Snelling students assist in restoring Merced River habitat

Special to the Sun-StarMarch 12, 2012 

Students at a rural school in Snelling are helping to make life a little easier for fish in the Merced River.

As part of a multiyear habitat restoration known as the Merced River Corridor Restoration Plan, the students have been working with Cramer Fish Sciences on an overhaul of the Merced River near Snelling.

The most recent stage of the restoration has students planting trees on the bank of the river.

"This group of kids has been working with us on the restoration project," said Joe Merz, a biologist with Cramer. "Do rooted plants do better than unrooted plants? Do cuttings that are big do better than cuttings that are small? We're getting them connected with the project and their local environment."

The group of 22 sixth- and seventh-grade students in Joyce Mattos' class split off into smaller groups to help cut branch-ends of trees, plot the course for planting and eventually plant the trees.

"We're making a better habitat for the salmon," said seventh-grader Cassie Gasper, 12. "(We're hoping to see that) the trees are growing and sprouting leaves with good roots."

Merz said that besides teaching the students about the plants and animals that live in and near the river, the goal is to ultimately make the area more sustainable for the local inhabitants.

" The primary goal is habitat restoration for salmon and steelhead," said Merz.

This isn't the first time Snelling students have helped with the restoration project -- they have made previous trips to the river, measuring rocks and taking water samples.

That the students have been doing this for a few years and know the desired outcome gives them more of a stake in it and allows for a great experience of place-based learning.

Place-based education is a philosophy in which students and school staff can pitch in to help solve a community's problem, while giving the students hands-on, real-world problem-solving experience.

Mattos, the students' teacher, sees how this activity directly connects with activities in the classroom.

"It ties in with the life science and earth science curriculum ... even more than that, it brings science in the realm of reality," she said. "Because we live on the Merced River, they've been involved in water quality monitoring, and this is a logical extension to see why the quality of water matters and why the habitat matters along the river. We have been involved with this project since its inception."

So how will the class continue with the project?

"In two or three months we'll come back out again and see what percentage of the trees survived," said Merz.

For more information on the restoration plan, go to www.fishsciences.net/ projects/merced_river_ranch.

Quevedo is the public information officer for the Merced County Office of Education.

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