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USFS and school district team up for a unique educational partnership

Mona Hill
Staff Writer

When Union Pacific agreed in July 2008 to settle the Storrie Fire lawsuit for $102 million, it opened the door for a unique educational project.

The settlement earmarked $40 million each to Plumas and Lassen national forests for recreational, scenic, watershed, wildlife and timber restoration efforts, in addition to the $22 million bill for fire suppression.

Plumas Unified School District Superintendent Glenn Harris approached Plumas National Forest officials about an educational partnership.

The forest supervisors at the time — Alice Carlton for Plumas National Forest and Kathleen Morse for Lassen National Forest — and PUSD began a long process to hammer out the collective mission, goals and details of such a program.

According to Rob Wade, who heads the school district’s outdoor education program and Michele Jimenez-Holtz, education liaison for the Plumas National Forest, the collaboration is to provide students with education, job skills and opportunities, as well as a sense of stewardship and place — to connect them to where they live.

The pilot program is in its first year, with pilot teachers developing classroom curricula to support natural resource learning on the Storrie Fire area. Teachers are participating in after-school Learning Landscape outings with the Storrie Fire Restoration Team to develop, integrate and enhance knowledge of the area’s natural resources with state standards.

As the teachers use next year, the second year in the pilot program, to develop age-appropriate lessons and programs, more students — third-graders through high school — will take part in the program.

Jimenez-Holtz and Wade see the program, slated for nine years, as a continually building learning progression, incorporating previous years’ learning into the succeeding years.

While funding is specifically for the Storrie Fire area, Jimenez-Holtz and Wade agreed the Forest Service recognizes the implications for other communities, perhaps paving the way for future programs elsewhere.

In summer 2011, the program provided an employment opportunity for six local youth on the Student Conservation Association high school trail crew on the Yellow Creek and Pacific Crest trails. Four students from Greenville and one each from Chester and Portola repaired trails, collected native plant seeds and did noxious weed eradication on the trail systems.

Greenville and Chester fifth-graders collected native shrub leaves during the fall to determine the protein content of deer forage. Quincy High School earth science students traveled to the Indian Jim school site for a geology and fisheries lesson in the geologically rich Feather River Canyon.

The Belden Quest is an example of the cross-curricular potential of the partnership’s efforts. Using a “treasure hunt” format, students will follow the history of the Belden area through geophysical and human history to learn about the hidden history of place.

The Belden Resort hosted teachers and the Storrie Fire Restoration Team in a two-day workshop to develop the activity, which will soon be available online or at the resort.

In addition to questing, teachers are also developing a scientific field journaling program in conjunction with “Laws Field Guide” author and illustrator John Muir Laws for student-created field guides.

With lumber donations from Sierra Pacific Industries and Collins Pine, students will design and create interpretive signage for Hallsted and James Lee campgrounds.

The partnership clearly has educational implications for Plumas County; it also has the potential to prepare students for jobs and to attract visitors to the area.

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