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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: The Real Lessons of Stewardship

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Don't Shoot the MessengerShasta Lake is a beautiful wonder, a crystal blue reservoir formed that provides irrigation water and power to California. A sprawling body of water, it is dotted with small islands and inlets—a playground of fishing, boating and swimming.

But, for the most recent decades, it has become a magnet for college students to party; primarily fraternity and sororities from University of Oregon, Oregon State and some of the northern California schools. What has become an annual end-of-year ritual, houseboats are tied together to create the equivalent of a floating frat row, and late-night drinking turns the region into something far less John Muir and far more MTV Spring Break.

This most recent May was worse than usual, as the weekend before Memorial Day, a group, apparently from UO, treated Shasta Lake like a 70s rock band would treat a Ramada Inn; that is, they trashed it.

According to the Forest Service, about 1000 college students, with about 60 houseboats, took over an area known as Slaughterhouse Island. About a day or so after the partiers had left the area, another visitor posted photos of their carnage to Facebook: About 100 sleeping bags and tents were abandoned, and pounds of litter scattered around the campgrounds. Ultimately, the Forest Service removed 30 yards of trash, including boxes of beers cans, unopened packages of food, poop and used tampons.

Fortunately, though, the evidence left behind also left a clear calling card who did it—and the Forest Service didn’t need any fancy CSI DNA sleuthing; they simply read the logo on one abandoned cooler: It was members of the University of Oregon Lambda Chi Alpha. (There were apparently other fraternity and sororities there as well, but none of them left calling cards.)

In a damning assessment about why they would leave some much garbage and trash the natural environment, Rob Sandbloom, sergeant in charge of the boating unit for the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department, told the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t know if it’s a generational thing or if this group just doesn’t respect the rest of mankind.”

Yet, while that is the bad news, let’s end with the good news: While the boys of Lambda Chi Alpha may be spending their weekends trashing the environment, there is an altogether different attitude and respect being fostered in the Rogue River School District. On the first Friday of June, nearly 100 students were paired with parent volunteers and cleaned up trash in the Elderberry Recreation Area, a modest campground site north of Medford and along Evans Creek. The cleanup is the second year of the District’s “Learning to Protect Our Environment” project; a program so much more than an annual cleanup, it teaches that proper stewardship of the environment runs much deeper than simply picking up litter (a lesson that Lambda Chi Alpha would be keen to learn, that stewardship is all bundled together with responsibility, kindness, and respect for the birds, bees, trees and fellow human beings). The Rogue River School District program started on a small scale five years ago, and now has secured funding from the Oregon Community Foundation, $45,000 over the next three years (um, to hammer a point, less than the cost of the cleanup of Shasta Lake’s campgrounds).

More than a cleanup, the Learning To Protect Our Environment program works with watershed scientists from nonprofit and public-sector agencies to teach rural, high-poverty high school students about their local environment, and tries to connect participating students to colleges that offer natural resources degrees. 

“There was never enough class time to do all the stuff that got me engaged in science,” program coordinator Marie Reeder, a retired biology teacher, told the Messenger in an email press release. “This is service-based learning at its best. Kids get to connect emotionally and physically with their communities and their academic material.”

The program draws from a region where only two out of three students graduate from high school, and less than half of those go on to college (which, again, is something that the UO frat boys should consider, how privileged they are to have the opportunity to attend a college, and consider exactly what they are doing with that opportunity; beer bongs? Trashing campsites?)

 

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