Janae's Journey - Becoming a youth conservation leader

Colorado River cutthroat like this one in Red Creek will benefit from a project a teenager from Wyoming will oversee for her local Trout Unlimited Chapter.


Editors Note: This is the first in a series of blogs being written by a high school student from Green River, Wyoming, who took on the role as the project leader for a conservation effort. She plans to lead the project through her graduation from high school.

By Janae Neff

Hi, my name is Janae Neff. I am a sophomore at Green River High School. I really enjoy fishing with my dad, Scott, and sister, Addyson.

My 8th grade year I was super excited about science so I created a science fair project for fun and to increase my science knowledge. I was trying to find the best temperature for a perfect caramel. I won second place at both my middle school and the regional science fairs, but nothing at state. When I was at the state competition I realized all of the winning projects were focused on the environment. I really wanted to win, so I started thinking about what kind of projects I could do that would help the environment.

I have volunteered many hours with the local Seedskadee Chapter of Trout Unlimited and my dad is the treasurer of the chapter. Because of our involvement in the chapter I have developed an interest in conservation.

As a member of Trout Unlimited I have prepped cottonwood trees for planting and planted them at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge north of my hometown in Green River. I helped plant aspens at Gooseberry Creek in southwestern Wyoming and I helped with a fish recovery in a ditch at the refuge, along with many other projects.

Janae Neff will lead an important conservation project on a stream near her home for the next three years. The high school sophomore enjoys fishing and science and wants to help native Colorado River cutthroat on Red Creek.

I don’t normally go to TU meetings, but a few months after the science fair my dad told me about an upcoming chapter meeting. A student from Western Wyoming Community College was going to talk about a conservation project she was doing on Trout Creek.

I was interested because Trout Creek is southeast of Green River on Little Mountain and I had been there a few times fishing with my dad.

One of the last times I was there we drove through a spring in the road, creating a huge mud puddle. My dad had been through it a few times before so we had nothing to worry about, but this time he knew it was deeper. When we got up to where we were going to fish we looked around to see if it was worth fishing. It was so we went back to the truck to get our rods and my sister had a bug on her head. When we looked at it closer it was a tick. Needless to say, she didn’t want to stay there and fish anymore.

The only way out of Trout Creek is down the same road with the mud hole. As we drove back down and made it to the puddle we got stuck. The far side of the truck was almost vertical, so we couldn’t get out. We climbed out of the truck and only two of the tires were touching the road, the other two were free spinning in the mud. It was mid-afternoon and it was a long way before we had cell service so we started walking.

We had walked about a mile when a couple drove over a ridge. They had a tow rope and a shovel. A little while later we were on our way. So you can say I have a history with Trout Creek.

Before the grad student started her presentation she took me to her bug lab to get something she had forgotten and I got a special tour. If this didn’t add to my interest, I don’t know what else would.

After the presentation, the chapter went on with their regular meeting, and it was kind of boring. It was bad enough that I was doing my science homework for a project due in a few weeks.

The chapter started talking about Red Creek, a topic my dad and I discussed often as I was looking for a science fair project. When they were asking for a project lead my dad elbowed me and I raised my hand. I was extremely nervous and shaky, but I did it. Before I knew what had happened I was the newest project lead. I don’t remember anything else from the meeting because I was so excited.

Red Creek is 37 miles Southeast of Green River, Wyoming. It holds a small population of Colorado River cutthroat trout. This project was originally just installing some exclosures with materials left over from work the chapter did back in 2012, allowing willows, aspen and birch the opportunity to grow without being browsed by elk and moose.

Red Creek exclosures protecting habitat that will eventually provide shade and cover for trout.

I know that additional habitat projects on Red Creek will benefit that small population of Colorado River cutthroat. So I decided I can continue leading projects on Red Creek over the next three years, using these projects as the basis for an ongoing science fair project. I hope the habitat work I am planning will be the start of many projects and that eventually beaver will be reintroduced into Red Creek.

So far as project lead I have collected tree height data to see how much the trees have grown and how much they might continue to grow. Right now there are small exclosures around some of the trees, but they are not doing a very good job because elk and moose can reach over the fence or knock it down to browse the trees and shrubs.

We are installing a steel jack fence to keep the animals outside and away from the trees. A steel jack fence is old oilfield drill pipe that has been cut into 10 ft. sections. The posts have been welded together in a way that makes it easy to assemble. The 10 ft. sections will connect with the Y- shaped legs, making it very easy to relocate because no holes will need to be dug.

I have also collected cover data. A good cover could be anything from overhanging vegetation to undercut banks to lateral scour pools to just a rock. To qualify as good cover the section must be big enough to hold an adult cutthroat trout sheltered from the current.

Last year I went out with the Wyoming Game and Fish to collect the data and only 12 percent qualified as good cover. This year we plan on putting five or six rock structures in to increase the cover.

In the past the local TU chapter has installed tree revetments along with many other things, but only a few were successful.

Janae Neff is in charge of coordinating volunteers like these from Iowa State Conservation Corps on projects at Red Creek.

Since the meeting and taking over as the lead I have decided that winning the science fair isn’t so important to me anymore, but learning and creating opportunities to help others is my new driving force.

I know I have awhile before I graduate from high school, but I am thinking about going into a science career or being a fisheries biologist with Wyoming Game and Fish.

I have really enjoyed spending time with my dad fishing somewhere in the middle of nowhere and I want other people to have the same opportunities. These experiences have driven me to want to help other people have similar memories. I have decided that one of the best places for me is on, or in, the water.

I would also really love to show how much a young girl can do to help the environment.

When she isn’t fishing Janae Neff is likely playing volleyball, debating as part of the speech and debate team, or throwing a shotput or discus on the track team at Green River High School. My favorite class is science, but I really don’t like math, even if I am good at it. If you want to contact Janae send an email to bprettyman@tu.org

By Brett Prettyman.