Casa Grande’s famed United Anglers program, the only student-run high school fish hatchery in the country, is celebrating its 30th year.
The program has churned out hundreds of biologists, researchers, environmental attorneys as well as public sector employees who found a passion for the natural world and giving back while rolling up their sleeves in the hatchery.
But it got its start with one simple question.
Tom Furrer, a wilderness biology teacher, now retired, was speaking to his class about endangered species when a student raised his hand.
“No disrespect,” said the boy, “but everything you're telling us is absolutely stupid. Why are we losing these things at such a rapid rate, things that we all love? What can we do?”
Furrer didn’t have an answer that day.
But on a walk soon after to nearby Adobe Creek, dry and filled with debris, he met a neighbor who pointed to a small pool of water where tiny steelhead trout swam.
“These are the last remaining steelhead in this creek,” the man said. “Help me save them.”
A light bulb went off.
Furrer began organizing cleanup events where students hauled diesel tires and other trash from the neglected creek.
The class also planted trees along the banks to provide shade and cool the water temperature. At night, they would go to the Petaluma River and catch Chinook and Fall Run salmon, extract the eggs and then breed them.
“The way education is going, there are so few opportunities for kids to do hands-on work and this is one of them,” said Dan Hubacker, a Casa Grande grad who took as director when Furrer retired in 2010.
This year is the first year the Anglers are working to replenish steelhead trout using 40,000 eggs from Lake Sonoma, after finally acquiring the needed permits.
But this is far more than just a science class. Students have to figure out how to raise $100,000 a year, keep the hatchery clean and often give tours and talks to visitors and donors.
“This gives them so many work and life skills,” said Hubacker. “ This is a business and they have to figure out how to run it.”
Sixteen-year-old Jessica Wells describes the program like a family, where students eat lunch together and often participate in weekend work projects.
"It's by far the best class I've had at the school," Wells said. "I feel like I'm making a difference."
Support the United Anglers of Casa Grande by attending their annual fundraiser Saturday, November 3 at the Lucchesi Community Center at 5pm. Tickets are just $10 and can be purchased on their site or at the door.
Are you a former Angler? Share your memories of the program with our readers.