RIDGEFIELD — On a cold December morning just before the start of winter break, a group of about 30 second graders from Union Ridge Elementary School clambered along the rocky banks of Gee Creek in Ridgefield’s Abrams Park and watched their teachers release a group of salmon fingerlings.
Students had cared for these fingerlings for the previous several weeks and have primed the tank for the arrival of 250 new salmon eggs in January. Students watch as those eggs hatch into tiny baby salmon (called alevin), grow into fry, then become fingerlings that are big enough to be released on a later trip to Gee Creek.
Administered by Columbia Springs and funded by Clark Public Utilities, the “Salmon in the Classroom” program provides fish tanks to schools across Clark County for an entire semester of hands-on environmental education.
Students also visited Gee Creek to test the water quality before the fingerling release. They took water samples from four spots throughout the park, then returned to school to test the samples. The students compared data to determine the optimal spot for release, giving the salmon fingerlings a greater chance of survival.
Union Ridge teachers are taking the lessons beyond science class, using salmon as a theme across multiple subjects. Fourth grade students drew detailed salmon pictures that line the stairwell to the second-floor fish tank, emblematic of the salmon’s annual swim upstream to spawn. Within the classroom, the students learned about salmon’s honored place in Native American culture.
The project also helps students realize how precarious salmon’s lives can be. Salmon typically lay 5,000 eggs, but only two or three of the fish survive to adulthood. They face many dangers as they grow, including dam turbines, fishing boats, and animals like bears and eagles.
Now, climate change poses yet another threat to young salmon. Last summer’s heat wave made water temperatures unlivable for salmon in the Columbia River, leading to open lesions and white fungus on the fish. Students are seeing firsthand how directly climate change affects the salmon, and how even a small environmental change can have lasting consequences.