Earth Stewardship Program teaches seventh graders about watershed

Bitterroot Valley seventh-grade students have been learning about the importance of the watershed through the Earth Stewardship Program hosted by the Bitter Root Water Forum.

“What is a watershed?”

That is the first question Emilie Lahneman, the Big Sky Watershed Corps member with the Bitter Root Water Forum has been asking seventh-grade students this month during lessons for the Earth Stewardship Program.

On paper, students draw out what they think a watershed is.

“Many of the kids draw a building with pipes coming out of it. They logically take the word at face value of a shed for water,” said Lahneman.

Throughout the lesson Lahneman works to change that idea.

Through an exercise going over the geography of the valley and eventually building a model of the Bitterroot watershed with tarps and flower pots the students come to understand that the watershed is the valley itself. From the highest point in the Sapphire Mountains to the highest point in the Bitterroot Mountains, from the headwaters at the border with Idaho to the south, to the Bitterroot River meeting with the Clark Fork in Missoula, all of the land where the water runs off and ends up in the Bitterroot River is part of the watershed.

The Bitter Root Water Forum is a community driven nonprofit organization working to bring the community together to protect, enhance and restore that watershed that everyone relies on.

The Earth Stewardship Program is part of their youth education program. Throughout the school year, seventh-grade classrooms in Victor, Darby, Corvallis and Lone Rock have welcomed multiple speakers into their science classrooms. Each monthly visit featured a local professional who presented on a unique natural resources topic.

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Through these diverse presentations, students learn about the importance of irrigation, snowpack, native Montana fish and noxious weeds. Nearly 200 students are participating in the program this year.

The water forum is grateful for the ongoing partnerships with Bitterroot National Forest, O’Hara Commons, Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Ravalli County Weed District along with a local rancher and irrigator who provide these presentations.

The end of the Earth Stewardship Program in May features a hands-on field trip where students and presenters get to take lessons from the classroom into the field.

Hailing from Maryland originally, Lahneman was amazed that students didn’t know what a watershed was.

“The state of Maryland is all the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay and we learn that from an early age,” she said.

Since 2012, the water forum has expanded their ability to offer watershed education and complete on the ground restoration projects by hosting a Big Sky Watershed Corps member. Lahneman started her service in January.

Big Sky Watershed Corps is an AmeriCorps program that provides a unique opportunity for young professionals to make a measurable difference in local conservation efforts throughout Montana. The program, which spans 10.5 months, places a corps member in a watershed community with a nonprofit or conservation district. The members then contribute through watershed research, education and outreach; planning and project implementation; and community engagement.

The water forum, with support from the Bitterroot Conservation District, has hosted a corps member every year since the beginning of the BSWC program in 2012. The Big Sky Watershed Corps program is offered through a partnership of Montana Conservation Corps, the Montana Watershed Coordination Council, and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana.