Students Learn Forest Management Skills in the Face of California Fires

forestry challenge

When a utility company’s poorly maintained power lines spark a blaze in dried-out vegetation amidst hurricane-force winds, even the most well-managed forests are at risk. But in many places, forest management can help reduce unwanted effects when fires do occur, especially in drier forests.

The entire Forest Products industry is facing a shortage of workers as many older employees retire. To keep our forests in good shape, we need a new generation of foresters ready to take the reins. We previously covered a program in Calaveras County, California that provides forestry jobs for people who live in the fire-prone Sierra Nevada foothills. Now, let’s take a look at a statewide program called the Forestry Challenge that’s stepping up to train high school students in technical forest skills and management.

From EdSource:

‘Forestry is a little bit invisible to most folks. Most people think of park rangers and that’s a very limited way of looking at land management,’ said Erin Kelly, an associate professor of forest economics and administration at Humboldt State University. Foresters have a broad range of responsibilities from managing tree growth to providing technical expertise for improving the health and economic viability of forests.”

2018 survey by Shasta College found that 45 percent of natural resource businesses in Northern California — including forestry, fuel production and environmental consulting — are experiencing or anticipate a workforce shortage. State government employers reported the most difficulty finding qualified forestry applicants in the last five years, according to a 2019 study by Kelly and Greg Brown, head of the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Forestry Challenge is trying to change that by teaching students new skills and career pathways.”

Founded in 2003, the Forestry Challenge program draws in participants from five countries around the state to learn from professional foresters how to collect forest data, analyze it and present their findings to a panel of judges. In Santa Cruz this year, 84 students evaluated a piece of land to make recommendations for a timber management plan, considering tree health and density, future harvesting, economic cost and biological impact.

Many students return year after year. Organizers say they’re showing them that earning a STEM degree doesn’t have to mean working in an office for a tech company. Instead, they could be outside, having a direct impact on the health of the environment.

Check out the piece at EdSource to learn more about how the Forestry Challenge works.

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