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Watershed Field Days teach students about natural resource importance

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YELLOW BAY – The sparkling blue waters of Flathead Lake are some of the cleanest in the world, give life to the animal and plant species nearby, and provide a home to some tiny organisms that often go overlooked. Elementary students from Polson, Bigfork and Ronan learned this and more during the Flathead Lakers annual Watershed Field Days event last week. 

The event helps instill appreciation of Flathead Lake into youngsters at an early age through visits to education stations at the University of Montana Flathead Biological Station. Constanza van der Pahlen has staffed the field days for 15 years. 

“It’s really cool,” van der Pahlen said. “We collect the bugs in the stream and they get to look at them, identify them, and learn how they swim and why they swim like this instead of fluttering. We give them a talk about how to identify them and indicators of clean water, but I try not to talk too much so they can explore. We get great comments all day. I wish we had had this in elementary school. They really have fun.” 

Van der Pahlen used her body to mimic the movements of different water bugs, and gave a heartening rendition of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” that was modified to include “Head, Thorax” and other bug parts. She also showed how the bugs are caught in a D-net. 

After that station, which van der Pahlen said is the most fun, students got to look at the stream wigglers beneath a microscope. 

Exclamations of “a stonefly,” “ooooo, what’s that?” rang throughout the laboratory. 

Later, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Biologist Stephanie Gillin quizzed the students about larger game. 

“Antler or horn?” Gillin asked, holding up an elk antler, and giving an explanation of how to differentiate the between the two similar-looking specimens. 

One of the girls in the group remarked that she wanted to spend all her days looking at stream bugs and investigating scientific things. 

That, Flathead Laker Sue McCormick said, is the point. 

“She can if she wants to,” McCormick said. 

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