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High school students help protect cottonwood trees

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Photo by Morgan Rubanow The tree-wrapping team, including BLM staff members.

Local high school students from Paonia, Hotchkiss and Olathe were able to get outside of the classroom recently thanks to the Youth Outdoor Network. Students ranging from freshmen to seniors waded across the chilly North Fork of the Gunnison River at Pleasure Park with tools and fencing in hand to reach young cottonwoods on the other bank. The students' goal was to wrap young cottonwood trees with this fencing to prevent beaver damage.

Cottonwood trees are important sources of food and shelter for local wildlife and help to stabilize riverbanks. Robin Lewis from the Bureau of Land Management explained to the students, "Beavers love cottonwoods and without natural predators to keep beaver populations in check, they can prove detrimental to the cottonwood population. Caging helps the cottonwoods grow to a size where they can withstand beaver impact."

At the end of the day, the students wrapped 31 cottonwood trees with the assistance of BLM staff. In addition to protecting cottonwood trees, students learned about service opportunities available to them during and after high school to encourage their interest in this field.

The Youth Outdoor Network is a program for high school students interested in natural resource sector careers that educates students on local natural resources and public lands as well as how to pursue jobs within the field. A large part of the program is the field trips for hands-on learning experiences, such as this trip with the BLM.

The Youth Outdoor Network is established at local area high schools in Paonia, Hotchkiss, Delta, Cedaredge and Olathe through a collaborative effort called the Nature Connection -- a coalition of groups that includes the Western Slope Conservation Center, the U.S. Forest Service, Delta County School District, and Montrose County School District. In addition to these organizations, this field trip was also made possible by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Canyons Association.

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