Inspiring a New Generation of Forestry Leaders By Stasia Kelly
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire
So wrote William Butler Yeats, widely considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. His word shave been personified by generations of teachers and students, whether or not they were in official education roles or were even conscious the adage was at work. “You never know what kind of spark you have with a young person,” said 4-H Science Programs Specialist Kasey Bozeman from her office at the University of Georgia (UGA) College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. “I clearly remember getting my Project Learning Tree Girl Scout badge in elementary school. I remember learning the names of trees and walking down a path through the forest; I was sold!” Project Learning Tree (PLT) is an international award-winning environmental education program designed for all educators working with students in Pre-K through 12th grade.
Project Learning Tree is a 501(c)3organization that was introduced in the early 1970s, and it has been the education beacon for the forest industry ever since. It is managed and administered by the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC)and UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources. The program’s co-coordinator is GFC Conservation Education Coordinator Chelsea York.
“Summer is our busiest time of year,”said York, “with the most opportunities for face-to-face activities, engaging with teachers and students for longer periods of time. But PLT and all the programs we’re involved with are operating, at some level, year-round.”
Natural Influencers Education is one of the pillars of GFC’s mission and is inextricably connected to everything else the agency does. As its employees serve and lead, they are educating people, one by one, about the benefits of the forest and the dedicated professionals who protect and conserve it. Forest rangers teach landowners that fire can be slowed and property saved when pre-suppression firebreaks are plowed. Forest health specialists enlighten others about the dangers of tree overcrowding when leading a field day through a pine beetle-riddled tract.Urban foresters help planners establish and nurture city greenspaces. And social media followers get an ah-ha! moment when they see children at summer camp mesmerized by the buzz of a sawmill or the felled-tree thwumps at a harvest site.
“Sharing the good that forestry brings to all of our lives is critical to ensuringGeorgia remains the #1 forestry state in the nation,” said GFC Director Tim Lowrimore. “We’re committed to spreading the word about the amazing benefits of our forestland, the kinds of career opportunities available, and the role well managed forests play in answering sustainability questions and concerns. High-quality outreach and educational programs are critical to that mission,” he said.
Teachers and the organizations for which they work have consistently praised GFC’s outreach efforts. A recent award from the National Association of Agricultural Educators was of special note, as GFC received the organization’s “Outstanding Cooperation Award” in 2020. The GFC was recognized for its “service to agricultural education programs in 159 counties in Georgia through career events, field days, professional development, hands-on education experiences and assistance with creating curriculum regarding forestry.”
Many of the statistics connected to the honor were collected in 2019, when the pre-pandemic months yielded a high number of volunteer hours, field days, participants and notable forestry-learn-ing events. And then, the challenges of outreach began being tested, severely.
“COVID pushed us out of our comfort zones with regards to kids and teachers,”said York. “We had to explore different avenues through virtual experiences. We had virtual field days. We produced lots of videos, and we developed a long list of online resources. We still have all those resources, and since COVID, it’s been overwhelming! In a good way. The number of requests for trainings, programs, visits — they’ve gone through the roof!"
Stronger Together Partnerships that weathered the storm and are growing stronger today include those with a number of agencies and organizations in Georgia and the nation: Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, Boy and Girl Scouts, FFA and 4-H, Tree Farm, Natural Resource Conservation Service, universities and school systems, and more.
During the summer of 2021, Teacher Conversation Workshop (TCW) and Natural Resources Conservation Workshop (NRCW) sessions were adapted to allow in-person learning. Things got back to “normal” in 2022 with workshops and summer camps for kids. Hands-on experiences for both groups were welcomed enthusiastically.
“TCWs focus on topics related to the benefits of forestry,” said York. “These teachers take their experiences and knowledge back to the classroom and integrate the material into their class curricula.”
Georgia TCWs emphasize the importance of conservation of natural resources, with special attention given to the state’s wildlife, forests, forest products and water. Teachers learn about the cycle of growing trees, the utilization of trees for common consumer products and the management of trees for wildlife and water. At the completion of the workshop, certification is awarded in the Project Learning Tree program, and in the ancillary courses about water (Project WET) and wildlife (Project WILD). Kasey Bozeman is one of PLT’s strongest ambassadors.
“As educators, we have the obligation and the privilege of teaching kids how to think, not what to think,” she said. “The knowledge and awareness they get go along way, even if their career is something other than in natural resources.
”Bozeman takes pride in opening people’s eyes to the renewable cycle of forestry and the value of conservation.“To help kids understand it’s okay to use a piece of paper, to cut a tree, and not be wasteful — this is powerful stuff!” she said. “We have more trees now than we did a hundred years ago. We want to be wise with our resources.”
One of the exercises Bozeman most enjoyed was teaching a group of youngsters about “scents in the forest.” To demonstrate the path of a beetle, she dabbed peppermint oil on tree branches, and explained how animals, including skunks, use scent to communicate danger to other wildlife. Rising seventh and eighth graders enjoyed hands-on forestry lessons as well this past summer, at the Billy Lancaster Forestry Youth Camp south of Covington, GA on Lake Jackson. After two post-COVID dark years, camp was buzzing with activity in July.
“They come from all over the state; from public, private and home schools,”said Gail Westcot, of UGA’s Warnell School and longtime PLT, TCW, NRCWand Lancaster Camp coordinator. “Lots of these kids don’t know a thing about forestry,” she said. “GFC came and demonstrated equipment, and boy, did they love that! They got to use the firehoses and learn about fire breaks. They talked to loggers on a harvesting site. Anything hands-on, they really enjoyed.”
One of the campers’ (and observers’) favorite activities that helped break the ice on the first afternoon of camp was a mud-run obstacle course.“They did a lot that day and it was hot,” said Westcot, “but they jumped right in! We use it as a team-building exercise and it’s a fun experience.
A Place for ‘Every Kid’ As post-COVID recovery continues and employers struggle to fill job vacancies,FFA and Agriculture Education veteranShawn Collins praised GFC’s outreach efforts. He said he’s seen first-hand the value of forestry education.“Our job is to bring industry and edu-cation together,” Collins said. “This is something every kid can get involved in and it’s kept kids from dropping out of school. When education and industry work together, we can take young people and turn them into productive citizens, and add them to a productive society.”■
Stasia Kelly is a media relations specialist with the Georgia Forestry Commission. She is focused on telling the story of forestry and the immense impact of the industry on Georgia’s environment, economy and heritage.
Tobey McDowell C. MCDOWELL LOGGING JACKSON, GA Tobey started in the forestry industry as a log truck driver when he was 18 years old. Over his 25-year career, he has built up his business to include two logging crews and a chipping crew that operate across the piedmont region in the state. In total, Tobey’s business employs 15 people, including drivers for the five logging trucks that he owns and operates. Tobey is proud of the business he built, and his biggest motivation for staying in business through this economic crisis is to continue supporting his employees.
“When you add on all the additional cost increases that we have seen with fuel, insurance, wages and materials, it has gotten to a point where I am just thankful to break even. I’ve got 15 guys whose families are depending on this business to stay profitable, and that is the only reason I am still in business.
It takes eight to 10 pieces of equipment, including the trucks and trailers, for us to run just one logging crew, and the overall costs for that equipment are increasing every day. So, when you consider the tax bill on our equipment, it determines whether we purchase new equipment, keep running old equipment or just give up all together. So, right now any break we can get will help.” ■ Matt Hestad is the vice president of engagement for the Georgia Forestry Association.
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