|Forest Service District Ranger Chuch Harris, Silviculturist Andy Vigil and Pyramid's Bruce Timpano (all in center) make a point with students in the field.|
January 11, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
From the Swan Valley Ecosystem Center
Seasons are changing in the forests of the Swan Valley and students from nearby elementary schools are measuring, observing and considering how the changes will impact wildlife, trees and people.
But the seasons that these students are learning about aren't limited to fall, and winter and spring.
These students are considering the life-giving seasons that trees and forests provide to communities. Economic seasons with plenty of jobs. Ecological seasons that keep all the pieces in tact. Creative seasons that provide time for reflection and consideration of new ideas.
Their young minds are pondering ways that a certain forest might create good seasons for any number of people, plants and animals.
The students are part of an innovative project brainstormed by people who work with the Swan Ecosystem Center at Condon.
Neil Meyer, a retired logger from Salmon Prairie, has donated the use of 50 acres of land that he and his wife, Dixie, own just north of Condon. Students are learning about forestry in their own back yards.
From left are Neil Meyer, Amy Meyer, and Charlene Kesterson using a stereoscope to view aerial photos. Students are mapping different forest types as part of the program.
"People are forgetting where things come from. I hope this project helps make people aware of where things do come from. We want to make sure that people keep seeing what's going on, on the land, especially with logging" Neil Meyer explained.
So Neil and his family are helping the Swan Ecosystem Center develop this education project that brings students onto the land and teaches them how to measure trees, wildlife habitat and aesthetics.
Meyer commented that the local students excel at their tasks.
"We have awfully good kids in the Swan Valley. They'll surprise you how much they know," he grinned.
The Swan Ecosystem Center has asked the students to define land management options that might be possible in this 50-acre forest based on the studies that they are currently conducting. The students hope to have some plans in place by next spring.
Plum Creek Timber Company and the Flathead National Forest are also supporting the project. Plum Creek Timber Company donated $1,000 to the Swan Ecosystem Center so that the organization could buy professional forestry tools. Students use these tools to accurately measure and study the trees, soils and vegetation on this land. Back in the classroom, they learn about this landscape by studying aerial photos with a new stereooscope.
Wildlife biologists and other scientists have joined the program to help students understand the many values of a forest.
The Forest Service has donated $10,000 toward the development of an educational trunk that will be made available to teachers in the Northern Rockies who would like to develop a Students on the Land project in their own schools.
According to Anne Dahl, director of the Swan Ecosystem Center, the forest is a unique resource that many people take for granted. "This project will ultimately become an outreach throughout the entire Northern Rockies. There is a lot we all need to learn about forest stewardship, and the best way to learn that is to get out on the land and take a look at the forest," she said.
By having to develop a land management plan, students are learning to calculate the value of a tree cut down versus the value of a tree left standing. They also study and evaluate the different species of plants and animals in the forest.
Gordon Summerville helps Ralph Cahoon learn how to use a "cruiser's crutch" during a field trip.
"They need to recognize when a tree is mature, or when it is still growing. These are skills used by people who work in the woods. But the students who come from families that don't work in the woods don't know these things. This project teaches kids to look a little more closely at the forest. They need to learn to be better observers," she said.
Beyond the implications for local forest management, Dahl believes that the Students on the Land project will also help students become better-informed citizens.
"As adults, these young people will become voters and taxpayers. They will be entitled to comment on the management of public forests. They will be better prepared to help land managers make decisions about our natural resources. We all need to consider how we will provide a sustainable supply of natural resources that will keep our economies moving, and support our local communities, Dahl said.