Our STEM Club focus the past few months has been ecology and we recently concluded our three part Field, Forest, & Stream study. As a part of the forest ecology focus, we partnered with the USDA Forest Service to hear first hand how a forester manages a forest and to get a chance to use the real tools of the trade.

I met with the Forest Service staff a few weeks prior to our outing to discuss my goals for the lesson and to visit a couple of different study sites.  We were thereby able to choose the site best suited for the lesson and for our comfort.  Of the two sites we visited, one had experienced a severe forest fire about 10 years prior and though it was a great visual for forest succession (one of the topics we have been covering), there was little to no shade cover as it was still in the shrub stage.  We thereby selected a site nestled in a forested area on the McCloud Arm of Shasta Lake.

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forest ecology

Forest Ecology

From an ecological perspective, the definition of a forest includes all the living components of an area, from the trees to the bacteria, and along with the non-living physical factors, from the soil type to the microclimates. One of the goals of the Forest Service is to provide science-based research, instruction, and extension that supports forest and wildlife conservation and management in an ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable fashion.

Tools of the Trade

Upon our arrival, the foresters described the area (noting that plants on the north side of the peninsula were significantly different than on the south side) and instructed the kids in how to determine our pace for 100 feet, information the kids would need to determine the height of the trees.  They then demonstrated the use of a variety of tools – increment borer (to determine age and growth factors), clinometer (to calculate the height), and D-tape (to calculate the diameter of the tree at DBH or diameter at breast height).

forest data

The kids were then divided into groups and walked out to one of four trees that had been previously marked.  Using the tools described, the kids took a variety of measurements and used the data to calculate the approximate value of the selected trees. [The data from two of the trees is shown in the table above.]  What I loved was that the foresters discussed that the tree may be more significant to the health of the overall ecosystem than the monetary value. They then pointed out a tree that had a large number of acorns stashed into the bark by acorn woodpeckers; this was just one of many additional factors that foresters use to manage a forest.

If you would like to undertake a more in-depth forest ecology study, I highly recommend the Tree Study F.I.E.L.D. Kit® by Forestry Suppliers.  The complete kit includes a Tree Finder illustrated manual to determine species, a tangent height gauge and 50m measuring tape to figure heights, and a diameter tape. With these tools, students can study annual growth rings by extracting a core sample with a professional model 8″ increment borer (with 10 core holder cards).

Students can also determine the volume of wood in a tree by using the tree scale stick. The kit also includes biodegradable roll flagging and stake wire flags to delineate research areas. Six plastic handheld magnifiers, six packs of six tree cookies, 12″ ruler, lesson plans correlated with National Science Education Standards, and carrying case box are also included.

Interested in undertaking this study yourself? Field, Forest, & Stream is part of the Life Logic: Ecology Explorations unit that I have developed for middle school students. What better way to learn about ecology than to get out there, collect data, and experience the physical factors that influence the animal and plant communities first hand.


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