Teaching the next generation

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Conservation districts across the country work with local school districts to help spread the word about forestry, conservation

By Mike Beacom

Minnesota’s Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) helps the Cromwell-Wright blackwalnutsHigh School manage its 81-acre school forest. Projects have included tree removal, controlled burning, and maple sap collection and processing. Years ago, the district helped a science teacher develop a Forest Stewardship Plan, and district staff have visited classrooms to talk to students about forest management and soil health.

Because of the students’ work, and partner involvement, the school forest is a resource for the entire community to appreciate.

Conservation districts work with area youth and school districts in a number of ways. Here are a few examples from this fall:

  • Susan Biggs Warner of the Vermilion County Conservation District led a group of Illinois second-graders on a hike through the Forest Glen County Preserve, where they identified animal habitats and tracks, smelled sassafras leaves and other plants and looked for pine cones, acorns and mushrooms. One student told a local reporter: “I liked walking in the trees and seeing the leaves change colors. We also looked for things around the trees like vines and moss.”
  • Fifth-grade classes from Barbour County, Alabama recently had the opportunity to learn about the forest and the resources it provides during the Barbour County Extension Office’s Classroom in the Forest program. The Barbour County SWCD was among the many partners to assist with the event. Three hundred students spent the day in the forest learning about animal habitats, identifying trees and birds, learning how to fish, hearing from individuals who work in the forest, and studying different skins and skulls of animals that call the forest home.
  • New Mexico’s Carlsbad SWCD sponsors an annual Children’s Water Festival. Among the topics discussed this year were conserving water, erosion and forest fires. More than 600 area third-grade students attended the two-day event. Guest speakers included representatives from the U.S. Forest Services and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wildland firefighters.

According to data collected in NACD’s 2015 comprehensive forestry survey, more than 55 percent of America’s conservation districts work with 100 or more students each year. Respondents indicated their conservation district was involved in a variety of other area education-related activities, including student scholarships, teacher training and Boy Scout badges.

For many years, NACD has supported Envirothon, a national competition centered on four universal testing categories (soils/ land use, aquatic ecology, forestry and wildlife) and a current environmental issue. Winning teams from participating states and Canadian provinces compete for recognition and scholarships.

NACD also sponsors an annual contest which encourages K-12 students to design posters related to that year’s stewardship week theme. The 2016 theme – We All Need Trees – attracted more than 1,000 entries. Winning entries receive cash prizes and their posters are displayed at NACD’s Annual Meeting.

To read more feature stories from Forestry Notes, follow Mike Beacom, NACD’s forestry specialist, here on NACD’s blog or subscribe to Forestry Notes by clicking here.

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