Trenna, Kim and Julia give the kids an overview of the day.
On May 16, our Princeton, British Columbia, Timberlands team headed out to the woods to plant 225 seedlings with 45 eager young volunteers from local schools as part of National Forest Week in Canada.
“Some kids in our area have family members working in forestry, so they get lots of exposure to the outdoors and our industry — but others don’t,” says Trenna MacLeod, a silviculture forester based in Princeton. “Our tree planting event is one way our team is working to change that through fun educational outreach at different ages.”
Students from Princeton’s Vermilion Forks Elementary School convened in a community forest Weyerhaeuser manages for the town of Princeton to plant the trees and learn about everything from silviculture and aquatic biology to what do in an encounter with a moose.
“It was such a nice spring day after a long winter,” Trenna says. “And though things almost went wrong at the last minute, one of our interns saved the day and the kids had a blast."
'What drew me to working in this industry is the big shift toward sustainable practices and collaborating with Indigenous people to incorporate their values, knowledge and traditions,' Kim says. 'I love to imagine that I could be a part of helping to bring in the next generation of foresters who approach our industry with those values in mind.'
REINVENTING AN OLD TRADITION
The tree planting event sprang out of National Forest Week, an annual event that started nearly 20 years ago as a traveling educational initiative. Forestry companies working in the area, including Weyerhaeuser, donated funds for an educational trailer that visited elementary and middle schools to talk about wide-ranging topics in forestry.
“In 2019, we decided to shake things up,” says Trenna, who’s a member of the National Forest Week committee. “We thought kids would be more excited and engaged if we brought them out to the forest where we work. So, we teamed up with Canada’s Institute of Forestry and a local government fire crew called the Princeton Sierras to hold a tree planting field trip. We used the annual National Forest Week youth art contest to hype it up.”
The initial event went well but had to be canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID. By the time it was relaunched in 2022, Trenna described the kids as “hungry for interaction.” In addition to planting trees, Trenna says a highlight of last year’s event was the participation of the Princeton Sierras, who showed off their firefighting gear and taught the kids about wildfire safety.
“We were really hoping to replicate that success in 2023,” Trenna says. “Unfortunately, the Sierras crew was needed to help fight wildfires breaking out all over northern BC. We scrambled to improvise a replacement the kids would find just as interesting.”
Kimberly Younie, a second-year forestry intern, stepped up to the plate, creating a presentation that taught students about the different kinds of animals they might encounter in the forest.
“We couldn’t have pulled this off without the creativity of our volunteers and a lot of help from the British Columbia Ministry of Forests,” Trenna says.
Students spread out to plant their seedlings. 'It’s great to give kids this opportunity for exposure to the natural world and topics like plants, wildlife and Indigenous values,' Trenna says. 'They are just brimming with energy. Their attention spans may be short at this age, but we’re taking every opportunity to catch their interest, and maybe spark a love for the forest that’ll guide their career decisions in the future.'
A POPULAR PREDATOR PRESENTATION
The setting for the event was a recently harvested ‘cut block,’ or unit of Canadian Timberlands’ managed forests. The day began with a safety orientation focused on how to avoid injuries while walking in the woods.
Then volunteers led the students through a series of demonstrations and talks. Six government employees talked about their specialties, including silviculture, cattle and aquatic biology. An invertebrate expert pointed out bugs and other creatures that live in a stream flowing through the forest.
“The kids were clearly excited to be outdoors,” says Julia Chapelle, forestry supervisor based in Princeton. “They were so enthusiastic about everything, from the bugs and the trees to seeing who could scale the hill fastest.”
Trenna and Julia led the students through the harvesting process, explained why certain trees are left standing, and helped them plant 225 Douglas-fir seedlings. Then came Kim’s wildlife presentation.
“I decided to focus on predators and protocols for safely interacting with them,” Kim says. “The main ones we see in our forests are black bears, grizzly bears, cougars and wolves — plus prey animals like moose and deer.”
Kim taught the students how to approach animals differently based on their behaviors. For example, she explained if you run into a moose in the woods and it shows aggression by breathing heavily and pawing the ground with its front hooves, it’s best to run to a safe place, such as a building or truck. If those aren’t nearby, try to put an obstacle such as a tree or boulder between you and the moose. If the moose knocks you down, curl up in a ball, protect your head with your hands, and hold still. To prevent another attack, don’t move or try to stand until the moose is a safe distance away.
“Of course, the kids were riveted, looking around and imagining seeing these majestic creatures nearby,” Kim says. “They had so many questions and wanted to share stories about animals they’ve seen.”
The event was planned as part of Canada’s 2023 National Forest Week. The youth drawing contest prompts students across the nation to draw what they think foresters do. The resulting submissions have included everything from apple orchards to slightly more accurate lumberjacks. The first-place winner receives a scholarship to the summer camp of their choice. Many kids, including this year’s winner, choose Silver Lake, a forestry-themed camp. The two runners-up receive a pass to a community pool for summer swimming.
PLANTING IDEAS FOR THE FUTURE
Coincidentally, all the volunteers at the event happened to be women.
“Not only were we able to give the kids a snapshot of what working in our industry really looks like, we showed them that lots of women actually work in what’s usually thought of as a male-dominated industry,” Kim says. “It would have meant a lot to me as a little girl to see that.”
Next year, the team hopes to grow the event with more volunteers and new content that’s both educational and entertaining.
“A lot of kids don’t realize there’s more to our industry than the logging trucks they see driving down the highway,” Julia says. “Events like this expand their understanding of all the diverse jobs within forestry. Whether you want to be a scientist or drive a big tractor, you can have a fun career working outdoors.”