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UMFK forestry students relying on Mother Nature's classroom more than ever

October 8, 2004



Students enrolled in a forest ecology and silviculture lab course at the University of Maine at Fort Kent were recently immersed in a field learning experience unlike any they could experience at another college or university. Participating in the special course were (left to right) Adam Blanchard, Readfield; Zachary Keegan, Lincoln; Nick Pelletier, Eagle Lake; Spencer Caron, Van Buren; Lance Cunningham, Sherman Mills; Jonathan Voisine, Fort Kent; Jeff Dubis, UMFK assistant professor of forestry; Matthew Tremblay, Lowell, Massachusetts; Matthew Lombard, Presque Isle; Joe Pelletier, Fort Kent; Kelly Cote, Connor Township; Cody Grivois, Van Buren; and David Hobbins, professor of forestry and environmental studies.

In any given semester at the University of Maine at Fort Kent it is common to find students enrolled in the forest technology program out of the classroom and in the great outdoors learning the skills of their future career first-hand, but this year some students got a jump-start at learning the lessons of Mother Nature.

A week before other UMFK students stepped foot in their first class, students enrolled in a forest ecology and silviculture lab course were immersed in a field learning experience unlike any they could experience at another college or university.

The five-day session that was held at the University's Elmer H. Violette Wilderness camp, which is located near the Allagash Wilderness Waterway on the Round Pond public reserve unit, ran from August 27 through 31.

The eleven forestry students, all in their final semester in the program, and three faculty members participating in the special course used the camp's classroom facility, complete with computers, for conducting daily lectures and discussions, and spent the week living in the facility, which is equipped with a full kitchen, two bunkrooms that sleep up to 12 students, a common room, as well as indoor plumbing, gas heat, and a generator supplying electricity.

Each day began early with breakfast at 6:00 a.m., followed by classes starting at or before 7:00 a.m.

The first session of the day would often include a review of key concepts and an overview of the lab activities planned in the day ahead.

For the most part, the rest of the time was spent outdoors conducting experiments in areas near the camp, and on two different day-trips.

"This course was almost entirely hands-on and field oriented. It gave the students the opportunity to take much of what they had learned in the classroom during the previous semesters and apply their knowledge in situations similar to what they will do in their forestry careers," said Jeff Dubis, assistant professor of forestry and the faculty member coordinating the special session.

Topics covered during the five-day experience were many and varied.

The first day afforded students the opportunity to work with David Hobbins, professor of forestry, who assisted them with beginning an insect and disease specimen collection for a forest protection class.

On the second day, Kim Borges, assistant professor of environmental studies, joined the students to discuss factors that affect water quality, especially in regard to sedimentation.

After a brief lecture, students and instructors headed out on the Allagash in canoes to conduct some basic water quality monitoring tests. Students sampled two very different areas along the river in order to compare differences in water quality.

During the week, students also conducted an in-depth study of the soils that occur near the Allagash, which included looking at various soil properties and why soils develop differently and what effect they might have on tree species that grow on a particular soil or landform.

Another project had students conducting various silvicultural surveys assessing such things as plantation survivability and stand density of natural spruce-fir stands, and determining necessary silvicultural treatments to increase the health and productivity of stands.

"I felt that the camp session was a real benefit to the students. It gave them the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in their studies in a way that could not be done in a normal classroom or laboratory setting," said Dubis.

The faculty-led student projects in and around the Violette Wilderness Camp were enhanced by two field trips, one to Baxter State Park, the other in the North Maine Woods.

The first excursion was to the Scientific Forest Management Area (SFMA) in the northernmost corner of Baxter State Park.

The area, which is only accessible by traveling over 60 miles on logging roads from Millinocket, consists of approximately 29,000 acres set aside by Maine Governor Percival Baxter, as an area where scientific forestry practices could be showcased to the people of Maine.

At the site, students had the opportunity to see various forest practices that were very different from what is typically found on surrounding industrial lands.

In one area, students observed a harvesting technique where small gaps of trees were being harvested in an otherwise undisturbed forest.

The idea behind such a harvest is to promote regeneration of late successional species such as red spruce and hemlock in these small gaps while maintaining a nearly intact canopy of mature trees.

Students also learned how the Global Positioning System (GPS) technology they work with at UMFK is used to locate each gap, as well as observed various monitoring procedures that foresters on the SFMA use to assess the health of the ecosystem.

A second field trip consisted of a tour of Irving Woodland's silvicultural operations in the North Maine Woods.

The tour, conducted by Barry McAllister, silvicultural supervisor for Irving and a 2001 graduate of the UMFK forest technology program, gave students an opportunity to compare and contrast two very different but good sivicultural systems.

McAllister discussed Irving's planting program, covering everything from how the company decides which sites to plant and which species to plant, to how Irving monitors their plantations for a number of years afterward to monitor survivability and growth.

The students themselves surveyed two sites to determine planting survivability using Irving's method. Irving provided lunch for the students at the Rocky Brook logging camp.

Dubis was pleased with the learning experience and the overall success of the class in its first semester. He is hoping to offer the session annually to forestry students.