Aug, 2001

 

 

 

 

Reaching the Next Generation

 

Mark Havel of Future Forestry Products in Oregon shows off smallscale logging tools during an outdoor classroom in Potlatch, Idaho.

By Barbara Coyner

A reporter once asked Mother Theresa how she fed millions of hungry people over the years, and she replied simply, "One mouth at a time." Getting the positive stories out on the timber industry seems to be the same kind of missionary endeavor. After all, the press seldom holds tent revivals to sing the glory of logging. Yet the positive stories abound and somehow the public needs to hear them. Teacher education may well hold the key to delivering the message.

"Those lessons stuck with me for a long time, and I know I will always think differently about the industry after the internship."

Western Montana vo-ag teacher
Lans Richardson gets an advanced lesson on balance in the classroom at Idaho's Camp Wittman during a natural resources education conference.

"When you educate teachers, it's not a one time thing," says Betty Munis, Director at Idaho Forest Products Commission (IFPC) in Boise. "A teacher can reach 30 to 70 students per year, and for some teachers it's twice that. It's worth spending the time and effort on teaching because there's a spin-off year after year." Munis and IFPC Education Coordinator Michelle Youngquist see about 400 teachers per year come through the popular national program Project Learning Tree (PLT). IFPC holds twenty workshops around the state annually, educating educators about water quality, buffer strips, forestry practices and other aspects of working with nature to furnish products for people.

Connie Grant, a University of Idaho grad student, pretends to be a salmon as part of Project wild's hooks and Ladders program, presented to area teachers and students at Latah Soil and Water Conservation District's annual field day.

"There's a lot of good material out there to choose from," says Munis. "Our job wasn't to recreate the wheel, but to find the best wheel and get rolling on it. Project Learning Tree is a great leg of education and we found that the teachers knew about it and trusted it. It provides a solid foundation that we augment with Idaho materials."  Youngquist notes that teachers consistently  request material specific to the state. She adds that "Cookies in the Classroom" is also a good program, and both teachers and students identify with tree cookies and ring dating as tangible props to explain forestry concepts. "What we try to do is help educators understand the difference between environmental advocacy and environmental education," Munis says. "The industry is changing, but at the core of things, as a society we're still using wood. We want to help people understand the points of change. When we do that, we find a lot of good support for industry."

Smokey the Bear, one of the original forest educators, started telling his story to teachers and children over 50 years ago.

University of Idaho forestry professor Harold Osborne illustrates for teachers and students the process of a tree becoming a house during the annual Potlatch Timbersports and Natural Resources Expo in Potlatch, Idaho.

Private corporations effectively use internships, as well, to show teachers the nuts and bolts of what timber people actually do. One teacher, Jim Greetham, of Gig Harbor High School completed a six-week internship with Weyerhaeuser in 1999. During that time, he worked with the company's head pathologist, Will Littke, groundtruthing the accuracy of the company's digitized maps.

For Greetham, it was hands-on education at its finest as he learned about wildlife behavior in an area impacted by root rot, mastered plant names and vegetation patterns, and watched corporate timber managers in action. He also learned about reality versus idealism in such practices as clear-cutting and establishing prudent buffer zones. "In one case, the law required a 50- foot buffer," the 15-year teaching veteran explains. "The company met the letter of the law, but because of the aerodynamics, the remaining trees were subject to blowdown. So on one hand, they met the letter of the law, but ecologically, it wasn't the best way to go."

Armed with new perspectives, Greetham takes a different approach in the classroom these days, challenging kids with problem solving in his American Studies and Western Civilization classes. One class assignment asks students "Should your neighbor be allowed to log all his timber?" The simulated circumstances involve a retiree with 40 acres of timbered land, and students must factor for visual buffers, wildlife needs, salmon impacts and Forest Practices Act, as well as the economics.

"It was very enlightening," Greetham says of his students. "These were 14- and 15-year-olds and they had a great sense of fairness. Most allowed for a 25 to 75 percent cut, and many saw things through the landowner's eyes. They dealt with stream buffers, wildlife reserves, and visual considerations for neighbors and the highway, using a percentage of the profits for those things." Largely self-taught on environmental issues, Greetham had gone on several area nature tours before applying to Weyerhaeuser with the idea of learning more. The internship filled the bill. Not only was he amazed at the huge amount of data the company had compiled on its lands, but he saw firsthand a professionalism and strong safety ethic.

"Weyerhaeuser didn't want to brainwash us, so we were involved in current and ongoing projects. They didn't design anything special for us, and there was no agenda, because they didn't want any negative publicity. They knew that teachers traditionally mistrust the industry." Sheila Knox, a high school teacher in Coeur d'Alene, did a similar internship with Idaho Forest Industries (IFI) in 1988, and says it still influences her slant. Now writing curriculum for the district instead of teaching, Knox said she walked away from her internship impressed by how little the timber industry wastes. As a spin-off from her IFI training, the Idaho educator got students involved in recycling efforts.

Creswell, Oregon vo-ag teacher Ken Ball watches students come our of a soil pit as part of a lesson on forest soil at Camp Wittman near Lewiston, Idaho.

Lynn Rasmussen of the Natural Resource Conservation Service tells teachers and students from several western states about forest soils and nutrients as part of a natural resources conference at Camp Wittman.

Idaho tree farmer Dick Wittman gives teachers and students pointers on natural resource industry advocacy at Camp Wittman during an Agricultural Leadership Conference at Camp Wittman.

"Those lessons stuck with me for a long time, and I know I will always think differently about the industry after the internship," she says. State commissions and private industry both share strong track records in advancing timber education, because it's logically part of the job, but volunteers in the private sector also factor in heavily. Take Dick Wittman, a Lewiston, Idaho area tree farmer, who joined his brother Mark and cousins Bob and Todd in creating Camp Wittman, a youth camp for natural resources education.

The camp serves as a retreat for Lewiston's Valley Boys and Girls Club, and also hosts teacher workshops throughout the year. Wittman, who owns large tracts of timberland, built the camp with other volunteers, completing it in 1989. The retreat boasts solar power, log buildings, a challenge course and plenty of outdoor classroom space. "This is an education center, not a propaganda place," says Wittman of the rustic setting. "This is a place to tell the story, to explain systems and processes. People come here as consumers to learn about the systems."

For educators like Ken Ball, a high school vo-ag teacher from Creswell, Ore., Camp Wittman provides ongoing training that he can't get elsewhere. He relishes the chance to visit a different area, compare notes with other teachers and get practical lessons. "I don't know where we'd be if we didn't have natural resources industries supporting our efforts in the classroom," Ball says. "These programs don't tell our kids how to believe, they just give them countless opportunities to show how to manage nature and then they can make up their own minds how to co-exist with nature. I think we get more support from industry because they believe what they are doing is right. I don't think some environmentalists put out as much effort to educate kids because they have more tunnel vision."

Barbara Coyner has covered forestry issues and the timber industry for various magazines and newspapers for over 15 years.

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