Local kids get hands-on tree farming experience

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Students at Hawthorne, Oak Heights and Foster schools got to figure out what to do with an entire forest at the Forest Field Day held May 23 at Bert and Betty Udell’s Happy Valley Tree Farm off Bellinger Scale Road.

Holley and Crawfordsville schools, which have blended classrooms, participate every other year.

Participating sixth-grade students spend four weeks working in groups of four to prepare a plan for managing “Grandma Petersen’s” forestland. The project culminated in a Forest Field Day.

There, students got the chance to see how a tree farm is managed at four different stations, including soil and water conservation, forestry and harvest, recreation, and wildlife.

At the forestry station, they learn some basic timber measurement techniques as well as gain a brief overview of sustainable forestry management approaches.

At the wildlife station, students practice inventory plot sampling and discover how to evaluate wildlife habitat.

Through the soil and water stations, they are provided with a basic understanding of soil composition, erosion and compaction and are introduced to the importance of riparian buffers and their effect upon stream function and water quality.

During the recreation walk, students learn of the issues inherent in allowing the public access to both public and private lands.

Kaylee Owen and Megan Porria were fascinated by the wildlife station, where they were busy “dissecting (sanitized) pellets to see what kind of animals an owl ate,” Owen said.

“It stinks,” Porria said as she announced finding a rodent’s pelvis bones.

Owen said she enjoyed learning while “getting out of the classroom.”

This part was probably her favorite, she said. “It’s like digging out of the ground for dinosaurs.”

Both said their groups were thinking about managing their forests for recreation.

The program is sponsored by Forests Today and Forever, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting forest stewardship through education.

The annual event got its start in 1985 when forest products leaders and other forestry enthusiasts in Lane County recognized the need to expose more members of the public to concepts of forest management and stewardship.

“There’s not a lot of forestry education left in a state with 28 million acres of forestland,” Program Coordinator LaRae Ash said. The premise is that students roleplay a family that inherits 200 acres from Grandma Petersen.

Class work is correlated to state and federal benchmark requirements, Ash said. The students create a five-year plan that pays taxes, follows the law for wildlife, soil and water conservation, replants any harvests and protects endangered species.

“As future citizens they need to know something about how forestland is managed,” Ash said. This gives them a science-based education on forestry.

“There’s so little of that information out there,” Ash said. Teachers are busy, and they’re constantly teaching to mandates, leaving little time for outdoor learning experiences.

“It’s important that Oregonians understand how our forestlands are managed, so they can make solid decisions in the future,” Ash said. “It’s complex, and not all forests are created equal. Some are preserved for public enjoyment. Some are managed for a variety of purposes — as are many small family-owned properties — and some are designated as ‘crops’ for our wood product needs, much as a cornfield, but on a 40-60 year rotation.

“Our citizens need to know that we have some of the toughest and most comprehensive laws in the world — laws that assure that lands are replanted after harvest, and that our resources — water, soil and wildlife, along with our timberlands — are managed in a sustainable manner.

“Trees are a renewable resource, and they sequester carbon and provide oxygen, while forestlands of varying ages provide wildlife habitat, wood products and employment. In the Adirondacks, which is a very environmentally sensitive area, managing land for timber production is starting to be viewed as a healthy and productive use, preferable to sprawling development. With the rate of development here in Oregon, it’s something to consider.”

Helping put on Forest Field Day, for 112 students from Foster and Hawthorne on Friday and 65 from Oak Heights on Friday, were Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, Weyerhaeuser, Oregon State University Extension Service, Starker Forests and Cascade Timber Consulting.