Tribal youth learn how to be wildlife biologists

While Lower Elwha Klallam tribal youth live in an ecologically robust watershed, some of them are hesitant to explore the forest outside their doors.

Many are tied to their screens, especially after COVID kept them mostly indoors for two years, said Kim Sager-Fradkin, the tribe’s wildlife program manager, who works with kids through the tribe’s summer jobs program.

Tribal youth Jesse Campbell adjusts the strapping for a wildlife camera station on the reservation. Tribal youth learned about how to set up game cameras so they can observe wildlife over the next year. Tiffany Royal

“We realized there was a need to teach some basic skills and increase comfort in the outdoors,” she said. “It’s really good to get tribal youth excited and used to being outside in hopes that some of them will use those skills to exercise their treaty rights, and even work in natural resources in the future.”

She developed a year-long program that has 15 tribal youth engaged in a variety of natural resources management jobs, in addition to learning basic wilderness skills, with funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bonneville Power Administration.

To start, the kids spent a week in day camp this summer learning survival skills, such as building shelters, making cordage out of stinging nettle, identifying plants on the reservation and creating fire with sticks and string.

They also have been trained in animal track and sign—how to tell when an animal has been in the area, such as with footprints or vegetation disturbance—with an opportunity to become certified trackers. They also will be shadowing the tribe’s natural resources staff throughout the 2023-2024 school year.

Finally, the kids will be monitoring wildlife on the reservation, similar to the program managed by the tribe and others throughout the Olympic Peninsula. The kids installed 10 wildlife cameras on the reservation this summer and are regularly analyzing the images recorded.

“I think there was some excitement of getting really good cougar and bobcat photos already,” Sager-Fradkin said. “It shows that excitement right down here, right on the river, right where we live.”

Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe wildlife biologist Sara Cendejas-Zarelli show tribal youth how to set up a wildlife camera so they can observe the wildlife that live on the tribe’s reservation. Photo and story: Tiffany Royal