Wednesday, February 29, 2012

seeing the forest

Envirothon is a program for high school youth in which teams study ecology and environmental science and complete a community project. The teams compete at a state meet, scored on their project and on a landscape interpretation exam done cooperatively by each team. In Michigan, the county Conservation Districts support their local teams. So thanks to our local Conservation District and two wonderful young women, Amanda and Crystal, who volunteer their time to coach the team (both of whom work for other, local environmental agencies). State winners go on to compete in the Canon International Envirothon. I’ve been involved as a “resource professional” with our local Envirothon team for a dozen years or so. I help the students learn about forest ecology. Last night I talked to the team about a variety of topics in that area, but concentrated on forest succession and the role of shade tolerance/intolerance in forest dynamics. Later that evening, I mentioned to a colleague that I had been explaining shade tolerance/intolerance to high schoolers and that they seemed to understand it now. He said “I think the 5th graders I was explaining it to today also understand it.” I realized that he and I were not just explaining an ecological concept, we were not just helping future adults learn about forest management. We were also helping them develop their sense of place. We’re surrounded by forests. Many people just see them as pretty collections of trees. By helping these students know a little bit about how the forests function, we’re helping them see more than a pretty collection of trees. They can now see a functioning ecosystem. They now feel more a part of the forest. At least that’s our hope.

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