Joseph students learn about Wallowa County outdoors in OWL program


Joseph fourth, fifth and sixth grade student gather for a group portrait during the Outdoor Wallowa Learning program they attended at Wallowa Lake State Park on May 7-10.

What types of trees grow in Wallowa County? What wildlife remains here throughout the year? And where does our water come from?

These were just a few questions posed to students during the Outdoor Wallowa Learning (OWL) Program on May 7 through 10 at Wallowa Lake State Park.

The fourth, fifth and sixth graders from Joseph and Imnaha schools participated from noon to Monday through Thursday, along with their teachers, Lance Homan, Juanita Waters and Katie Zollman. This year marks the fourth year of this program, which is produced by a partnership between the Wallowa County public schools and Wallowa Resources-Wallowa Mountain Institute (WMI).

Wallowa Resources-WMI recognizes that youths nationwide are losing their connection to nature. This program is designed to get students outside, experience their surroundings hands-on, and provide a foundation for learning about Wallowa County's amazing natural world.

Each day, students were divided into field groups of 11-12 and taught by one of four of Wallowa Resources-WMI's field instructors about four different subjects: plants, wildlife, survival skills, and watersheds. Throughout the week, field groups rotated to different field instructors, so every student learned about each subject.

The "Roots and Shoots" (vegetation of Wallowa County) section, taught by David Mildrexler, introduced students to forest ecology concepts like disturbance, photosynthesis, and succession. The field group explored the forest at the head of Wallowa Lake and discovered such things as the thick bark of the Ponderosa Pine, while searching for charcoal in the forest soil and discussing the role of fire in our forests. They spent time with big Douglas firs, listened to Native American stories about fir cones, and measured and described the needles in tree identification charts. Additionally, they learned about some key structures in forest ecosystems, such as snags and their importance to wildlife species.

The "Survival Skills" class, taught by Peter Avriett, covered survival tactics for plants, wildlife, and humans in Wallowa County. Students played a game called "Life and Death in the Forest" where students played the roles of wildlife to locate sources of food and water hidden throughout the forest, all the while chasing those lower on the food chain and avoiding those who were higher.

Following this game, the focus shifted to human survival in the woods. Students learned what to do if lost, how to conserve body heat, the signs of hypothermia, the ten essentials to carry in the backcountry, how to avoid giardia, and no-trace camping.

The "Wild Side of Wallowa County" (wildlife) was taught by David Duncan, and focused on the interrelations between animals and their environment. Through a variety of hands-on, active games, students learned to note the presence of animals through signs they leave such as feathers, fur, bones, scat, tracks, and chew marks. Students were then able to define the niche animals inhabited within their environment.

In the "Rocks, Rivers & Ridges" (watersheds) section taught by Penny Arentsen, students learned what the parts of a watershed are, how rivers in a watershed function during different seasons, and played a game to learn how we quantify water in a watershed.

During a hike up the West Fork of the Wallowa Trail, students saw the Wallowa River watershed in action.

The last day of the program was a celebration day with a barbecue, group games and a final creative project. For the final project, teams of three students each created an imaginary watershed, animal, and plant, based on their new knowledge from each field class.

Upon completion, students presented their projects to their peers and teachers. Creativity flowed and all enjoyed hearing the imaginary tales of far off lands with wacky plants and animals. Wallowa Resources-WMI is looking forward to continuing this program with the Enterprise OWL program this fall.

For more information on Wallowa Resources-WMI's programs, please contact us at 426-8053 or visit our website at (

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