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Learning on the Fly : Students Take to Hills to Study Trout Habitat

March 16, 1995|CYNTHIA WALKER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sixty-four Baldwin Park sixth-graders, laughing and splashing water, scrambled up the rocky banks of Monrovia Creek, looking for the perfect spot to release their tiny brown trout.

As part of Kathleen Ashmore's two life science classes at Elwin Elementary School in the Baldwin Park Unified School District, the students had been observing the fish for the last eight weeks as they matured from small eggs to their current "fry" or pre-fingerling state. On Tuesday, it was time to release the fish into their natural environment. And while only about 1% of the several dozen inch-long trout will survive in the swiftly moving creek, the purpose of the program is to teach youngsters about the trout's habitat, said Daniel K. Iwata, Monrovia parks division manager, who helped organize the event.

"They're learning what trout eat, about their predators, and how nature will take its toll," Iwata said.

And for many of the students from the urban district, the trip to Monrovia Canyon Park was more than a biology lesson--it was a first glimpse of the mountainous wild.

"About 50% of these kids did not know what a trout was," Ashmore said. "And about the same amount had never been to the mountains. Only 10 of them had been fishing before."

The project was part of an educational program "Trout in the Classroom," developed 10 years ago in Northern California by Diane Higgins, a fishery biologist and educator, to encourage young people to help safeguard the fragile environment. When Ashmore heard about the project a year ago, she took off with it.

"I had my husband rig up an old refrigerator to use as an incubator, and the district paid for the trip up to the creek," she said.

Eleven-year-old Christina Olmos, who had never seen a trout before the project, perched on a rock and gently freed her slippery fish into the cool, rushing water.

"I'm sad to see the little fish go," she said. "I would like to have one for a pet someday."

"There were eyes in the eggs and it looked like a little worm," said 11-year-old John Carillo, commenting on the early stage of the trout as he watched the diminutive fish swimming in their new home.

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In the wild, the trout is known to grow up to an inch a month in prime conditions and reaches maturity in one to two years, said Bill Preston, an electrical engineer from Fullerton who got involved with the effort three years ago through his interest in fly-fishing.

Active in the statewide "Trout in the Classroom" program, Preston helps about 20 local school districts set up the fish project in their classrooms. Knee-deep in the tumbling waters, Preston fished up some examples of what trout eat: mayfly and caddis newts, which he passed around to the inquisitive students.

The Elwin students' trout were donated from the Mojave Fish Hatchery in the Mojave Desert, even though they are indigenous to the Angeles Forest streams. Trout populations are declining, however, because of overfishing and pollution, Preston said.

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