Affair for kids (of all ages)

Endangered Species Faire makes conservation and preservation a fun lifelong lesson

BUGGING OUT<br>Third-graders at Chico Country Day School know the buzz on garden insects. The students will be showing off a banner they painted at Saturday’s Endangered Species Faire.

Third-graders at Chico Country Day School know the buzz on garden insects. The students will be showing off a banner they painted at Saturday’s Endangered Species Faire.

Photo By Melissa Daugherty

Finding the faire:
The Butte Environmental Council is holding its 28th annual Endangered Species Faire Saturday (May 5) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Cedar Grove in Bidwell Park.

When Jennifer Oman asks the third-graders at Chico Country Day School what insects are good alternatives to using pesticides, the kids are quick to name the ladybug and the praying mantis.

Oman, Butte Environmental Council’s education and outreach coordinator, has been working with two classes at the south-Chico charter school, teaching them how friendly garden critters can help keep pollutants out of the watershed.

Debbie Hardesty, a teacher in one of the classes, said Oman’s teachings fit in perfectly with this year’s class theme, “life grows where water flows,” and with the school’s goal to give the kids life skills and lifelong guidelines.

“We want them to learn and take these lessons into their lives,” she said of the environmental education.

Hardesty’s 20 students, along with 20 others in Barbara Ely’s third-grade class, spent part of last week with Oman, using bubble paint to create colorful garden-friendly insects on a large white sheet. The banner is for a pesticide-awareness booth that will be showcased during the upcoming (May 5) Endangered Species Faire.

Oman is organizing BEC’s 28th annual faire—the oldest environmental fair in Northern California—where she’ll be shepherding thousands of kids through an experience she hopes will stick with them the rest of their lives. For Oman and many of the other grown-ups, the day spent at Bidwell Park’s Cedar Grove will be a walk down memory lane.

The yearly event is a Chico mainstay that is now attracting and educating the children of first-generation fair-goers.

“Adults love it, too, but it’s for the kids,” said Oman, who recalls attending the event as a child. “BEC is an advocacy group, but there is no tool greater than education.”

The Endangered Species Faire is a festival, with Cedar Grove acting as a temporary city for things such as live music, face-painting, food and 35 to 40 booths with interactive games and information about wildlife and the environment.

Representatives from government agencies such as the California Department of Fish and Game will join environmental organizations, community groups and classrooms in hosting an array of presentations and activities with information on ecology and many environmental issues. Several of the booths will provide practical tips on sustainable living, including how to make household cleaners from natural ingredients.

This year’s event is free, open to the public and expected to attract between 6,000 and 8,000 people from Butte County and neighboring counties. The event takes a lot of coordinating, and Oman is quick to share the credit for the huge undertaking with her co-workers at BEC and many volunteers.

FREE SPIRIT<br />A handler from Wild Things, Inc., shows a juvenile bald eagle named Spirit during the 2006 Endangered Species Faire.

Courtesy of BEC

Hardesty is taking her own children, 8-year-old twins Alyssa and Sean, and is hoping the parents of her students will take them to the event, too. Alyssa noted a show with owls as one of the most memorable presentations she witnessed last year.

The demonstration came from a nonprofit animal rescue called Wild Things, Inc., which is based out of Weimar, Calif. Barbi Kerschner, founder of the nearly 20-year-old organization, will be back again this year with birds, mammals and reptiles from around the world.

Kerschner wouldn’t divulge exactly what animals would make an appearance during the day, but an alligator, a lemur and a kangaroo are just a few of the creatures that have shown up in previous years. The animals are all rescues of some sort, and most have been affected by mankind in some way.

Last year, Kerschner shared the story of Spirit, a female juvenile bald eagle who staggered into Anchorage after she’d been shot. Fortunately, the young bird received care that kept her alive, but without a left wing she is reliant on human caretakers.

“It’s really sad to think this bird that was once flying free is now stuck in captivity,” she said.

Spirit is now used to get people excited about wildlife preservation.

Barbara Vlamis, executive director of BEC, pointed out that all species, even the ones we don’t see, are vital to the environment. This year, the fair’s theme is centered around Giant Garter Snakes—the longest of the garter snakes.

Found only in California’s Central Valley, the reptile’s habitat once stretched from lower Butte County in the north to Kern County in the south. Development on large swaths of land in the territory, along with a loss of wetlands to farming, have dwindled the populations of the snakes to the point where they are no longer found south of Fresno.

The reptiles are listed as threatened.

Interestingly, the snakes were once thought to live only as far north as Gridley, but the species was recently found at the Chico water treatment plant.

Vlamis hasn’t seen the creature, which can grow to more than five feet, but she’s hoping to one day. To help ensure that could happen, the community needs to take extra care to protect its habitat, she said.

Even the tiniest of creatures such as the fairy shrimp found in our region’s vernal pools should not be taken lightly. The crustaceans are an instrumental part of the food chain for migrating water foul, Vlamis said.

“All species are part of the spider web of life,” she said. “When you lose one, you don’t necessarily know how it affects the whole web.”