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Expanding Our Roots

Forest Explorers 2008 Event Held in Northern Alberta
Submitted by Lisa Ladd- Research Extension Specialist
Boreal Forest Research Centre, NAIT (Department of Research & Development)

More than 300 high-school students experienced the “wow factor” of forestry at a hands-on science and research forum in northern Alberta in late November. The show was sponsored by the Boreal Forest Research Centre; a partnership of NAIT, industry, and government.

The two-day Forest Explorers exposition at Manning, north of Peace River, brought students face to face with diverse topics such as tree genetics, grizzly bear research, forestry schools, and amphibians.

“We had 325 students from grade 9 to 12 students from Peace River, High Level and Manning,” said Hugh Seaton, manager of the Boreal Forest Research Centre in Peace River. “The theme was working together in the boreal forest, and the take-home message for the students was the importance of wildlife habitat, and how that ties in to all our activities on the land.”

The science show was sponsored by Manning Forest Research Fund, Alberta Forestry Research Institute, and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.  One of the main goals of the event, held every two years, is to show students that the forest offers many fascinating, high-tech career paths that all lead to the social benefit of a productive and sustainable forest environment.

The show was followed by a community banquet, co-hosted by the Mackenzie Forest Education Society. The Society President, Berry Heinen, recognized the founding role and more than 20 years of service by Carl Leary in forest education. Manning Diversified Forest Products Ltd. kindly sponsored the banquet.

“We are very positive about the impact this event has on students’ career choices,” said Seaton. “It goes hand in hand with our overall educational program at the research centre, with our scholarships, with our work in the schools.”

This is the sixth time Forest Explorers has been held, providing enough time for organizers to see a direct relationship between students showing an early interest in the forest and later going on to tech school or university programs.

“We know the event has had an impact on student decisions, especially with grade 10-12’s,” said Seaton.  “By January 30 grade 12 students are starting to apply for post secondary programs, and we can see the results of what we’ve been doing.”

Another funder of the event this year was the Alberta Forestry Research Institute. Managing Director Steve Price said the event supports AFRI’s aims of building highly qualified personnel in the sector, and encouraging the exploration of innovative thinking and practices.

“A lot of these students live in or near the forest and have a strong interest in contributing to its long-term value to the community and to the environment,” Price said. “They are potentially ideal candidates for the kind of science and innovation we want to see as part of Alberta’s leadership role in sustainable forest management.”

The show involved a multitude of displays and speakers, all of whom were encouraged to bring hands-on materials that would engage the interest of the students. Keynote speaker was Dr. Gordon Stenhouse, program lead of the grizzly bear program at Foothills Research Institute in Hinton.

“It’s an ideal opportunity for students to see that forestry has gone way beyond the low-tech stereotype,” said Seaton. “Today it’s the domain of people who use GPS units, helicopters, satellites, microscopes . . . and people who care about a broad range of landscape values, not just timber.”

The 2008 show was a return to its roots, as the Manning Research Trust Fund was originally created as part of the timber agreement when Manning Diversified Forest Products was opened.

“A key goal of the research fund and the Boreal Forest Research Centre is to maintain a link between what’s happening in research and forest management at the field level, and the researchers and students,” Seaton said.

The area is a research hub, with about $250,000-worth of work going on each year under the trust fund’s sponsorship alone. Industry and government research projects boost this many times over with a multitude of other projects in the area.

The trust fund research focuses on practical forest management issues, habitat, silviculture, harvesting techniques, ecological goods and services such as water, and value-added products. “It’s all based on the wise use of forest products, value adding and community stability,” Seaton said.

The Boreal Forest Research Centre has administered about $155,000 in scholarships to post-secondary programs over the years, attracting almost as much in matching funding from provincial sources.

And while some parts of the forestry sector are in an economic tailspin at present, the demand for well-trained forestry professionals is relatively steady in forest management, and is increasing in the oil and gas sector where issues such as reclamation and timber salvage are on the rise.

For more information, see www.borealcentre.com


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