ALMAGUIN – When it comes to forestry training, rural kids are at an advantage.
AHSS Forestry teacher Brad O'Gorman shows student Trevor Kiers how to identify the species of shrub located at the school during a showshoeing excursion on Feb. 14. As part of the course curriculum, the class snow shoed throughout the school property to identify a variety of species and collect twigs as samples.
“We’re lucky to be living here where we can go outside and actually see the trees and get outdoor experience,” said Almaguin Highlands Secondary School Grade 10 student Trevor Kiers. “I have a friend that lives in the city (of Toronto) and is taking this course and all they had were fake tree samples. They were plastic.”
Kiers said you can’t compare plastic samples to the real deal when it comes to learning about tree species.
“We had a test and the teacher brought in fresh samples. Fresh cut has a scent and you can see if there’s sap,” he explained.
At AHSS, the forestry program is currently offered to Grades 9 through 12.
Part of the Grade 10 class is learning how to identify 23 different species of tree by using only a twig from each type of tree. On Feb. 15 the class headed out onto the vast AHSS property on snowshoes to collect their own samples, look at animals tracks, and basically learn as much as possible while trekking through the forest.
Forestry teacher Bard O’Gorman said the program has come a long way since its inception.
“When I first started, the kids thought the program was about cutting down trees,” he said. “What I run is a forest management program that can be useful for anyone going into an environmental field.”
When the high school finally erects its greenhouse, the forestry class will be able to grow its own saplings. The greenhouse has been sitting in pieces at the school awaiting Municipal approval to be constructed.
Also included in the course is the study of forest insects, animal tracking, leaf identification, and wilderness navigation.
“We do everything as a group, so they learn to rely on each other. That’s a skill that they can use in any career,” said O’Gorman.
He said he especially likes being able to take the kids outdoors to explore.
“You never know what you’re going to find out there,” he said, noting every excursion is a unique learning experience.
Currently in his seventh year teaching the forestry program at AHSS, O’Gorman said he structures the curriculum so that it truly benefits the students in his class at that time.
“I’m going to start modifying the Grade 12 program because a few of the kids are pursuing fish and wildlife post-secondary,” he said.
Kiers said he too has considered a job in an environmental field after completing the introductory course into forestry program in Grade 9.
“I definitely looked into a career with the MNR,” said Kiers. “This course has really opened my eyes to what’s available.”
O’Gorman, who studied forestry at Fleming College and worked in the field before taking on teaching, said now is the time to consider an MNR career.
“In the last year I have heard from the forestry industry that the MNR will have a shortfall in the next couple of years,” he said.
O’Gorman said when he finished college he decided to stay for a third year, while his classmates entered the workforce.
“That’s the year they (the MNR) closed the door and haven’t hired since,” he said. “Now, all of the employees my age are retirement age. It could mean a lot of jobs and that’s just within the government.”
Kiers said the idea of taking forestry in school was backed by his parents.
“My dad encouraged me to take it,” said Kiers. “He took a similar course in college, so it’s been good bonding.”
Kiers said he finds technology courses are more stimulating than classes that are strictly bookwork.
“Anytime you’re actually doing something it’s always more fun than book work,” he said, noting the hands-on courses break up the monotony of the day. “I try to take at least one practical course each semester. It just refreshes your brain.”
Kiers said the forestry class gives students a mixture of theory and hands-on. He said the lessons learned in the class help him in everyday life.
“I’m a hunter, so it helps with that because I can figure out where the best hunting spots are,” he said. “Deer like cedar, so if you can identify the types of trees that are around that definitely helps.”
Kiers said he learned in class the different ways deer and moose eat leaves, so he can now identify what animals have been in the areas where he is hunting.
“If the leaves are clean-cut, you know it’s a deer, but if the leaves have just been nibbled, it was a moose eating it,” he explained.
O’Gorman said he works to make sure students are learning skills that could help them survive in the wilderness.
“They’re living in the rural north. They need to know this stuff,” he said.