Friday was Arbor Day.
Friday, April 28th, yesterday, was Environmental Day at our school.
Approximately 24 hours ago, 375 students visited with me in K-5 grade level groups for 35 minutes per grade level, at our local Elementary School, Evergreen Elementary, to hear me talk about the importance of Forests. Yes. I talked about forests for an entire school day!
What was my motivation? As an environmental educator, I want to inspire our youth to take care of our earth. It is theirs to inherit, healthy and sustainable, or decaying and uncared for. It is theirs.
We have a couple of special outdoor places at our school. One, is our butterfly garden, of which I am very familiar. In 2006, students in our garden club, lead by my facilitation, researched and planted host plants to support local butterflies. Two years later, we were certified as a Monarch WayStation by Monarch Watch. The garden has been our base for the club’s activities for 12 year.
But, the other place we have that is special at Evergreen is what I call the Pine Tree Forest! The forest is full of Eastern White Pines, essentially a temperate coniferous forest in an area of our state that more typically nurtures broadleaf forests. Yet, it is there. It is beautiful. It is unused. I am not sure that it is even seen on most days, yet is it right next to the playground.
So, what was my message to our elementary students? My message was simple. People take from the forest everyday, with every breath. We all use multiple products from the forest, everyday, with almost every action. Yet, do we really appreciate our forests? Could we live without them? No. The answer is no; we could not live without forests.
I shared what the students might do to become or be better forest stewards. To help keep the forest ecosystem healthy and sustained, for not just all of us, but for them, for their future earth. They learned some facts about the web of life that exists in the forest and how it is a community where everything has a job and a purpose to help it function in a healthy way. I pointed out how this was just like our communities of families and classrooms where everyone has a responsibility to help things run more smoothly. They learned a little about our state history in Forestry and how very early on, Wisconsites learned that you can not cut down every tree in the forest. I told them how this was done and how this was a mistake. By the 1840’s we were well on our way to managing sustainable forests.
Due to climate change and the important role trees and forests have in carbon fixing, we are at another point in our history globally that we must take care of our forests. They sustain human life. We must make sure the forest is sustainable, for we are part of the forest ecosystem – whether that forest in the U.S., or not. The forest connects us all. It is the invisible connection of the breath of life.
Lastly, the students were given concrete examples of how to be a forest steward. This included using renewable products (if you cut down a tree, replace it with another), recycling products, reusing products like cloth grocery bags, plastic spoon, and paper. Reusing helps you reduce. The students were introduced to the importance of rotting. The debris on the forest floor rots with the help of decomposers. I shared that I think this is the most important part of the forest because as the soil is enriched with the materials decomposed by fungi, bacteria, and worms, it provides a place for new pine tree seeds to germinate. New trees. New life.
The students heard the importance of the phrases, leave no trace, and carry in – carry out. They were encouraged to share information with their families, talking with others about the importance of forests and trees. They seemed to know it is important to live in a way that does not hurt trees or plants.
But, my take away message to this group of young people was to use the forest! We have the good fortune of having many beautiful forests in our state. Being outside and unplugged, is healthy for humans. And, studies have shown that the more forests are used for recreation such as hiking, camping, and geo-caching the more we will appreciate them. Appreciation leads to love, and love leads to protection.
I hope the students learn to use our Evergreen Pine Tree Forest, learn to appreciate it, and learn to love it. Then, they will protect it. Protect if for their own future.
For Everyday is Environmental Day.