MISSOULA – Montana Public Radio reporter Nicky Ouellet received the Chris Ruffatto Excellence in Education Award from the Whitefish Lake Institute at a ceremony on Feb. 7 for her work on the podcast “SubSurface: Resisting Montana’s Underwater Invaders.”
“SubSurface” examines what could happen if Montana fails to stop the coming invasion of zebra and quagga mussels threatening the state’s water bodies. Ouellet traveled to the Midwest to report on how invasive mussels changed the Great Lakes region and what they could mean for Montana’s future, as well as what the state already is doing to detect and prevent their spread.
“We hope that the award communicates to Nicky how much her dedication and effort means to the scientists and resource managers who work to understand and combat aquatic invasive species, and to the communities eager to prevent them from their waters,” said Mike Koopal, founder and executive director of the WLI.
The five-episode series launched last year and is available on iTunes and online at http://mtpr.org/programs/subsurface-resisting-montanas-underwater-invaders. Each 20-minute episode explores lessons from the communities zebra mussels already have invaded and the challenges faced in preventing their spread to Montana’s lakes and rivers.
“Tiny as they are, invasive mussels pose one of the biggest threats to Montana’s economy, the health of our watersheds and our way of life,” Ouellet said. “We realized at the end of last summer that despite news articles and educational campaigns, people still didn’t know what invasive mussels were, where they come from, how they’re spread or the damage they can cause. We made ‘SubSurface’ to answer those questions and show how invasive zebra and quagga mussels muck up infrastructure, recreation and ecosystems.”
Ouellet is a 2016 graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism master’s in environmental science and natural resource journalism program. MTPR digital editor Josh Burnham and Nora Saks, MTPR reporter and producer and UM journalism graduate student, also played significant roles in making the podcast.
The Whitefish Lake Institute is committed to science, education and community stewardship through protecting Whitefish area water resources. WLI’s educational stewardship award is named in honor of Chris Ruffatto and his lifetime dedication to environmental education in Montana. Ruffatto mentored thousands of students during his career as a high school educator. The award recognized him for always seizing the opportunity to involve young people in contemporary environmental issues and for challenging their thinking process by introducing them to innovative learning techniques.