U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District biologists recently taught D'Youville College students basic wetland delineation and fish population surveys as part of two separate labs for the D'Youville BIO 189-A Great Lakes laboratory course.

"When I was in school I got bored just reading the material without practicing my skills in the real world," said Buffalo District biologist Michael Voorhees. "In these labs, students are able to tap into the Army Corps of Engineers' expertise and learn hands-on."

Voorhees and fellow Buffalo District biologist Richard Ruby taught the wetlands delineation lab on September 30 at a 15-year-old Department of Environmental Conservation ecosystem restoration project on Grand Island, NY. D'Youville students dug holes in the site's grounds, cut a cross-section of a soil column, and identified hydric features to see if they were on a wetland. They also worked on plant identification.

One student was Bruno Camodeca-Schmitz, a double major in Psychology and Public Health. "My favorite part of the class has been the labs," he said. "It's been a lot of fun to go out and see ecosystems with your own eyes."

"The class previously had lectures on the importance of wetlands, but our lab taught more technical aspects of identifying wetlands, plants and soils," said Ruby. "The kids definitely got their hands dirty."

"We didn't only talk about technical features," Voorhees said. "We also communicated why the Army Corps of Engineers cares about our planet and how we help through our Regulatory mission."

For the second lab, Ruby, Voorhees, Buffalo District biologist Andrew Hannes and D'Youville lab instructor Jason Den Haese led a fish population survey at Unity Island in Buffalo, NY, on October 21.

"Two years ago, we set gill nets to get an initial baseline of the fish population at Unity Island as part of Buffalo District's ecosystem restoration project there," said Voorhees. "We then completed restoration activities, and set gill nets and minnow traps in both ponds to see if diversity increased. We also checked if there were any other environmental impacts."

Ruby and Voorhees also set fyke nets (fish traps consisting of netting bags mounted on rings) at the upstream and downstream pond entrances. They collected all nets and traps before the D'Youville class arrived. Once the lab began, Ruby worked on measuring and identifying the fish species and their age range. The professionals and students worked together to identify captured species as muskee, perch and bass, among others.

"The presence of these fish is important because it's a healthy indicator for the aquatic environment," Ruby explained. "This information will go into our monitoring phase reports and show the project's progress."

"A specific goal of the project is connectivity between ponds. Our lab with D'Youville helped to prove it's working," said Voorhees. "These restored wetlands weren't here at Unity Island before. It's awesome to show future leaders a great project in their own backyard."

"I think many people in Buffalo and the greater Western New York area don't appreciate the lakes and interesting freshwater systems as much as they should," said Camodeca-Schmitz. "It's very easy to overlook something spectacular if you see it every day."

"It's amazing to see students engaged with their environment," said Ruby. "It also helped us because we got an opportunity to refine our skills. I'm very happy to show what the Army Corps of Engineers does."

"This helped me appreciate that there is a world outside D'Youville College," Camodeca-Schmitz said. "In the professional community one doesn't take tests or get grades. They need to know how to work and be aware of their environment."

"We reached a vital audience, opened their eyes to the environment, and helped educate our future leaders and experts," said Voorhees. "I'd like to thank my wife, Clara, who is a professor at D'Youville, for requesting this through the Buffalo District Speakers Bureau."

For more information on the Buffalo District Regulatory mission, visit: https://www.lrb.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/

For more information on the Unity Island ecosystem restoration project, visit: https://search.usa.gov/search?query=unity%20island&affiliate=lrb&utf8=%26%23x2713%3B

For more information on the Buffalo District Speakers Bureau, visit: https://www.lrb.usace.army.mil/About/Speakers-Bureau/