Gadge Riffle carefully put the seedling in the hole and covered it with dirt before packing the ground around the new tree with his feet.
“I planted a tree!” he told his sixth-grade teacher, Jason Dornhecker, as the class walked along a path in the woods, adding, “Well, I know they’ll unplant it and plant it again so they can show the others how to do it.”
Reforestation, including how to plant a seedling, was just one of eight hands-on lessons about the forest that Klamath County sixth-graders participated in Sept. 19 and 20 during the 56th annual Klamath County Forestry Tour. Other lessons included fire control, fire safety, outdoor safety and recreation, forest products, tree identification, soils, and wildlife management.
Over the two days, sixth-graders from the Klamath County School District, Klamath Falls City Schools, and other area schools attended the sessions at the Bureau of Land Management’s Spencer Creek Camp about 11 miles northwest of Keno. Though coordinated by the Oregon State University-Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center, the event relies on expert volunteers from the Winema Hoo Hoo Club, Green Diamond Resource Co., the U.S. Forest Service, the Oregon and U.S. Departments of Fish and Wildlife, USDA National Resources Conservation Service, Klamath Watershed Partnership, and the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Teachers prepare the students ahead of time, often teaching lessons about wildlife, fire safety and wood products in the weeks before the event.
Daniel Leavell, an Oregon State University forestry professor who works with the OSU Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center, said the event provides students with knowledge about the forests they use for camping, hunting and fishing.
“The bulk of the kids don’t get a chance to know the value of the forest in terms of all it can produce,” he said. “You can’t live without being touched by a product from the forest. This is the one chance where these kids can learn from professionals the true value of a forest.”
Leavell said forestry tours for students in the past were offered throughout the state. Today, only a few counties, including Klamath, still provide the opportunity for their students. Twenty years ago, when Leavell asked students if they knew someone who worked in the forest, more than 75 percent raised their hands. Today, only a few hands go up.
“If we don’t develop an appreciation for this renewable, constant resource, we stand a chance of losing it,” he said. “These kids are the future managers of our forests. Maybe this will ignite a spark.”