The end of school isn’t the end of learning

Christine McMorrow
Special to the Sun
Courtesy photo

Following the educational philosophy of John Dewey, students from NTMS and ACMS have been learning by doing during the last weeks of school. What are they learning and what are they doing? Thanks to funding from the Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation Nature Fund and partnerships with North Tahoe Fire Protection District, CA State Parks and Integrated Environmental Restoration Services, Inc., 250 sixth graders are learning about forest health, defensible space and our local forest ecology. They are and#8220;doingand#8221; science by collecting forest fuels data for forest managers.

Armed with tape measures, data sheets, cameras and home made forest measuring tools (densitometer and clinometer), students have counted, sized and identified the trees in 1/10 acre plots on forest sites slated for fuels reduction work by North Tahoe Fire and CA State Parks. Lead by Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships (SWEP), students conducted pre-fuels reduction monitoring near North Tahoe Middle School and at Donner State Park. The data collected this spring will be compared to data collected by students in September, after the fuels reduction projects are complete. This will give forest managers a quantitative analysis of the impact of fuels reduction projects on large parcels.

North Tahoe Fire Protection District forest fuels manager, Stewart McMorrow is anxious to know the results of the studentsand#8217; study. and#8220;These students are playing an integral role in this project. We know the forest looks dramatically different after thinning. With the studentsand#8217; data we will have an idea of how much difference we have made in reducing the fuels in the wild lands,and#8221; says McMorrow.

In addition to collecting forest density and fuels data, students at Alder Creek Middle School were able to help in reducing the amount of fuels in the forest. At Donner State Park, under the watchful eye of Ranger Don Schmidt, students formed a and#8220;lopper brigadeand#8221; in which they lopped as many small trees (less than 2 inches diameter) as they could. The results are dramatic. In one day, over 4,000 small pines and firs were thinned from an over crowded site near the dam at Donner Lake.

A smaller group of students, representing the North Tahoe Youth Fire Safe Chapter, set up photo monitoring points on the projects near North Tahoe Middle School. With help from Integrated Environmental Restoration Services, Inc., students marked the changes to a project in the stream environment zone (SEZ).

SWEP works with teachers and community partners before students get into the field to insure that useful data is being collected, CA state content standards are being met, and the work is matched with student ability.

For more information about SWEP and their environmental work with schools and the community, visit or contact e-mail

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