HU Student Wacey Cochise Honored for Conservation Work during Native American Heritage Month
New Mexico Highlands University wildlife biology student Wacey Cochise traveled to Washington D.C. in November during Native American Heritage Month to receive recognition from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for his conservation work at the Mescalero Tribal Fish Hatchery.
“I was honored to represent all Native people in Washington D.C.,” Cochise said.
For the past two summers, Cochise, who is Mescalero and Chiricahua Apache, worked at the tribal fish hatchery on his reservation through a Native American Youth Conservation Corps position.
“Growing up, I always wanted to work at the fish hatchery so I was really happy when I applied to the manager, Michael Montoya, and he hired me,” said Cochise, a 19-year-old sophomore. “I got interested in studying wildlife biology working at the hatchery.”
His responsibilities at the fish hatchery included caring for the rainbow trout minnows inside the tank house and also caring for adult trout in the raceway area.
“I also learned how to load 300 pounds of trout into tank trucks for transport, adjusting the oxygen levels and loading blocks of ice into the water to mimic their natural habitat and keep them calm,” Cochise said.
The rainbow trout are released into water bodies like Silver Lake and Eagle Creek on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, which encompasses 720 square miles in south-central New Mexico near Ruidoso. The trout are also transported to other tribal lands around the state.
Streambed restoration on his reservation was also part of Cochise’s service with the Native American Youth Conservation Corps.
“We have high flooding hazard that is destroying streams and this can wipe out the majority of the trout population,” Cochise said. “We installed gabions, rock-filled wire baskets, in the streambeds to create pools for the trout to rest, feed and hide from predators.”
Cochise also worked to restore the natural winding path of streambeds, installing V-shaped rock walls to create more pools for the trout.
“From the beginning, Wacey demonstrated such interest, taking what he learned at the hatchery and running with it,” said Montoya, a Mora native. “He has drive and made himself a success at Highlands. I was so impressed with his focus and determination when he returned from college for his second summer with the fish hatchery.”
Montoya said Highlands University freshman Trevor La Paz also did excellent work at the fish hatchery as part of the Native American Youth Conservation Corps. La Paz was honored along with Cochise in Washington, D.C.
At Highlands, Cochise has taken several biology classes from Mary Shaw, who chairs the Biology Department.
“Wacey is a very motivated student and has a lot of potential to be a good wildlife biologist,” Shaw said. “I think Wacey will also be able to show other Native American youth how education can reinforce their heritage and connection to the land.”
Shaw said Cochise is always eager to learn.
“Wacey is getting involved with a bison genetic research project we are starting with wildlife biologist Brian Miller at Wind River Ranch,” Shaw said.
Cochise was raised on the Mescalero Apache Reservation by his father, Winston Cochise, and stepmother, Frances Cochise. Wacey Cochise and his father are direct descendents of the legendary Chiricahua Apache tribal leader of the same name who died in 1874.
“I’m very proud to be a descendent of Cochise,” Wacey Cochise said. “He was a respectful man and a good leader to his people.”
Cochise quietly displays leadership potential of his own.
“After I graduate from Highlands, I want to go back to my reservation and improve the wildlife environment and the wildlife program,” he said.