Author and Photos by Talking Forests 

On a moist fall day, Aberdeen High School Natural Resources and Applied Biology students went out to the field in Lake Sylvia, Montesano, WA to learn. Montesano, WA is home to the very first tree farm in the United States. The field day had six stations where students learned about soils, fisheries, water quality, forest inventory, forest measurements, and native plants.

Mike Machowek, the teacher who first taught me about Natural Resources and helped me join FFA in 2006 is still bringing back the basics to students who may not know. He pre-teaches the vocabulary so students are aware of the field language. Grays Harbor Conservation District graciously volunteered to be station instructors. When we entered the historic Lake Sylvia, students were on the banks near the wooden bridge that crosses over the dam. This water quality station taught by Kim was showing the importance of riparian science. She explained, “What you eat is what you are”, therefore we need to protect our streams and rivers so that pollutants do not end up in our waterways. Students gathered water and debris from above the dam to test for dissolved oxygen, pH, phosphates, and macroinvertebrates lurking in the water. Once the results were in they discussed the reasons why we monitor water quality closely in our waterways. 

Kim, riparian restoration specialist, Grays Harbor Conservation District explaining the importance of protecting riparian areas. 

Up the gravel path, we were at a fisheries learning station taught by Brandon. He was laying out stream measurements and asking students questions about potential road maintenance. After running a stream simulation measurement, the students learned the importance of having a culvert large enough for safe passage and emphasized the continued need to remove fish passage barriers for mutual benefit to humans and fish.

After a rainy lunch, students started back up the trails to feast on more knowledge. At the soils station, Susan was teaching the connection soil has to forest health. She set up three types of soils for a “ribbon test”. Students discussed that every location has differences in soil, but the remaining question was how can my soil handle the water?

Aberdeen High School students run water through three different soils. 

Susan explained that it takes soil 1 million years to create nutrients and that some soil drains better than others. She pointed to a map with Lake Sylvia’s soil zone and asked the students if they knew what MAP was? Our current area has more than 70 inches of mean average precipitation (MAP) and that amount of moisture creates a type of soil. “When you try to move plants that don’t belong they won’t adapt because they don’t belong there”.-Susan Students continued to discuss the high water table and the difference between dry and humid areas such as Grays Harbor. After a little bit of a hike up into the woods, we entered an opened up area with a stand of grand trees perfect for learning forest inventory and measurements.

Jim, at the forest measurement station, was teaching diameter at breast height (dbh), tree height, and the volume of board feet. Students were lined up 100 feet away from the base of a tree using clinometers to measure the tree height. In order to measure dbh, Jim passed out diameter tapes and students were inserting the sharp end into trees and wrapping the tape around. Once the measurements were made, students calculated the hypothetical average volume of board feet that would be able to be harvested out of the forest.

Jim Getchman, natural resources technician, Grays Harbor Conservation District, teaching how to use clinometers. 

Dave taught students how to use a compass and the importance of measuring our pacing in chains in the forest. Once students understood directions they learned how to measure fixed variable plots.

Dave Houk, service forester, Grays Harbor Conservation District, holding a compass with the students. 

Jim Freed was teaching the holistic approach to what the forest has to offer other than the main resource, trees. He explained the value of flora including mushrooms, lichen, conks, ferns, and the role of native trees in our area.

Jim Freed, retired WSU Extension, explaining the uses of vegetation inside the woods to students. 



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