Northwest’s fish populations. Most of these students joined iUrbanTeen based on their interests in technology, the exact thing keeping kids glued to screens. Here though, between the work of iUrban, and partnerships with groups like USFWS this boom in technology, showing no signs of slowing down, is instead channeled through education, knowledge and positive connections with nature.

We know by now, that technology can keep our kids away from the outdoors but, with the help of iUrban Teen, we have learned that it can also enhance their growth as intelligent and enthusiastic future conservationists.

By: Meghan Kearney, USFWS.
Jan 28, 2014

A version of this article was posted Dec. 10 on the USFWS Pacific Region Tumblr Blog.