Field Study: Alder Creek Middle School sixth graders learn about defensible space, healthy forests
Alder Creek Middle School sixth graders felled small trees and piled downed timber on Wednesday, taking on work normally reserved for burly foresters and heavy equipment to reduce fire risk.
Students of Katie Jamison and Betsy Hansen worked with Donner Memorial State Park officials and the Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships to learn through doing: cutting down small crowded saplings and testing water quality in Donner Creek.
“We started this last year as a service learning program at the school to learn about defensible space and habitat,” Hansen said. “This year we thought we’d add a little more science with water quality testing.”
Park Ranger Don Schmidt said last year’s class cut down about 800 trees to thin the forest near the dam on Donner Creek, and this year’s class was well on their way to matching that.
“They’re cutting anything they can get with loppers to open the forest up and create a healthy environment,” Schmidt said. “This is probably one of the more heavily forested areas in the park.”
He said fire crews would then later come through to continue the thinning and chipping.
Student involvement in the state park from different local schools goes back about 12 years, Schmidt said, with notable projects including replanting after a bark beetle kill.
The Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships has been working with students for a long time, said Nicole Deas, project director with the group.
“We act as a liaison between the state park and the schools. We contact schools and see if they are interested in coming out,” Deas said.