“You being here shows your dedication to becoming better people. You chose to spend your weekend here, learning new things and challenging yourself. You all give me hope about your generation and about our world.”
Six students from Plumas County were among the individuals being spoken to in the quote above. They were in attendance at the 2016 Shasta Forestry Challenge, held in Shingletown, CA from September 28 through October 1. A long-time professional forester was speaking to the group of 84 students, representing 15 schools, who he had just judged in the natural resource-based academic competition. Moments later it would be announced that the team from Greenville would place third among the 23 teams competing in this year’s event.
The six students representing Plumas County- Shasta Banchio (senior), Sydney Bridgeman (sophomore) and Rachael Carrol (junior/senior) from Greenville High School, and Taylor Bruzza(second year), Theresa Caporale (second year), and Chandler Short (first year) from Feather River College- came to the event to test their forestry chops as they competed against teams with natural resource classes larger than the entire Junior/Senior High School in Greenville.
The two teams took time out of their busy schedules to meet after school, between classes, and on weekends to prepare for the event. Sierra Institute’s Courtney Gomola and retired GHS science teacher Travis Rubke met with the students to practice taking forestry measurements such as tree height, diameter, and species compositions, and to learn about pertinent natural resource concerns like bark beetle infestations and high forest densities.
Shasta and Rachael from Greenville had taken Mr. Farris’s natural resource class at GHS the year before, and came armed with their own arsenal of knowledge related to forest management in the Sierra Nevada. Their teammate Sydney didn’t take the class but, along with the other girls, spent time reviewing materials from the Forestry Challenge website, filling out worksheets and quizzes handed out as part of practice sessions, and knew some of the tree species from the firewood that heats their homes.
In addition to all of them majoring in science, each of the FRC students also had their own experiences and understanding to bring to the table. Taylor is interested in pursuing a graduate degree in wildlife biology, and came with specific experience related to local fauna, including goshawk surveys she has participated in. Theresa came with experience working as a field technician for researchers through FRC and Plumas National Forest’s internship program, where she learned about using dichotomous keys and plant identification. Chandler worked on a fire crew this summer, making him the team expert on fire ecology. All three of these individuals were 2015 interns in Sierra Institute’s summer education and restoration program, PCREW, which helped inform and strengthen their interests in these fields.
“Having teams from the college and high school provided a great opportunity for the students to learn from each other. Each student brought with them their own suitcase of knowledge about forestry and natural resources, and it was really wonderful to see everyone connect. I was especially thrilled to have the FRC students there to work alongside the high school team. Taylor, Theresa and Chandler are all extremely driven and talented individuals, and I loved having them there to show the high schoolers how they are blazing their own trails. The GHS girls are all very smart and passionate, and I’m excited to see how they take these experiences and shape their own paths forward,” says Gomola, who accompanied the students on the four-day trip.
At the event, students worked within their teams to assess the condition of an even-aged forest managed by W.M. Beaty & Associates. They spent a day on the Thatcher Ranch site collecting data and interacting with natural resource professionals to inform their understanding of the 33 year-old pine plantations. Student teams then presented their thoughts on how to manage the site over the next ten years in a PowerPoint presentation to a panel of experts.
Additionally, the teams completed field training, followed by a field test, to assess their technical forestry knowledge and data collecting skills. This, combined with their presentation evaluations, earned GHS students a final score of third place out of the 23 teams, an exceptional finish after four days of hard work.
“GHS used to participate in this event but hasn’t been able to for the last few years. We’ve been trying to get things going again and are really excited that we were not only able to bring teams to this year’s event, but were able to recruit students invested in the project and willing to work hard,” says Gomola.
Theresa Caporale, a sophomore at Feather River College summed the event up as follows: “I enjoyed the chance to meet with the foresters who had so much to teach us and I liked learning about the forest.” Or as Taylor Bruzza cheekily put it: “Forestry is the spice of life.”
The six students from Plumas County, three from Greenville High School and three from Feather River College, were sponsored to attend the Forestry Challenge through the Plumas National Forest Fire Settlement Funds. These funds supported GHS travel, registration, and chaperoning as part of the Fire Restoration Partnership between Plumas Unified School District and the United States Forest Service. The team from Feather River College was supported jointly by FRC’s Environmental Studies Department and by the Plumas National Forest grant to Sierra Institute for Community and Environment, which also supported team training. Student participation in this event is part of the greater efforts by Sierra Institute, PUSD, and USFS to expand year-round opportunities for students related to public land stewardship and natural resources education.
*This article is a modification of one which will appear in the Indian Valley Record, Greenville, CA.