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Skagit River: Field Site
Earthwatch volunteers help interview Skagit valley farmer.
Earthwatch volunteers help interview Skagit valley farmer.

Earthwatch Teacher Fellow, Mike April, records creek locations with a GPS mapping tool.
Earthwatch Teacher Fellow, Mike April, records creek locations with a GPS mapping tool.
The research teams under the leadership of Dr. Ed Liebow and Sara Breslow work on three primary tasks in small groups of two to three people. The groups rotate from day to day so that everyone is engaged in each of the tasks. The tasks include:
  1. Interviewing
  2. Digitizing old photographs and maps with a scanner and computer
  3. Mapping the region's cultural landscape
The "interviewees" include Native Americans, fishers, fishery managers, farmers. Interviews take place in homes, offices, and outside by streams and fields. During the interview, one person is the "interviewer"; another is the "audio recorder" with headphones and a digitized tape recorder. A third person takes careful notes.

According to Liebow, "It is important that the interviewer ask open-ended questions, encouraging the interviewee to speak freely about personal connections to the valley, views on environmental change, and matters that are important."

The interviewer has some general topics as guidelines, but the idea is to let the people tell their stories without interruption. Sample topics include fishing as a livelihood, important places in the watershed, preparing and eating fish, fish politics, fish stories, myths and legends. The historical photographs and maps help people to get a visual fix on changes in the environment, while also triggering memories about important places and experiences. The mapping process reveals differences in the way groups perceive the same landscape.

So far, Liebow, Breslow, and Earthwatch teams have conducted over 45 interviews. The interview tapes, photos, and maps are to be stored at the Skagit Historical Museum for the public to review, and reflect upon.

"It's much like creating a present-day 'time capsule'," explains Liebow. "Not only present generations, but 50 years from now people will be able to look back on what the issues of the day were, why they were important, and how people responded."

Although it is far too soon to conclude project outcomes, Liebow says "I am overwhelmed by the willingness and generosity of people to talk and share their stories. People are in agreement that this is a very special place, and they want to protect it. They want to do the 'right thing,' although they might not agree now on what that is."