Forest Health Field Days: Students Taking Action to Improve the Health of Our Forests
Why is a healthy forest important? Is our forest healthy? In the past, how were people good stewards of the forest and how can we be good stewards now? What action can we take today to improve the forests we live in?
Beautiful fall weather greeted the 95 seventh graders from North Tahoe School as they explored these questions during our Forest Health Field Day in mid October this year. Small groups of students rotated through 4 stations in the forest behind their school to dive deeper into these guiding questions, find some answers and take action.
What benefits do healthy forests provide? Students worked in small groups at this station to find puzzle pieces which, when assembled, revealed the benefits that different tree species in our ecosystem provide. Students then gave a short presentation to the rest of the group about the benefits they had learned about. The challenge, however, was that students had to learn how to read a compass in order to complete an orienteering course to find their puzzle pieces. This is a favorite station of students, who love hunting for clues as they learn how to read a compass.
Is our forest healthy? Students took on the role of foresters in another station to answer this question. There are many ways to measure forest health, but here students looked at forest diversity. Pairs each studied their own 20x20 foot plot to measure tree diameter, find how many different tree species are present, and see how many layers (grasses, bushes, trees, etc.) their plot had. Most found that the diversity health of their plots was fair or good, however we noticed that we needed more tree species diversity and less tree density. Groups shared ideas for how they would improve the health of their plots, such as thinning out white fir and planting more sugar pines.
How can we take care of our forests and be good stewards of the land? In this newly developed station students talked about the role of fire in healthy versus unhealthy forests. The students begin by playing a game that explores what makes a forest healthy. Students then learned the history of our local forests that included how the Washoe people in the past used regenerative burning practices, how our forest was clear-cut during the Comstock Lode and how our forest managers are currently using controlled burns and forest thinning tactics to not only reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic wildfire but also to keep our forest healthy- a fact particularly driven home by the controlled burn that was happening right next door in Burton Creek! Students talked about the importance of defensible space and how we can all help to keep our own homes and neighborhoods safe. After learning of the different zones around our homes and different kinds of fuels, they took on the role of defensible space inspectors by looking at photos of different Tahoe homes and marking what they would suggest the home owners do to improve their defensible space. This is a scary topic but when we are able to take specific steps we feel less vulnerable, as we each can make real changes at our homes and in our communities.
Action fosters hope! We took action by doing something concrete that helped our forests. Our partners, the Sugar Pine Foundation, joined us to teach students about Sugar Pines. Students learned how to plant trees so they would best survive and got to name their seedlings. Hopefully they will be able to revisit them in the future to check on their growth. Students at NTS and ACMS planted over 270 blister rust-resistant sugar pine seedlings to add to our forest diversity!
This year we were thrilled to bring our Forest Health Field Day to Alder Creek Middle School as well. The week of Halloween was scary cold but we still had a great time guiding 175 seventh grade students through the above stations with the addition of a new station cleaning up trash with our partners at Clean Up the Lake. Students collected over 2609 pieces of litter (1,733 were plastic) with a total weight of 58 pounds on their school grounds!
Thank you to the Sugar Pine Foundation, Clean Up the Lake, Truckee Donner Land Trust, North Tahoe Middle School, Alder Creek Middle School and Tahoe Truckee Unified School District for making this field day possible and helping us care for our local forests.
Thank you to Excellence in Education Foundation, The Patchwork Collective, Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation and Clif Bar Family Foundation for supporting SWEP programming and helping us promote stewardship.