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Forty years of forestry education in Oregon

In 1981, my wife, Teresa, and I moved to Oregon so I could attend graduate school at the Oregon State University College of Forestry. That was the beginning of my long career as a forestry educator in this great state, which will soon come to an end with my retirement this year.

While studying for a Master of Forestry in silviculture, I served as a teaching assistant for forest ecology and silviculture classes, working with the professors John Tappeiner and Dick Hermann. With mentors like them, I caught the bug for teaching forestry and learned that it was an area in which I excelled.

Upon graduation in 1983, I went to work as the first tribal forester for the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon. The tribe had recently had their tribal status restored and were beginning forest management on their new reservation. As the tribe’s forester, I got to write silvicultural prescriptions, manage timber sales, supervise spray and reforestation projects, and even got to write the Siletz Indian Reservation’s first forest management plan. I had the chance to supervise and train tree planting, thinning and inventory crews, and generally practice intensive silviculture in Oregon’s Coast Range. However, when a forestry extension agent position opened in Douglas County, I knew that I had to apply to try and get into forestry education full time.

I worked for the Oregon State University Extension Service in Douglas County for six years before transferring to the Lane County Extension office in Eugene, where I continued by post-graduate studies at the University of Oregon. I was in Eugene for five years before moving to the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis, where I worked as the director of outreach for the College of Forestry for the next six years.

During my time at OSU, I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of woodland owners and professional foresters. I taught dozens of workshops and coordinated numerous forestry conferences. I also worked with many K-12 students and did a bunch of public education.

In 2003, I was asked to apply for a position with the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) as the director of forestry. I had worked on several OFRI projects while at OSU Extension and was very supportive of OFRI’s mission to educate Oregonians about forestry. After 16 years of forestry extension, I was ready to play on a larger stage. It was a hard decision to walk away from a tenured full professor position, but I was ready.

Working as OFRI’s director of forestry for the past 18 years has given me a tremendous opportunity to communicate to the people of Oregon the importance of forestry: What it is, why we do it and why it matters. Being the face and voice of active forest management in the most important forestry state in the country has been an incredible opportunity. I have had the chance to teach many more classes, write several educational publications, star in a handful of informational videos, and help lead an incredible organization.

OFRI’s mission of educating Oregonians about forestry has become my personal mission. I have loved every minute of spreading the forestry gospel and believe that we have made an incredible difference through our work. I have had the opportunity to work with a team of professional communicators, educators and foresters, aided by adequate resources and tremendous forest sector support toward an end that I really believe in.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve you for the last 40 years. The time has gone way too quickly. I hope and pray that OFRI continues for a long time and continues to receive the support of the forestry community in Oregon. Thanks for the memories.

For the forest,

Mike Cloughesy

Director of Forestry

Ready to learn

“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

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


Forests Today & Forever

Fire awareness today and every day

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

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