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Innovating & Learning: meet the BEA Forestry and Wildlife Management Program

Bald Eagle Area High School's forestry and wildlife management program offers hands-on learning outdoors, certification in chainsaw use and safety, and the opportunity to supply the school's wood needs. Students gain skills in sustainable forestry, first aid, and tractor operation.

Bald Eagle Area High School’s forestry and wildlife management program is offering students the opportunity to learn about nature through hands-on experience. The course is a three-period, 126-minute class that takes place outdoors 75% of the time and inside for 25% of the time. Students are taught how to identify trees, perform land surveys, operate machinery, and complete forestry management plans. They are also trained in chainsaw use and safety through a national certification program called Game of Logging. Students learn about sustainability, wood harvesting, and the proper use of machinery. They are also certified in CPR and first aid, and gain a National Tractor and Machinery Operation Certificate.

Jade Thompson, the teacher who developed the program with input from the school’s advisory committee, said that the class had a wide range of students, including honors students and two successful female students. BEASD owns hundreds of acres of woodlands that serve as the outdoor classroom. Thompson believes that if other schools have similar resources, adding a class like this one would benefit their students greatly.

The forestry and wildlife management program is unique in the state. Central Mountain School District teaches a nine-week forestry unit in its agriculture program but uses a different certification program for chainsaw use and safety. The program is based on a written forestry plan developed with the help of Mark Ott, an SFI Board Member and former food service director at the school, and Dan Fisher, the school superintendent. Domtar Corporation, a paper mill in Johnsonburg, provides funding for the plan in exchange for first right of refusal for any wood from the school’s forest that can be used to make wood pulp for paper.

The program’s students have supplied 80% of the wood for wood shop, ag mechanics, and forestry construction classes. Next year, they will be supplying 100% of the wood. Every product made in those classes was prepared by students one to two years prior, including the cabinetry in the teacher’s lounge and library. The students learn to operate the Wood Mizer LA30 saw mill to turn logs into boards, as well as a wood chipper and splitter. They also learn how to operate the solar kiln, built by previous students to dry the wood.

Other class activities include making maple syrup from sap, monitoring the stream’s water quality, raising trout from eggs, and maintaining and repairing equipment and tractors. All students are certified in first aid, CPR, and Stop the Bleed, and become Sustainable Forestry Initiative card holders. Thompson said that the class learned to consider the wildlife aspect and erosion, asking questions like what uses a tree and what benefits come from keeping or cutting it. They learn the whole thinking process to add to the safety of the process, which Thompson hopes carries over to anything else they do.

The forestry and wildlife management program prepares students for careers in forestry, landscaping, and business management. Some graduates have gone to Penn Tech, Lycoming, and Penn State for forestry, while others have gone into the forestry industry or chosen other careers. Thompson said that by the end of the year, the students can complete any project out there and work together. The school is very flexible with students and lets them figure things out on their own.

The forestry and wildlife management program offers students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in forestry and wildlife management, and to learn about sustainability, wood harvesting, and the proper use of machinery. Through the Game of Logging certification program, they learn how to use chainsaws safely, and they become certified in CPR, first aid, and Stop the Bleed. They also become Sustainable Forestry Initiative card holders, preparing them for careers in forestry, landscaping, and business management.

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