Teachers as a group are great at sharing ideas and networking. When they attend a conference or training, they often use the time to compare notes on education trends, get support from more experienced colleagues, and brainstorm lesson ideas. The conferences the Oregon Forest Resources Institute’s (OFRI) K-12 education program held for teachers via Zoom during the pandemic made this important professional connection difficult at best.
After two years of holding our Natural Resources/Career Technical Education Conference for high school teachers over Zoom, we once again held it in person in December at The Oregon Garden in Silverton. The presumption that teachers missed being together was supported by the attendance numbers. Usually about 60 teachers attend, but this year more than 100 from all over the state were there.
Because we recognize the importance of teachers making connections with each other, getting the most current information and helping their students see the real-world application of the concepts they teach, we applied a new model we hoped would better achieve these objectives.
Traditionally, the conference agenda is driven by whatever session topics are received from a “request for proposals.” For the 2022 conference, we instead asked researchers from Oregon State University to pair up with community college faculty members to deliver a session together. The researcher would present their findings, and then a community college faculty member would model a lesson that aligned with the research. The idea was to give high school teachers the latest information on current issues and research trends, as well insight into how to apply that information in their classroom to support student learning.
Here are some examples of these sessions that were held during the 2022 conference:
- A presentation called “Forests According to Pollinators” was about research indicating high pollinator abundance and diversity in intensively managed forests and forests burned by wildfires. The accompanying lesson was on how to do plant and woody-debris surveys, analyzing the data to evaluate the quality of forest habitat for bees and other pollinators.
- A presentation called “Wildlife of the Forest: Black Bears Denning” looked at results from denning research recently conducted by tracking black bears throughout western Washington and Oregon. The accompanying lesson was on how to use motion-activated cameras to teach the principles of wildlife biology.
- A presentation called “A Douglas County Case Study: Archie Creek – A Story of Reforestation, Restoration and Community” examined the impacts of the 2020 Archie Creek Fire and the resulting challenges the community faced with forest recovery. The accompanying lesson was on wildfire recovery in the Douglas-fir forests of western Oregon, and how the tree species is impacted by fire.
Teacher evaluations of the conference were overwhelmingly positive. Most teachers said they were very satisfied with the format of the conference, and their main challenge with the sessions was that they could not attend all of them. They appreciated getting the current research and then learning techniques to use with their students in the field. One teacher noted, “I like to sit and absorb information, and then do an activity.”
OFRI worked closely with the Oregon Natural Resources Education Program in designing and delivering the conference. The conference is a requirement of the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) for schools that have an accredited Natural Resources Program of Study. These schools must meet specific ODE requirements, including providing at least two high school credits specific to natural resource education.
The conference also attracts teachers from other content areas, including those who focus on biology, agriculture and environmental science. While their attendance is not mandatory, it’s a great way they can learn about forests and other natural resources, as well as ways to integrate those topics into their curriculum.
Director of K-12 Programs
The three basic elements required for animal survival are food, water and shelter. Like us, wild critters need protection from the elements, and a place that provides a bit of safety and security in an otherwise tough world.
The truth is, wild animals are more often than not living their lives on a razor’s edge. Whether carnivore or herbivore, if the daily requirements of those three basic survival elements are not met – even just once or twice – it can be game over. All this sobering information is intended to highlight the importance of animals having access to quality habitat on a given landscape. Fortunately for both wildlife and landowners, supplementing habitat in the form of pile structures is simple, and it’s one of the top management tools available, according to the Woodland Fish and Wildlife Group.
A habitat pile is often referred to as a “brush pile,” although there’s ideally a bit more technique involved than just piling brush. It’s a structure made of woody material that’s designed and built to provide effective and long-lasting refuge for wildlife in a place where the natural habitat features they’d normally use may be lacking. Habitat piles can be as basic as piled brush, piled stumps or piled logging debris (“slash”) that’s retained, but there are a couple suggested pile designs that allow just about anyone to provide their resident wildlife with a high-quality structure to rest, roost, nest and nap for years.
It’s important to state that there is no single correct way to make a habitat pile; here we’ll follow the guidelines suggested by the Northwest Natural Resource Group. The first design is for a habitat pile that somewhat resembles a messy log cabin once it’s completed, and its function is similar as well. Aim for a structure that’s about 10 feet wide and 6 feet tall. This pile will be a safe haven for any brush or wood-loving species. Chipmunks, rabbits, weasels, elk, deer, bears, coyotes, grouse, towhees, thrushes, woodpeckers, snakes, lizards or just about any critter in the woods can make use of one of these structures.
Starting with the largest-diameter logs or limbs (4” across or larger), build the base of the structure by laying wood pieces on the ground parallel to one another, with gaps between them. Gaps allow wildlife to enter and exit. Next, take another set of similar pieces and lay them on top of the base, perpendicular to those first logs. Repeat that pattern until the structure has close to six feet of height to it, then top it off with a roof of smaller limbs and brush at least 18” deep. Remember to think “log cabin.”
The resulting habitat pile will have a sturdy build with lots of interior space and a brushy roof to keep it cozy inside. Try to build at least two or three of these structures per acre, spacing them out about a hundred feet from each other. Place them near water and food sources, or where a little extra warming or shade might be beneficial.
Keep in mind that these structures are flammable, so don’t place them close to anything valuable in case of a fire. Also, keep an eye out for pest activity, though it’s unlikely these piles will have a major impact on pests. In this article the Washington State Department of Natural Resources recommends not piling green Douglas-fir or ponderosa pine, especially larger pieces, between January and August, to avoid potential issues with bark beetles. As long as these safety tips are heeded, there’s no real wrong way to build this pile. Use what you’ve got! Pallets could work as a base, or even stones. Try a triangular frame instead of a square, if you’re short on logs.
The second suggested design is meant to simulate a large log lying on the ground. Large down wood is important to ground-dwelling animals that need moisture, such as amphibians, mollusks and arthropods. Plants and fungi thrive on them, exploiting the nutrients as they decay. These log surrogates are simple structures that use smaller logs brought together to help fill the gap left by the absence of large natural logs.
Aim to create a log structure that’s at least 20 feet long and 2 feet wide. Start by building a crib to hold the individual wood pieces in place, by vertically driving in stakes or branches on both sides, positioned to accommodate your desired length and width. Once the crib is built, fill it with smaller logs stacked together. That’s it! The same safety guidelines noted above apply to surrogate logs as well as log-cabin-style piles, and you can use similar spacing on a surrogate log pile.
There you have it! Two easy structures that can be built out of on-hand material that will provide shelter to wildlife for years, or even a decade with a little maintenance. If the suggestions here aren’t doable, don’t be afraid to simply make a pile, and instead of burning brush or slash, pile it (at least the largest pieces and stumps) a safe distance from structures and just leave it. For tips on what to set aside from slash piles, see this publication from OFRI about managing logging slash piles. The critters will thank you… in their own way, of course.
For more information on habitat piles and other management tools for wildlife habitat, see this article by Northwest Natural Resource Group, as well as this publication about managing wildlife leave trees and this publication about enhancing wildlife habitat on managed forests, both from OFRI.
Cafferata Consulting, LLC
Photos by Cafferata Consulting, LLC
When you Google the term “fish to fry,” you’re rewarded with multiple recipes for creating the perfect fried-fish dinner, plus the idiom “other fish to fry,” defined as other matters to deal with.
It’s harder to find a description of Fish Eggs to Fry, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) amazing program, often simply called “Fish to Fry,” that gives students in classrooms from kindergarten through high school a way to observe the biology of salmon, steelhead or trout – and participate in these species’ life cycle – in a hands-on way. Through ODFW’s Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program (STEP), Fish Eggs to Fry brings salmon or trout eggs into more than 700 Oregon classrooms each year for students to observe, raise and then release while learning about some of our state’s most iconic species.
Last month, teachers from Lane County gathered at Hendricks Park in Eugene to attend a workshop put on by Oregon Natural Resources Education Program in partnership with OFRI and ODFW, to learn how to participate in the Fish Eggs to Fry program and how to support student learning with related curriculum resources.
At the workshop, STEP biologists from ODFW provided some expert advice on salmon and trout species in Oregon, including their life cycles and habitat needs. They discussed the economic and environmental importance of salmon and the challenges they face in the wild. Teachers also received OFRI K-12 publications to support their teaching about forests, fish and wildlife.
After hearing about the biology of the fish, teachers learned the process for setting up their classroom aquarium and getting the eggs. Once they receive the eggs, it’s important that students monitor the temperature of the water in the aquarium and also make sure it stays clean.
Data sheets are available so students can take daily temperature readings and calculate how long it will be until the fish are mature. With the classroom aquarium, students learn about the life history of the fish as they observe the eggs hatching and transforming into “sac fry” before becoming tiny salmon. The class then takes a field trip to a local creek, stream or river to learn about fish habitat and set free the one-inch-long fish they helped raise.
Teachers gave the workshop high marks, and indicated that they learned a lot of information they could apply to their classroom. All the teachers who attended the workshop planned to get fish eggs and participate in the program.
Fish, especially salmon and steelhead, are synonymous with Oregon. It’s nice to know that OFRI is playing a part in helping students learn about these important species that spend crucial parts of their life cycles in Oregon forests.
Director of K-12 Education Programs
I’m Jim Paul, the new executive director of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI). Established by the Oregon Legislature over three decades ago, OFRI’s fundamental mandate is to support Oregon’s forest products sector and foster the wise stewardship of natural resources for the benefit of Oregonians. With almost half of Oregon covered in forestland, this is a critical sector that can directly touch nearly every Oregonian.
At the time OFRI was founded in 1991, Oregon recognized that forestry encompasses one of the largest economic sectors in the state. Today it contributes an estimated 61,500 jobs to Oregon’s economy, more than $8 billion in state gross domestic product (GDP) and more than $18 billion in base economic output. This equates to almost 3% of total state employment, 3.7% of state GDP and 4.7% of total state output – that’s nearly $1 of every $20 generated in Oregon. There are also more than 62,000 Oregonians who own more than 10 acres of forestland, and that number roughly doubles when you include owners of smaller forestlands.
Notwithstanding all of these important economic and social factors, this vital sector depends on responsible stewardship of the nearly 30 million acres of forestland in Oregon. Forest stewardship is a topic that has seen a lot of attention and vigorous public debate in recent decades in the face of some turbulent times for forestry in Oregon. At the core of this debate is a familiar concept that can be expressed in a single word: sustainability.
When we talk about the sustainability of our forests, what does that mean? For me, it means ensuring that environmental values such as clean water and air, wildlife habitat and carbon storage – to name just a few – are protected to meet the public’s expectations now and into the future. It means our forests are providing the recreational opportunities and open space Oregonians value so much. And that our forests are producing the wood and paper products that Oregonians enjoy and count on in their daily lives.
Sustainability also includes recognizing the interdependence of these values – a three-legged stool supported by the environmental, social and economic benefits our forests provide. If Oregon is going to remain successful in sustaining healthy and vigorous forests, we need to strive to meet all the expectations and needs Oregonians have when it comes to our forests.
To achieve sustainability requires collaboration across many different interests statewide, and a common understanding of the fundamental facts about our forests. It also requires open and honest public engagement, with easy access to information so a healthy public debate can occur – one that values and considers diverse perspectives. This is essential to ensuring the public policy decisions made by our natural resource leaders are ultimately in the best interests of all Oregonians, and the sustainability of all our forestlands.
OFRI is in a unique position to provide leadership through forest education, with a dual mandate of supporting what’s in the best interest of both the public and the forestry sector in Oregon. A purpose that does not put one interest over the other, but instead leans into that sweet spot where benefits can be realized for all. A real-time example of this is the education and outreach OFRI has provided regarding the Private Forest Accord, a collaborative agreement between the forest industry and conservation groups that charts a new path forward in determining the future of many of Oregon’s private forest practices regulations.
No other organization in Oregon is positioned as OFRI is: charged with a singular focus on advancing the common interests between the forestry sector and Oregonians. And as a state entity, OFRI is directed and entrusted to carry out its work from a professional, balanced and nonpartisan perspective. These principles, centered on finding common ground in resolving challenging natural resource issues, are ones I’ve carried with me throughout much of my public service career in forestry and land management, and I’ll continue with them as the executive director of OFRI. I look forward to advancing OFRI in the essential leadership role it has been tasked with to keep this state’s forest sector strong, and to work hard to ensure the wise stewardship of Oregon’s forests for generations to come.