Friday, May 12, 2006

Environmental education slithers to schools

Express Staff Writer

Frank Lundburg, left, guides a Western rattlesnake into a tube with help from Garren Evans. Lundburg visited Blaine County schools this week to educate students about how reptiles and amphibians fit into the environment. Photo by David N. Seelig

Third-grader Grace Gorham discovered yesterday that snakes are shorter than she thought.

"I thought the snakes could get a lot longer," Grace said.

The 9-year-old attended a Rattlesnake Awareness program sponsored by the Environmental Resource Center at Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum. The ERC brought the program as part of the annual Environmental Education Outreach Program offered to Blaine County second- and third-grade students.

"The aim of the program is to give kids in-depth exposure to environmental topics that aren't necessarily in their general curriculum," said Bree Herndon-Michael, ERC school coordinator.

This week, Frank Lundburg, a Boise-based natural resources consultant and wildlife educator, brought live amphibians and reptiles to all Blaine County third-grade classes to explain how the creatures fit into the environment.

"The whole thrust of the program is for people to learn to identify the snakes in this area," Lundburg said.

Lundburg brought eight live snakes and a Gila monster—a venomous, desert-dwelling lizard—to teach students about amphibians and reptiles. Students discovered how to identify different snakes that live in Idaho. Lundburg walked among students to show the curious kids how to identify snakes.

Holding a rattlesnake and a gopher snake, Lundburg taught students the difference between the poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes. Students listened intently on where the creatures live, how to identify different varieties and general facts on reptiles.

"All snakes are beneficial to the environment. That includes the rattlesnakes, which eat mice," Lundburg said.

Students gained insight into environmental topics with presentations from a variety of guest speakers. The ERC expanded the program this year with a grant from the Blaine County School District Education Foundation. Throughout the eight-week program the experts taught students about endangered species, herpetology, tropical rainforests, wildlife and recycling.

"We are trying to give kids a grounded perspective on what it means to save the planet. We are all part of the ecosystem," Herndon-Michael said.

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