Holding a plastic bucket with two hands and walking nervously down a metal plank, Joshua Lubin knew he did the right thing when he reached the end.
Joshua dumped a handful of rainbow trout into a spotless lake in the foothills of El Dorado County and then strolled back to his mother confidently.
“There is a lot we can do in our power to conserve nature, and it’s not really that hard,” said the 12-year-old sixth-grader from Korematsu Elementary in Davis. “That was a lot of fun.”
For Joshua and about 30 other kids who participated in a trout hatchery program with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the fish release was a reward of sorts for performing well in department’s 29th annual Nature Bowl last month. Teams who did well in the competition were invited to help with the department’s daily trout-stocking program.
“(The kids) get to learn about the life cycles of the fish and their habitat. And they also learn the role of the hatchery in recreational fishing,” said Lora Elson, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman.
The day began with students arriving at the American River Trout Hatchery in Rancho Cordova, where Fish and Wildlife staff loaded 800 pounds of rainbow trout onto a truck headed to El Dorado National Forest. There, the kids helped release the fish into the wild at the Ice House Reservoir and Loon Lake Forest.
Each child received a bucket containing a handful of fish that they dumped into the water.
To get selected for the hatchery program, students must go through the Nature Bowl competition, an environmental science and conservation program for third- to sixth-graders. The students compete in an array of environmental contests, such as relays in which students are asked “Jeopardy”-style questions.
Students also learned skills such as public speaking and lessons on California geography, history and the ecosystem, Fish and Wildlife officials said.
“My daughter wants to be a veterinarian, so this has been enhancing her vocabulary,” said Donna Grant, who chaperoned her 8-year-old daughter Sierra, a student at Latrobe Elementary in Shingle Springs.
Close to 30 students participated in the trout release, representing seven schools, including Lake Forest of El Dorado Hills, Korematsu of Davis and Valley Springs of Calaveras County.
Emily Batuman, 11, a fifth-grader from Patwin Elementary School in Davis, described the hatchery process as “very cool” because they are saving the fish. “It is amazing how much fish they have,” Emily said.
For some kids and parents, it was their first time getting a glimpse of how trout planting works.
Cameron Park resident Megan Woolsdy, who was accompanied by her 9-year-old daughter, Ava, said the kids learn about fish life cycles and conservation, and called the trip “a unique experience.”
Garrett Miller Worthington, 11, a four-year participant from Patwin Elementary, said he has learned more about the state’s ecosystems each time he has attended.
“I knew nothing about California native plants and animals,” Garrett said. “We’re doing something good for the environment. That’s important.”