Summer vacation working in the woods

Photos by Amy Grotta, WSU King County Extension forester
For many high school students, spending part of summer vacation getting up early to carpool several miles to bushwhack over difficult terrain through stinging nettles

and salmonberry thickets to gather data on the forest wouldn’t appeal. 

But 11 King County students did just that as part of the WSU King County Extension Summer Youth Forestry Institute.  Not only did they gather data that will be used in developing management strategies for King County’s Taylor Mountain Forest, they learned a lot about forestry – and about teamwork.

“We all signed up for a bunch of different reasons,” said Molly Gasperini, who recently graduated from Shorewood High School in Shoreline.  “Some were interested in college and career prep.  Some were interested in learning about plant identification and forestry management.  Some of us were interested in meeting new people, and pretty much we all didn’t want to sit around watching TV all summer.” 

WSU King County Extension forester Amy Grotta said the program was set up with several goals.

“Our goals included exposing the students to natural resources issues, giving the students an opportunity to learn field skills, and to provide a service to King County,” she said.

The SYFI team spent four weeks in the field collecting data in several forest stands within the county-owned forest southeast of Issaquah.  They set up permanent monitoring plots, identified and inventoried the trees and shrubs, took core samples
to determine the age of the trees, and measured tree heights and diameters.  They collected all the information on data sheets, and spent the final couple of days in a computer lab learning how the data can be used.

“We used a program called the Landscape Management System, or LMS, and we were able to project what would happen to a stand using different management approaches in 30 years and even in a hundred years,” said student Denzel Belin of Federal Way.

The students learned how to use a variety of tools including a compass as well as GPS systems, increment borers and clinometers, how to identify all the plants in the forest stand and about general forest safety.  The also met natural resource professionals who talked about career options that would incorporate their newly learned skills.

“Lastly we learned a lot about communication and that we could take everything that we were learning and put it into a data sheet so that someone else in a lab could know what we were doing,” said Tyler Wallace who attends Interlake High School in Bellevue. “And we learned that teamwork is the key to an effective workplace – and that hardhats help a lot.”
Kevin Brown, director of the King County Parks Department said the data collected by the students will be put to practical use in guiding forest management plans.
 “The kids did a fantastic job,” he said.
The program, just completing its second year, was funded by a grant from the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, the King Conservation District and the U.S. Forest Service through the Natural Resources Stewardship Network.  The Society of American Foresters also provided financial and volunteer support.  The students received stipends for their work as well as volunteer credits for school.