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Feather River Bulletin
Quincy, California
March 4, 2015     Feather River Bulletin
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March 4, 2015

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Bulletin, Record, Progressive, Reporter Wednesday, March 4, 2015 111 m Portola High School students get a head start in museum science skills Ann Powers Staff Writer apowers@plu ot only can roadkill be art, it's also educational and a good way to pay for college, according to Dave Valle, a Portola High School science teacher. For the past two decades, Valle has offered museum science, or taxidermy, as an elective class to one or two select students each year. The students' completed work is added to the PHS Life History Museum collection. "The students must have a keen interest in wildlife identification, be able to handle skinning birds and mammals, and have adequate artistic ability to reconstruct the animal into its original form," said Valle. "Most of the wildlife specimens were collected by students as road-killed animals or legally killed during hunting seasons. Portola High alumni trained in - this course have gone on to taxidermy school and employment in life-history museums in college." There are more than 200 stuffed birds and mammals in the compilation. Valle uses the preserved creatures for biology and forest ecology instruction, community hunter education courses, elementary school programs and with Audubon Society events. Charlie Baumbach and Rachel Wehrman are Valle's current museum science students and budding wildlife stewards. The teens recently gave Audubon Society members from all over California (Plumas County, Chico, Mendocino and San Joaquin Valley) a tour of the museum and showed them the bird specimens they're working on. "You can take what you learn in the class into a job and use it later in life," said Baumbach, a junior aspiring to being an avian veterinarian. "I can learn the parts of a bird inside and out." Plumas Audubon Society Executive Director David Arsenault said what Valle's students are learning locally can be applied globally. "Taxidermy and museum collections have been very valuable to science to catalog and identify species around the world," he noted. "Scientists can also obtain genetic samples from specimens to better understand species distribution and genetic diversity and to identify new species." Wehrman, a senior, plans to study environmental and agricultural plant science at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo after graduation. She said her current studies in Valle's program have heightened her appreciation for nature. "It teaches you to love and respect animals more," said Wehrman. "I have dreams about dead animals now. I know that sounds weird." Not really, according to Valle. It's that kind of intimate association with the outdoors he strives to awaken in young minds and it is central to his teaching style. "The motivation to take apart and reconstruct critters is hard to narrow down" he said. "Perhaps it's a innate fascination and connection with animals. It's this connection that I hope to instill in more students when I use the prepared animal collection in my biology and forest ecology classes." Valle said his passion for hunting and fishing started as a teenager, and is the driving force behind his 1)felong commitment to environmentalism, conservation and desire to protect wild creatures and their habitats. He honed his own museum science techniques as a University of California, Davis student working in the Wildlife & Fisheries Biology Life History Museum. Former students have followed in his footsteps. PHS alum Cassy Gardner, who graduated in 2009, ended up working in the same UC Davis museum VaUe did while attending college. In addition to taxidermy, Valle is especially proud of his seventh- through 12th-grade students' work with the Learning Landscapes project behind the school at the base of Beckwourth Peak. Students have'installed over 30 bird nest boxes; two 500-gallon wildlife guzzlers; motion cameras for wildlife census; and a 1-kilometer interpretive trail. PHS 'coffstrUcti0n and fire science elasses have also pitched in to add to the 12-acre outdoor classroom. " Rob Wade, of the Feather River Land Trust, created the Learning Landscapes program to help facilitate a mutually beneficial land swap and encourage outdoor learning. The trust initiated a partnership with numerous school districts and landowners to conserve natural areas as outdoor classrooms. Valle credits Wade as a key player in the development of the Learning Landscapes property at PHS and improving the overall service learning approach with teaching. "Having outdoor learning right out our classroom door with no need for field trip permission slips, organizing transportation, funding makes it possible to do field studies and restoration work with our students every day if we want," said Valle. City leaders agree. Portola Council Member Phil Oels an avid outdoorsman, conservationist and community advocate said the kind of unique opportunities Valle offers his students integrates community and educational values and objectives. "That kind of hands-on outdoor education in a mountain region like ours raises awareness," said Oels, adding he'd like to learn taxidermy himself. "It's very cool." Cool? Yes. Waning? Possibly. Valle warns that the need for environmental and wildlife awareness is often overlooked. He fears the program may be retired _ after he retires in a "It teaches you to love and respect animals more. I have dreams about dead animals now. Birds preserved via taxidermy will forever soar in Portola High School science teacher Dave Valle's classroom. I know that sounds weird." Rachel Wehrman Museum Science Student: P0rtola High School Photos by Ann Powers A local native takes advantage of the wildlife guzzler students installed in i the Learning Landscapes outdoor classroom behind Portola High School. Photo courtesy Portola High School Students practice taxidermy on birds as part of the museum science program. Portola High School's Life History Museum displays preserved wildlife specimens completed by students couple of years, learning taxidermy. ' I hope Plumas Unified School District can find a -- ~ . replacement that is as i,~d~ ' i " passionate about wildlife I education," he Said. "It's an ~ - .... :: area that is sadly missing in P the required biology Curriculum; probably since most are urbanites with little exposure, and most of the biology jobs are in the See Museum, page 14B