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May 08, 2009

Wedgwood Students Help Pass Law to Name Olympic Marmot as Official State Endemic Mammal

The Olympic Marmot, Marmota olympus, is a mammal species found nowhere else in the world except the alpine zone of the Olympic Mountains of Washington.

A group of intrepid fourth and fifth graders from Seattle's Wedgwood Elementary School has helped create a new State law that declares the Olympic Marmot as the official State endemic (only found in Washington) mammal. Working alongside the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture's Curator of Mammals, Jim Kenagy, and their teacher Kelly Clark, the students learned about the Olympic Marmot and successfully testified at two State legislative hearings to promote the bill.

At a signing ceremony on Tuesday, Governor Gregoire will sign the bill into law at the Seattle Aquarium. The ceremony will begin at 2 pm and Gregoire is scheduled to sign the endemic mammal law at 2:45 pm. The Wedgwood students and their teacher, Ms. Clark, will attend the signing, as will the Burke Museum's Jim Kenagy.

The new law states simply: "The Olympic Marmot is designated as the official State endemic mammal." The term endemic refers to a species that has a geographic distribution limited to a particular area. Fewer than 2,000 Olympic Marmots now live under protection in the Olympic National Park, and the new law will call attention to this rare mammal species.

Kenagy emphasizes the significance of the Olympic Marmot to the natural history of Washington State. "The students have hit on an important scientific concept in their designation of the Olympic Marmot as our State's official endemic mammal," he says. "It's unique, it's heritage, it's found only here."

Wedgwood students first gained interest in the Olympic Marmot while studying the process of state government with 4th grade teacher Clark and instructional assistant Rachel Jacobsen. Hoping to better understand the way ideas become law, the students began working with Senator Ken Jacobsen two years ago to submit a piece of legislation that would recognize the special value of Washington's own unique mammal. Six students representing the school traveled to Olympia twice to testify to Senate and House Committees, and to present to legislators an Olympic Marmot specimen, provided by the Burke Museum. 

Wedgwood Elementary Principal Denise Y. Espania recognized the educational value of the experience for her school's students. "With the leadership of Ms. Clark and Ms. Jacobsen, our Wedgwood students have had the opportunity to learn first-hand about government, how a bill becomes a law, and most importantly, how to actively participate as citizens in the democratic process," said Espania. "We are thrilled that our students have learned so much about government, endemic animals, and the Olympic Marmot through this process."

For more information about the Olympic Marmot, visit the Burke Museum Web site, Mammals of Washington: http://www.burkemuseum.org/collections/mammalogy/mamwash.

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Wedgwood Elementary School students (back row, L to R) Garrett Lawrence, Claire Demorest, Gabe Briggs, Erin Cunningham, (front row, L to R) Caroline Malone, and Nick Jansen testified twice in Olympia to pass a new bill that names the Olympic Marmot (
Wedgwood Elementary School students (back row, L to R) Garrett Lawrence, Claire Demorest, Gabe Briggs, Erin Cunningham, (front row, L to R) Caroline Malone, and Nick Jansen testified twice in Olympia to pass a new bill that names the Olympic Marmot (
Photo by Owen Lawrence