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State fish art program offer lessons on understanding aquatic conservation

Jane Knowlton
U.S. Forest Service
July 20, 2016 at 1:30pm

A photo of a largemouth bass, as drawn by 12th grader Nasa Xu from Katy, Texas

A largemouth bass, as drawn by 12th grader Nasa Xu from Katy, Texas, in her picture titled ‘The Chase’ won the 2016 Seth Thomas Spradlin Best of Show Award in Wildlife Forever's State Fish Art Contest. Largemouth bass can be found on many national forests. (Graphic courtesy of

Like a fish is to water, so is the state fish art program to students in grades K through 12 across the country who are learning more about their state fish and the aquatic environments they inhabit.

“When kids become involved in art projects to expand their awareness of fish and their habitat they have an opportunity to expand their knowledge in many areas,” said Nat Gillespie, the assistant fisheries program leader for the U.S. Forest Service. “They become more aware of the environmental factors that influence the health of fish and other aquatic life as they begin to understand how the environment influences these organisms.”

The U.S. Forest Service has helped sponsor Wildlife Forever’s State Fish Art program since the late 1990s as a partner in developing the next generation of conservation stewards. 

The art program is part of Wildlife Forever’s grassroots conservation projects which focus on fish and wildlife management, conservation of wetlands and habitat, education about invasive species and research efforts to support fish and wildlife.

A photo of A longear sunfish, as drawn by sixth grader Jasmine Sun from Winchester, Massachusetts

A longear sunfish, as drawn by sixth grader Jasmine Sun from Winchester, Massachusetts, won first place for grades 4 to 6 in the state fish art contest. Many of the fish submitted for the contest can be found on national forests and grasslands. (Graphic courtesy of

The program is artfully managed by Karen Hollingsworth who has guided the program for the last six years to its present format, adding more submission categories, awards and participating states. Students submit both artwork and written submissions such as poems, stories, news alerts, or essays – anything up to one page as long as it addresses the topic of the state fish from any state.  A free, CD- based curriculum offers a broad variety of activities and exercises to help art and science teachers integrate lessons to help students learn about fish, habitat and conservation needs.

“What I see in their work is the spark of developing more critical thinking and a conservation ethic as they think about water, what’s in it and how clean it is,” said Hollingsworth.  “They begin to see what role they can play in taking care of it and build their knowledge about the scope of aquatic conservation.”

For Forest Service fish biologists, there are many topics to write about. 

“Our job is to protect, enhance and conserve aquatic life and their habitats, and to serve the American public,’” said Gillespie.  “That means we’re addressing some of the same issues the students are writing about including water quality, trash, pollution, invasive species, changes in water temperature or habitat struggles between fish species.  We’re very encouraged to see how their understanding of these complex interactions grows the more they learn about their state fish.”

A photo of a Brook trout as drawn by eighth grader Lydia Tan from Troy, Michigan

Brook trout swim in the rivers of many national forests. In her painting ‘Another World Next Door;’ eighth grader Lydia Tan from Troy, Michigan, won first place for grades 7 to 9 in the state fish art contest. (Graphic courtesy of

Each year, Hollingsworth says the essays are reflecting an increased depth and understanding of the issues.

“When they write about understanding a day in the life of a fish it’s also revealing reflections from a day in their lives, which illustrates that they are developing their thinking skills.” 

Each year, awards for first, second and third place are offered in four grade categories: grades K to 3, 4 to 6, 7 to 9 and 10 through 12 for each state to maximize opportunities for student expression before competing for the national awards.  The People’s Choice award is selected based on on-line voting open to the public, this year through the end of July. 

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