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Fowler students help salmon find new life at Summer Creek

Students connect to nature, community through science project
by: Jaime Valdez  Fowler Middle School student Zane Hall scoops up tiny salmon fry from a tank in Sue Manning’s classroom. Students raised about 500 Chinook salmon and released them into Summer Creek on Wednesday.

TIGARD - The noise level in Sue Manning's 7th grade science class was deafening Wednesday morning.

Students shouted and giggled as they examined several small cups of water. Almost every student had one, each containing a tiny salmon fry.

'What's yours called?' one boy shouted above the din as he approached a group of schoolmates. 'Mine is called Leroy.'

In a 50-gallon fish tank in the back of the classroom, hundreds of Leroy's siblings swim silently.

The fish didn't know it yet, but they were about to be released into Summer Creek.

Since mid-October students in Manning's class have helped raise about 500 baby fish as part of a yearly science project to raise and release salmon fry.

This is the 12th year that Manning's science class has taken on the challenge of raising the tiny fish, and Manning said that raising the baby salmon is much more than just a science lesson.

'I think it's a good way for the students to connect to the community where they live and make improvements,' Manning said. 'They get to see that it does pay off.'

Manning first heard about raising salmon when she was working to restore Summer Creek, which runs behind Fowler Middle School.

'We had done a lot of restoration by the creek planting trees and shrubs, and I found out that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offered these salmon to raise and I thought that'd be cool,' she said. 'We are trying to make improvements to the creek in the riparian area and I know there had been fish in there in the past and thought it would be good to replenish what is in there now.

'It's another reflection of what we do (to help the river by) planting and pulling ivy. It's a part of the cycle.'

Every year Manning receives 500 tiny salmon eggs to raise with her class.

'They brought them in a cooler, and the eggs were very tiny, with little red dots,' said 12-year-old student Brandon Odle. 'You can see the little dot of their eye. It was pretty cool.'

The eggs were just starting to hatch when students left for Thanksgiving break, and the once-empty fishtank was filled with fish when they returned.

'That was really fun to see when we got back from Thanksgiving how big they had gotten,' said fellow seventh-grader Jordan Lockrem. 'It was such a big change.'

The students have been waiting weeks for Wednesday morning's release day, and many ran as fast as they could with their cups of water down a small path to Summer Creek.

Lining up along the muddy bank, they poured the tiny salmon into the stream.

Many of the fish disappeared into the dark water, but a few swam calmly near the surface for a few moments, catching their bearings before darting off.

'Fishies need a home too,' said student Emily Welte. 'Mrs. Manning said they are endangered so its good to put them out there, especially in this little creek.'

There's no guarantee that any of these fish will survive - it's a long swim to the Tualatin River, Odle said - but the hope is that one day the released salmon will be able to come back to Fowler Middle School to spawn.

'We are doing this to help repopulate the fish in the creek,' classmate Megan Priaulx said. 'We have to help repopulate because a lot of them won't make it to the Tualatin (river). The more fish we put in, the more chances for them to make it there and back to spawn and the more that the food chain will survive.'

Manning isn't sure how many salmon have returned to the area over the last 12 years to spawn, but says she holds out hope.

'It sure would be nice if they make it back,' she said.