Crayfish in Arizona: A Successful Collaboration

FOSS Newsletter Staff
September 04, 2007 | FOSS in Schools

Did you know that Arizona is the only state in which it is illegal to transport live crayfish of any kind? That tidbit of information becomes pretty important if you're a teacher in Scottsdale, Arizona, who is using the FOSS Structures of Life Module.

But when Janey Kaufmann, K–12 Science Coordinator in the Scottsdale Unified School District, and resource managers from the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) put their heads together, a solution to the crayfish problem was soon in the works.

Crayfish are not found naturally in Arizona, so they are deemed invasive. Invasive species are loosely defined as nonnative plants and animals that cause or may cause harm to a state's economy, human health, or environment. Some animals and plants that were introduced from beyond Arizona's borders are not considered invasive as they provide economic benefits or cause no harm to human health or the environment. But crayfish fit the definition because they eat just about anything and everything in typical freshwater environments. Many native species can fall prey to crayfish voraciousness. Over time crayfish can transform a diverse aquatic environment into an environment that is home to only crayfish. Hence, the ban on importing live crayfish into most areas of Arizona was put into place.

This ban took effect in 2001, just about the time many Arizona school districts had invested in science programs, such as FOSS, that use crayfish in their life science investigations. According to Janey, in an article in Arizona Wildlife Views, "We felt like our hands were tied. Without the crayfish, this part of our curriculum meant nothing."

Kids and crayfish

It's hard to imagine the FOSS Structures of Life Module without students interacting with crayfish.

The crayfish problem needed to be resolved. Janey and Richard Pacheco (FOSS Sales Manager for Arizona) met with Eric Proctor and Jeff Sorensen from the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) to discuss the issue. After Janey presented the education case, the group worked out a compromise. Scottsdale Unified School District developed a responsible-use plan, and AGFD agreed to issue a Wildlife Holding Permit that allowed the district to buy, import, receive, hold, and transport live crayfish in Arizona. The responsible-use plan outlined protocols for handling live crayfish and specific procedures for crayfish care. It included a list of the people responsible for transporting, caring for, and feeding the crayfish and details about crayfish disposal to ensure that they would not be released into Arizona's lakes and rivers. The district could get the crayfish from various sources, including biological supply companies, persons with scientific collecting permits, individuals identified by the school district who had valid Arizona fishing licenses, or AGFD staff. The plan was approved by AGFD, and the school district was issued the permit to use live crayfish in their classrooms. The Scottsdale plan is now used as a template for other districts. You can view the template at Arizona Game & Fish Department website.

Drawing of a crayfish in a container

Part of the responsible-use plan included education for both teachers and students about invasive organisms. Cathy Janssen and Kelly Plowman, Scottsdale USD teachers, were enlisted by AGFD to provide the training. They developed a lesson called The Trouble with Crayfish to introduce students to crayfish issues through a simulation of what can happen when crayfish are introduced into a local Arizona stream. The lesson includes modeling crayfish behavior and analyzing data and graphs to determine the impact of nonnative according crayfish on native fish populations and aquatic ecosystems. Students are challenged to brainstorm solutions and develop a management plan to address the problem. The Trouble with Crayfish complements the FOSS Structures of Life Module and is used at grade 4. You can find the lesson as part of the Focus: Wild Arizona program here.

Kids and crayfish

The most interesting part of the teacher training on this new lesson was a field trip to an ecosystem where crayfish had been introduced. The first field experience occurred in late August 2006. Six teachers from the Phoenix area, including Janey Kaufmann, joined AGFD staff at the Seven Springs area near Cave Creek in southern Arizona. Their goal was to experience firsthand the destruction that crayfish can cause to an ecosystem. They captured, counted, measured, and sexed the crayfish and recorded data about the condition of the stream habitat. At the end of the experience, they enjoyed a crayfish boil. The remaining crayfish were transferred to the Arcadia Critter Farm, an animal care facility for the Scottsdale district. Here the crayfish would be managed according to the responsible-use plan implemented by the district.

But the fun wasn't over. In October 2006, nearly 20 teachers and AGFD staff returned to Cave Creek for another round of crayfish field study. But the crayfish study was interrupted. Only minutes after they arrived at Seven Springs, a downpour began. Many experienced their first flash flood. Everyone was safe, except for the crayfish and other flora and fauna that washed down the creek bed to who-knows-where. But the crayfish investigation was not a total loss. Some of the staff and other volunteers had arrived the day before and had trapped six crayfish. These six crayfish were the focus of discussion for the participants huddled together under improvised canopies stretched between vehicles.

Kaufmann and award

Janey received this award this past spring from the Arizona Game and Fish Department for her colaboration on the crayfish project.

For many, the flash flood was a chance-of-a-lifetime experience. They safely watched as the flood tore apart riverbanks and road crossings and swept away vegetation. Fire had recently devastated the Cave Creek Complex, so the effects of fire on soil erosion and flooding was glaringly apparent. The group may not have captured crayfish that day, but they did experience other wonders of nature—the flash flood, a great blue heron soaring overhead, caterpillars, raccoon tracks, and a redspotted toad. No one left disappointed.

The FOSS crayfish investigations in the Structures of Life Module in Scottsdale have become even richer with the addition of The Trouble with Crayfish lesson and the teachers' experiences in the field. For her efforts, Janey Kaufmann was awarded a certificate of achievement by the Arizona Game and Fish Department for her "leadership and dedication for making the ‘crayfish problem' a successful collaboration between school districts and the department." Our congratulations to Janey!


  • "Educating with Mudbugs—A Successful Collaboration," by Eric Proctor. Arizona Wildlife Views, v. 50 no. 1, January–February 2007, pp. 11–15.

For More Information

  • Janey Kaufmann
    K-12 Science Coordinator
    Scottsdale Unified School District
    Mohave District Annex
    8505 E Valley View Rd
    Scottsdale, AZ 85250
    Phone: 480.484.5052