Two different Spokane-area groups with visions to promote wildlife conservation merged almost by accident in 2000, and their marriage has been a boon to the region’s wildlife enthusiasts, especially kids.
Tom Moore, who teaches in the West Valley School District, was looking for a sponsor for an Outdoor Learning Center about the same time local sportsmen created the Big Horn Foundation to promote wildlife-based education and conservation.
“It was great timing,” said Moore, who attended the foundation’s first organizational meeting.
The foundation is a spin-off of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, one of the largest and most active hunting and fishing conservation groups in Washington.
“The council is often politically active,” said Jim Johnson, the foundation’s vice president. “But the foundation is purely an educational program so it can have tax-deductible status for donations.”
Beside contributing foundation funds to help start the Outdoor Learning Center, which is just off Upriver Drive near Pasadena Park Elementary School, the INWC did what it does best and provided volunteer support to help build the facility.
“The center is supported by the West Valley School District and has become a direct link to the district curriculum,” Moore said. “We’re doing work with outside groups ranging from schools to bird watchers and others.”
The center’s centerpiece is a raptor project with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who tends the resident bald eagle and an assortment of owls and hawks.
Jamie Ostby-Marsh is also a district teacher certified in environmental education, Moore said.
“She can be contacted to make birds of prey presentations to outside groups, and we’re also making the facility available to nonprofit groups,” he said.
“We’re involved in teacher education and we’re working with the Wild Wise program developed by the Woodland Zoo of Seattle for use in schools. It’s already been shown that kids are motivated by environmental-education programs such as fisheries, forestry and wildlife in their curriculums and they perform better the WASL’s (Washington Assessment of Student Learning).’
As the Big Horn Foundation gears up for its fourth wildlife art fund-raising auction, local businessman and trustee Vern Ziegler said the board hopes to raise enough money to branch out into other youth outdoor education projects.
“It’s not a big foundation, but it has some roots,” he said, referring to the Wildlife Council and the group’s 45 years of supporting wildlife conservation, as well as the sports of hunting and fishing.
“The support we get comes in a lot of different forms. For instance, we’ll have 30 original works of art donated by artists for our auction, including one by Larry Zabel of Montana, who’s become very popular with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Some of his originals have sold for as much as $125,000.”