Collaborating to Teach Children about Salmon


Friends of the Van Duzen River

By Sal Steinberg, Director, Friends of the Van Duzen River

I live in one of the most beautiful places on Planet Earth: the Van Duzen Watershed. Within a 15-mile radius there are three K-8 elementary schools: Bridgeville, Cuddeback, and Hydesville. Following 8th grade, students move on to Fortuna High School, where they can participate in the Fortuna Creeks Project, a club begun by Pam Halstead and currently run by Mark Thom.

Looking Back on Past Cooperative Efforts

It has been my honor to run the Friends of the Van Duzen River for the past 15 years. We are dedicated to preserving the salmon run and to training young scientists. Details about our work can be found on our website, One of our first projects was in 2011 at Cuddeback Elementary, where we selected five students known as the Young Scientists to explore the river, locating and documenting salmon discoveries. It was a great time for exploration. The early part of the “teens” decade was a milestone for salmon spawning in the Van Duzen, and FOVDR was able to take more than 500 students to witness this inspiring event. The photo portrays the times.

FOVDR has been fortunate to collaborate with local environmental granting agencies including Trees Foundation, the McLean Foundation, Coast Central Credit Union, Humboldt Area Foundation, Humboldt County Office of Education, and Six Rivers National Forest. We have received close to $500,000 in grants to actualize our goals and enhance the community’s sense of preserving our natural resources, allowing us to share the planet, and making sure that we have a future.

Our Current Project

Team Van Duzen: Salmon Watch is a cooperative venture partially funded by a Cereus grant from Trees Foundation to promote environmental education and advocacy for preserving Mother Earth. Funding is being matched by the Cuddeback School District principal Blaine Sigler. Team Van Duzen connects local students with the Van Duzen Watershed through classroom lessons by local scientists/environmentalists and field trips to the Van Duzen River, the Scotia Aquarium, and the confluence of the Van Duzen and Eel rivers.

This grant is dedicated to the 6th-grade classroom at Cuddeback school taught by Erin Anderson, a wonderful teacher. As a local resident of Carlotta, I know many of the students in the current 6th grade and am looking forward to working with them to study/learn about salmon and watersheds, and to explore the beautiful Van Duzen Watershed with the goal of finding salmon spawning. It has been a difficult time for salmon for the past decade, but due to the increased rainfall this spring and even summer, many parts of the river are clean and clear. I predict a much better salmon run. If we (my team and the 6th-grade class) find salmon, then we can extend the grant to other classes, enabling them to take field trips to see this magnificent journey.

I have recruited a wonderful local team of scientists/environmentalists from the community to work with the kids in the classroom and in the field. Team Van Duzen is a very cooperative venture!

Team Van Duzen

Tony Westcamper: As a retired technician from the local hospitals, Tony has been attracted to the insect population of Humboldt County. He has a scientific mind and for several years wrote articles in the North Coast Journal about his passion for insects and knowledge about them. He has worked with me for the past decade giving exciting presentations to classrooms and taking students out into the Van Duzen.

Steve Cannata: Retired from the California Dept of Fish and Wildlife, where he worked as a fisheries biologist and environmental scientist, Steve has been a teacher with me in classrooms, summer camps, and field trips. He loves to teach and gives great lectures on fish and watershed ecology while sharing his knowledge and skills with students during field studies.

Barbara A. Domanchuk: In 2000 this independent filmmaker living in Carlotta formed an Ink People DreamMaker program called Art & Science for Kids interested in Media & Education (ASK ME). Within ASK ME she coordinates science-based art programs for youth and families. The programs are the Ecology & Art Education Program, the Young MediaMakers, Big Screen Showcase, and TYMM Work Project. Recently, Barbara became an artist for the Humboldt County Office of Education’s Studio To Schools program, where she teaches classroom and field trip programs designed to inspire and engage young minds with the world around them.

Team Van Duzen will work at Cuddeback Elementary and in the Van Duzen River during October, November, and December. Beginning October 17th I will give a workshop every Tuesday morning, and one of our team members will give a workshop each Thursday. Barbara will do salmon prints with the class through the Humboldt County Studio to Schools program. In mid-late November we shall begin our community Salmon Watch in an attempt to find them and then to share this unique experience with students in the 6th grade and possibly other classes.

Good luck on your journey, my friends the Salmon.

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