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e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

14 Students Get Close Look at Waterways


from the Watertown Daily Times
by Sean Nealon, Times Staff

CLAYTON - A group of college students attending class in the Niagara Falls area learned firsthand Wednesday about environmental issues facing the other end of Lake Ontario.

The Niagara University group of 14 graduate and undergraduate students, including six teachers, is taking a class called "Lake Ontario Environmental Science." Participants spend a week on a 185-foot ship traveling more than 400 miles from Buffalo to the St. Lawrence River, south to the Oswego area and back to Buffalo.

On Wednesday, the students and instructors heard from representatives of local research and advocacy groups about issues facing communities along the St. Lawrence, such as expansion of the Seaway, controlling the double-crested cormorant and monitoring water levels.

"We're trying to get people to have a better understanding of the Great Lakes ecosystem so that they take that back and spread the word," said William J. Edwards, an assistant professor of biology at Niagara, sitting in the ship's kitchen Wednesday afternoon. "So we're outreaching to people who can do outreach."

The students also met with people in the Niagara Falls area earlier this week concerning issues affecting that part of Lake Ontario. They plan to visit and meet with people along the Salmon River in Oswego County today.

They have also conducted research, which has involved taking fish and sediment samples, while traversing the lake.

Michael V. Lauria, a science teacher at a high school in suburban Buffalo, was one of the six teachers taking the class, which is part of the curriculum to earn his master's degree.

He said he will be teaching a new environmental science class this year and plans to introduce a Great Lakes science class in the future.

"There's a push toward teaching hands-on science that relates to the local environment," said Mr. Lauria, who has been teaching for two years. "I think the Great Lakes are a resource a lot of people want to tap into because students can relate."

The research ship Lake Guardian is based in Milwaukee and is owned by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. As part of its outreach program, the agency offers the ship to a few universities for a week each during the summer to study the Great Lakes.

In past years, universities in the Great Lakes region have conducted research using the boat on Lake Erie, Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, said George S. Ison, who is employed by the agency in Chicago and is traveling on the ship this week.

Wednesday began with a short walk across Riverside Drive from the ship's docking point to the office of Save the River, an advocacy and research organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the Thousands Islands region and St. Lawrence River.

With the students and instructors seated on the deck in the back yard of Save the River's office, Stephanie G. Weiss, the organization's executive director, talked about Save the River's 25-year history.

Ms. Weiss, with her dog Grady mingling among the students, spoke about the group's opposition to a proposal that seeks to widen the river, problems surrounding the double-crested cormorant and efforts to restore the population of the common tern, a bird that nests in the region.

After Ms. Weiss's talk, the group made its way back to the boat and Watched a Powerpoint presentation by John M. Farrell, director of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Thousand Islands Biological Station on Governors Island, just off the shore from Clayton.

Sitting in the ship's kitchen with lunch cooking in the background, Mr. Farrell discussed the ongoing monitoring of river water levels and research on fish, including the muskellunge and northern pike.

Mr. Edwards, who last year while teaching at Ohio State University led a class on a similar one-week trip on Lake Erie, said he choose Lake Ontario because "it doesn't get the public awareness that the other lakes get."

Helen M. Domske, another instructor who was on the ship, added that Lake Ontario was also selected because New York is the only state to border the lake.

"That's why we felt it was important for New York teachers to know about it," said Ms. Domske, a coastal education specialist with New York Sea Grant, a research and outreach organization that works with coastal communities. "Because it really is our lake."

Mr. Edwards said he wanted the students to specifically see the St. Lawrence River because its water levels affect the entire lake.

"We really wanted then to meet with the people that do the research in the area," Mr. Edwards said. "Save the River is doing advocacy, where ESF is doing more research. They gave us two different perspectives as to how people can affect the area."