By Ian Ross
Getting a ground-level perspective on how to assess the health of a jack pine stand or how fallen, dead trees contribute to a forest’s wildlife habitat were a few of the lessons educators from across North America will take home to their classrooms this fall.
An opportunity to mingle with forest industry professionals while taking part in some hands-on research was what drew about 40 elementary school teachers from as far away as Florida and Washington State to Mattawa in late August for the second annual Northeastern Ontario Teacher’s Tour at the Canadian Ecology Centre.
The innovative four-day program was designed to help change the image of Ontario’s forestry industry and portray the sector in a positive light while providing some incentives to promote forestry as a career to their students.
The intensive and fast-paced tour included visits to Tembec’s pulp and paper mills in Temiscaming, Que. and to Columbia Forest Products’ veneer mill in nearby Rutherglen.
In between, there were plenty of activities to see and do including tree planting, firefighting demonstrations, helicopter tours and using the tools of the forestry trade such as global positioning systems, all designed to give visitors a unique perspective on forest industry activities.
Fran Côté, a fourth grade teacher from the papermill town of Iroquois Falls, says she comes away from the tour with a greater awareness that the forestry industry is not the environmental “monster” as portrayed in the past; “that great efforts are being made to ensure that forests are being maintained in a sustainable manner.”
Coté said she was impressed with environmental controls in place at Tembec’s Temiscaming mill and how new value-added products are being developed from what was once thought of as waste wood.
For Steve Maxner, who teaches eighth grade in Plymouth, N.H., being able to extract a core sample from a 100-year-old pine tree and examine the growth rings has helped him appreciate the thoroughness and the dedication of the research that goes on at the Canadian Ecology Centre. Unlike “just reading about it on some Web site,” Maxner says.
“I’m here physically visualizing the research that’s being conducted with the industry and how they are involved in the whole process,” Maxner says. “It’s been an eye-opener. The program itself is really comprehensive and excellent.”
Megan Smith, an ecology centre science and technology intern, says the industry is starting to experience a critical shortage of skilled forestry professionals. Hopefully this awareness campaign persuades young people through their teachers, to get into forestry-related disciplines as foresters, ecologists, social scientists and some of the high-tech positions of research and development, she says.
“Hopefully if kids start learning about it in the classroom, maybe when they go to university they’ll consider it for a career,” Smith says.
The event, one of 25 teachers’ tours, held in both in Canada and the U.S. over the last six years, is an initiative of the Temperate Forest Foundation based out of Oregon.
Organized by the Forestry Research Partnership and the Canadian Ecology Centre, about 15 organizations and companies, including Tembec, the Canadian Lumbermen’s Association, Weyerhaeuser, Domtar, Columbia Forest Products, WoodWorks and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources contributed towards the cost of accommodations, travel, food and incidentals for the teachers.