Ray Skowronski, or “Mr. S,” as he is known to his students, teaches biology and life sciences to juniors and seniors at Catoctin High School in Thurmont, Md. One day last fall he began his class with his usual PowerPoint presentation, but instead of visuals of arthropods or cell membranes, it showed stacks of bundled 2x4s, 2x6s, plywood, engineered wood products, OSB, and cedar siding.
As the teenagers'eyes began to wake up and focus on the pictures, they realized this wasn't going to be a run-of-the-mill lecture. Mr. S asked the class, “Where do all these products come from?” The students' responses varied until one eventually said, “They get those boards when companies destroy our forests!” It was an answer Mr. S had been waiting for and allowed him to describe a trip he had taken over the summer with the Temperate Forest Foundation.
Last July, Mr. S and 44 other teachers from across the country participated in the Temperate Forest Foundation's Teachers' Tour in Grand Rapids, Minn. Since 1994, these trips have provided teachers with an intensive and educational three-day tour of the woods and mills in various regions throughout North America. Many teachers are sponsored by dealers in their community that provide the registration fee and travel expenses for the teacher to attend. The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association and our state federated associations coordinate these sponsors for the teachers.
Each tour guides teachers through sustainable forestry practices, taking into account the forest industry's social, economic, and environmental perspectives. Participants leave the tours with an understanding of how the industry meets customers' needs while protecting the health, diversity, productivity, and resiliency of the forest. Teachers return to their classrooms armed with information they can use as part of their lesson plans.
In many respects, the tours put a human face on the forest products industry. As Mr. S puts it, “I began the program with a bit of skepticism since I thought that much of what we would learn would consist of industry propaganda. Instead, I was impressed with the care and concern that people in the industry had for the land and its resources. From planting to harvestry to creating a finished product, everyone we met knew that they depended on the sustainable management of the forest where they live and work.”
Year after year, teachers return from the Teachers' Tours to their classrooms to instruct their own students on forestry and the roles biologists, engineers, and even the people who sell these building materials at the local lumberyard play. Last fall, Mr. S shared in his classroom lesson the important role properly managed forests have in increasing carbon absorption and reducing the risk of wildfire and erosion.
Perhaps one day a student taught by a teacher from one of the tours will be working in your building material supply business. You'll recognize these former students by their enthusiasm and knowledge of what a well-managed forest means to the ecosystem and their livelihood. Taking a familiar saying and changing it a bit: If you understand the forests and its environmental advantages, you should thank a teacher. Our industry should thank the Temperate Forest Foundation! If you'd like to sponsor a teacher for a tour, call the Temperate Forest Foundation at 503.579.6762.