What's happening in the forest sector?

Ready to learn
06.01.2021

“I’ve been waiting a year for this,” I found myself saying as I was setting up for my first in-person forestry lesson since the start of the pandemic.

I was teaching with the Salem-Keizer Outdoor School Coalition, which was started through a partnership between the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) and Salem Environmental Education, a nonprofit organization that provides the Salem-area community with environmental education programs that teach and motivate people to become active stewards of our environment. This coalition is made up of many Marion County agencies with educators who are experts in a variety of environmental-related subject areas.

I was in a forested park right next to an elementary school in Salem. The park’s old growth Douglas-Fir and oak trees made it the perfect setting to learn about trees, forests and natural resources. It felt good to be getting ready to teach students outdoors again. Over the last year, my position description had dramatically changed because of the pandemic and the shift to remote learning for most Oregon students. Rather than being outside with students helping them discover the natural world, I and other environmental educators were trying to present the topic of natural resources over a screen. But every environmental educator would tell you that the best way to learn about our natural world is to be out there in it, creating a shared experience, helping students step out of their comfort zones, discover something new, and take on a new perspective. All of this was hard to achieve through a computer screen.

Despite that challenge, OFRI came up with some interactive lessons that students could do virtually that also included components of getting outdoors in their backyard or a nearby park. We also had lessons that teachers could download for their students, such as our carbon lesson for middle schoolers.

As I taught that first in-person lesson in May after many months of virtual teaching, it was so nice to interact with the students face-to-face again even though we were six feet apart and wearing masks. The students were engaged and curious. They participated fully and seem to want more. One student even asked during the recess break if he could “stay and learn more.” 

The teachers were happy to give this Outdoor School experience to their students. One teacher said, “This was the most content-rich Outdoor School experience I have ever participated in with students. My students gained valuable information from highly qualified professionals from different community agencies. The collaboration of these agencies, teamed with the highly qualified staff, allowed my students to gain knowledge, confidence, and a new interest in outdoor experiences. The positive comments, encouragement and career examples from the staff has created intrigue for potential future career opportunities.

At the end of the day, I went home realizing something I hadn’t expected. I wasn’t the only one who had been waiting a whole year for this day. The students, teachers, principal and instructors all walked away with the same feeling.

Rikki Heath

Environmental Educator

The importance of getting students into the woods
05.26.2021

Forestry education is engaging, relevant and important for Oregon students. Knowing this, Forests Today & Forever has provided programs since 1994 that help to educate students and the public about Oregon’s forests to achieve our mission of promoting forest stewardship through education.

In a typical year, we bring about 2,500 students to the woods. For many of these students, it is the first time they have walked a forest trail, breathed the fresh forest air and experienced a day away from electronics. Our field-based forestry education programs, which are supported by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute through bus transportation reimbursements, give students an opportunity to connect with the forest though direct experience. Students learn about and see firsthand the abundant resources that forests provide, from recreational opportunities to clean water to wildlife habitat to the wood products that they use every day in their homes and at school

The teachers we work with are excited about getting students outside and into nature, and they are enthusiastic about teaching about forestry. Forests Today & Forever is based in Eugene, and the 2,500 students who participate in our programs annually come from 18 local schools in 11 districts, most of which participate year after year with new classes of students.

From our perspective, what’s not to love about our programs? After all, there are many good reasons to include forestry education in schools. Here are a few that might encourage more teachers to take advantage of our program and the many other forestry education program offerings in Oregon:

·         Forestry education is place-based. Forestry is central to Oregon's history, culture and economy, and educating about forestry is a comprehensive approach to help students develop a sense of place and understanding about their local community.

 

·         Forestry education is multidisciplinary, spanning several subject areas, including science, mathematics and history. It is easily integrated into these subjects to provide a learning experience that matches the complexities of real life.

 

·         Forestry education achieves the goals of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, helping students develop skills in these important subjects that can be applied in school and the real world.

 

·         Forestry education is career education. It highlights a variety of career and job opportunities in forest-related fields that students might not otherwise learn about. Many of these jobs are in-demand, high-paying and accessible to students directly after high school graduation.

As we emerge from the pandemic, our Forests Today & Forever field programs are coming back into session, along with those offered by other forestry education organizations across Oregon. We are excited to welcome students back to the woods and to support teachers in meeting their teaching and learning objectives with our forestry education offerings.

Beth Krisko

Director

Forests Today & Forever

Fire awareness today and every day
05.18.2021

May is officially Wildfire Awareness Month. But really, fire awareness and prevention is something we should be practicing every day, especially as we enter the dry summer months.

The catastrophic Labor Day wildfires of 2020 in Oregon are still a fresh reminder of how deadly and quick wildfires can be. The goal of Wildfire Awareness Month is to encourage all citizens to take steps to better prepare their home and communities for wildfires, and work toward becoming a fire-adapted community. Numerous fire prevention agencies and organizations are working together to increase awareness of human-caused wildfires by offering opportunities for people to participate in community fire prevention projects.

When it comes to preventing wildfires, there’s a lot at stake – lives, personal property, and the many values provided by Oregon’s forests and rangelands. In the wildland-urban interface, where residential areas abut forests and other wildlands, wildfires are often started by human activity such as debris burning or lawn mowing, and then spread to the forest. Once underway, a fire follows the fuel, whether it is trees or houses.

The good news is that simple prevention strategies can go a long way toward making your home, family and community safer. Spring is the perfect time to remove dead, flammable vegetation and limb up trees around the yard, making it less likely for a wildfire to spread to your home. Many Oregonians are also gearing up right now for the summer camping season, providing a great opportunity to refresh yourself on campfire safety to prevent the next forest fire.

In that spirit, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute recently awarded a $200,000 grant to the nonprofit Keep Oregon Green Association that will allow them to ramp up their wildfire prevention outreach of encouraging the public to create defensible space around their homes and prevent careless, unwanted wildfires this summer.

About 75% of the wildfires that break out in Oregon each year are human-caused. The number one cause is debris burns, followed by equipment and campfires, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. We all have a part to play and we can make a difference. The following are fire awareness and prevention actions you can take:

1.      Prepare yourself and your family for a potential evacuation:

·       watch the Oregon State University webinar Be ready, Be Set, Go!

·       build an emergency kit

 

2.      Be aware of your actions and the risks they pose at home and at work:

·       watch the Fire Safe Home video

·       prepare your home for wildfire

 

3.      Be aware of your actions and the risks they pose while out and about:

·       watch the Fire Safety Fact Break video

·       dive into fire prevention with Oregon Department of Forestry, including knowing fire closures

Thank you to all the firefighters and support crews who are preparing for the upcoming season. (Take a look inside the career of one courageous wildland firefighter here). Please help firefighters by reducing the risks of fires through being fire aware and working with your local fire department to be educated about community preparedness and evacuation plans.

If you are a forest landowner, there are also numerous actions you can also take to ensure the health of your forest and mitigate the potential risks from wildfire. Those topics are explored on the landowner education website KnowYourForest.org.

As Smokey Bear reminds us, “Only you can prevent wildfires.”

From the forest,

Julie Woodward

Senior Manager of Forestry Education

It’s spring! Time to think about wildlife in burned areas
05.04.2021

Wildfire in Oregon elicits powerful responses from all walks of life, whether it’s from concerned citizens, landowners, firefighters or others. In September 2020, Oregon faced a series of catastrophic wildfires that burned approximately 1 million acres. Federal, state and private lands were impacted. Causes are being investigated, and although I understand there are many considerations, the sustained winds and drought conditions meant that regardless of ownership or management, most everything within the pathway of these fires burned. My heart still hurts for all the loss, even though the fires were months ago. The loss of life, of homes and other structures, of timber, and of wildlife and wildlife habitat – these losses will be felt for generations. We’re all looking for ways we can help.

Conversations with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) staff have given me hope that most of the wildlife that live in Oregon’s forests survived these fires. Some were able to directly escape, while others sheltered in place by burrowing deep into the soil or finding unburned areas such as streams and lakes to hunker down. However, a million acres is a lot of burned area that’s not providing the same food sources for wildlife that it once did, for the time being.

There are many “after-the-fire” actions forest landowners can implement, and we recommend visiting fire-resource websites specifically designed to help landowners. Here are two great sites:

https://extension.oregonstate.edu/forests/fire

https://wildfire.oregon.gov/

It’s important to note that specific actions for wildlife are not always included in suggestions for how to restore forests after wildfire. One simple action landowners can do is to spread a wildlife-friendly seed mix in burned areas. A seed mix will have several benefits. It can help combat invasive species, provide erosion control and offer forage opportunities for wildlife. It can be tough to decide between using a native or non-native mix; we recommend native. If you choose to go with a non-native variety, plant a mix that’s not invasive and will be outcompeted by native vegetation within a few years. Good places to spread seed mix include on fire lines and fire access roadside edges, within burned stands, along riparian areas and slopes leading to riparian areas, and on landings after salvage logging operations are complete. Seed can be spread by hand, from a drone or helicopter, or by hydroseeding. Partner opportunities may be available from ODFW, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board or others.

Spring is a great time to plant the seed mixes. The winter was tough for a lot of wildlife, but firsthand reports from the fire line indicate there’s a lot of new growth already coming up. Applying a seed mix is our way of being intentional about what forage will be available for wildlife.

For specific details on where to find seed mixes, what should be in the mix, and how to apply them, check out the Oregon Forest Resources Institute’s new “Seed mixes for wildlife” fact sheet here.

For more information on helping wildlife after wildfire, please contact me directly at fran@cafferataconsulting.com or visit the following websites:

https://www.oregon.gov/ODF/Fire/Pages/AfterAFire.aspx

https://www.dfw.state.or.us/

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/or/home/

Fran Cafferata Coe, CWB®

Contract Wildlife Biologist

Oregon Forest Resources Institute

 

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