Fourth Graders Explore Forest Ecology and Management at the Escambia Experimental Forest

SRS technician Ronald Tucker explains longleaf pines regeneration process to visiting fourth graders. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
SRS technician Ronald Tucker explains longleaf pines regeneration process to visiting fourth graders. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

Fourth grade students from the W.S. Neal Elementary School in East Brewton, Alabama, recently visited the Escambia Experimental Forest (The Escambia) to get first-hand experience with the plants and animals of the longleaf pine ecosystem. After several days of instruction about the history and ecological significance of longleaf pine from guidance counselor Marina Chancery, 100 children were able to apply and expand their new knowledge through a variety of activities.

Managed by the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) Restoring and Managing Longleaf Pine Ecosystems unit, the Escambia provides an ideal location for a field trip because it contains so many different communities of the longleaf pine ecosystem on one contiguous property. Not only does the experimental forest exhibit forest stands between 2 and greater than 100 years old, but it also contains habitats ranging from dry uplands to seepage slopes and bogs to mixed pine-hardwood forests along streams. The property also provides demonstrations of different cutting and prescribed burning regimes.

With such a variety of forest types, ages, and management systems in one place, students were able to better grasp the significance of the longleaf pine ecosystem and its importance for notable wildlife species such as the eastern fox squirrel, gopher tortoise, and eastern indigo snake, in addition to how the forest can be managed to protect them.

Forest superintendent Ronald Tucker teamed with Chancery to let the students experience a day in the woods and learn why sustainable management is important. After a walking tour on which students discovered gopher tortoise burrows, pocket gopher mounds, wild turkey tracks, and a variety of native plant and tree species, forester Madeline Hildreth and rangers Woody Jackson and Dustin Tyre of the Alabama Forestry Commission taught the students about forest products and wildland fire safety.    

Wildland fire safety, including the difference between good and bad fires, is presented by Woody Jackson of the Alabama Forestry Commission. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
Wildland fire safety, including the difference between good and bad fires, is presented by Woody Jackson of the Alabama Forestry Commission. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

The tour ended with a ride through the experimental forest that helped the students further understand the role scientific research plays in forest management and how forestry research improves forests ability to produce clean air and water as well renewable wood products. Equally important, students saw how science generates the information they learn in a classroom.

Brewton, Alabama, is located near the center of the largest remaining tracts of intact longleaf pine forest, but many youth know very little about the natural world around them. Many of our students know more about the giant pandas than the rare plants and animals right outside our window,” Chancery said.

Read Dyson’s recent article on uneven-aged management for longleaf pine.

For more information, email David Dyson at dsdyson@fs.fed.us.

 Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.

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