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Palisade High School Students Put Science Lessons To Work To Reestablish Populations Of Endangered Fish

PALISADE, Colo. (CBS4) - Students at Palisade High School are taking science to an entirely new level with their very own fish hatchery, aimed at re-establishing populations of endangered fish. Specifically, the Razorback Sucker.

palisade high school razorback suckers
(credit: CBS)

"It was just kind of an idea floating in the back of my head and I was looking for a really dedicated partner to partner with around the valley," said Mike Gross, fish culturalist with the Ouray National Fish Hatchery.

The partnership is critical for the Upper Colorado Fish Recovery Program and Gross immediately thought of the high school: he had seen the number of hard-working kids and knew the potential for a long-term partnership was there.

"Utilizing the next generation is just a perfect way to go about it. These students have been so gung-ho, it gives me hope that this generation will be able to solve some of these environmental problems," said Gross.

For science teacher Patrick Steele, it was a no-brainer. It took about 6 years to raise the funds and convert a storage facility but the community stepped up.

The school's $25,000 goal was quickly surpassed and a storage unit on the outskirts of the school's football field was converted. It required new insulation, an HVAC system and the skills of electrical engineer Brian Scherping.

That wasn't the half of it. Steele said his students essentially became plumbers.

"…and helped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife folks basically pipe all of our tanks in," said Steele.

palisade high school razorback suckers
(credit: CBS)

Just last August the school received its first 40 baby razorback suckers.

"Then once we got our water cultured and ready to go, then we added 200 more," said Steele.

Over a period of nine months, the students came daily before school to make sure the tanks were clean, and the PH balance of the water was correct.

"It's like living on a farm you know? The first thing you do is you get up and you go feed those animals, and you take care of those animals, and then you take care of you," said Steele.

Just last week, they released their first batch of fish into their native habitat, the Colorado River.

"It was a great opportunity just to be able to see these fish grow from these little, tiny minnows into these about 12-inch fish," said Jack Perrin, a senior at Palisade High School.

The students see it not only as a unique education opportunity but a way to collaborate with their community on ways to improve their environment.

"We were able to have all our community get involved understand what we were doing for the environment and just really teach all our community how to sustain our ecosystem and really treat the river right," said Perrin.

The students will make some adjustments to the hatchery before getting another batch of fish to care for and soon, be able to collect data on the ones just released.

palisade high school razorback suckers
(credit: CBS)

"They inserted a permeant internal tag into these fish that's in there for the whole life of the animal, so anytime a fish swims under an antenna, it'll get scanned in and checked into a big database," said Gross. "These fish live for 40 years potentially, and so we'll be able to track their movement up and down the Colorado River basin for years to come."

Gross was beaming as he talked about watching his idea come full circle. He along with the students hope that the program expands to work with other endangered species.

"What a win this partnership has been for the community, for the students, for Palisade High School, for School District 51, for all of the sponsors. It's just been an incredible story of partnership and more importantly, for the endangered fish out there. It is a giant win," he said.

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