Minarets wins big at California Forestry Challenge

awileman@sierrastar.comOctober 22, 2013 

Most weekends are a chance for high school students to relax and catch up on sleep. However, for three Minarets High School students, last weekend was an opportunity to put their skills to the test during the 2013 Sequoia Forestry Challenge, which took place at the Clemmie Gill School of Science and Conservation, near Springville, California.

The Minarets team which included students Ashlynn Lemon, Ciera Johnson, and Kyle Middleton, took home top honors in the 10th annual California Forestry Challenge which was held Oct. 9 - Oct. 12.

The California Forestry Challenge is a "project-based" learning competition which allows students to use their technical forestry skills and knowledge in a non-classroom environment. It allows students hands-on experience in the field of forestry and institutes a real workplace environment that exposes them to in-field training they can obtain for future jobs or studies.

The event hosted activities all four days and was composed of 50 students from eight different schools from all over Central and Southern California.

Students who participated in the challenge were required to attend the four-day event containing four different challenges including field training, field testing, a focus topic field trip and capped-off with a group presentation.

The students arrived on Wednesday, Oct. 9, for orientation where they got acclimated to the environment and met different people who were also involved with similar interests and training. On Thursday, students participated in field data collecting which included spending time with professionals who helped these students familiarize themselves with common tree species, forestry tools, and the use of identification keys. On Friday, students took part in field testing and training as well as worked on their presentations, which were delivered Saturday.

This was Minarets first year to participate in the event and they showed their true ability and potential while taking first place amongst all other schools.

Lemon recalls the event as exciting and said she gained knowledge in the aspect of forestry she had not known, as well as refined the ones she took with her.

"My experience at the forestry challenge was amazing. Not only did I improve on the skills I know but I also learned new ones. Those skills not only helped me in the challenge but will help me in other aspects of my life. I had a great time learning about the Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest and all of the flora of that area," Lemon said.

According to the Forestry Challenge Founder and Coordinator, Diane Neill, Minarets scored one of the highest scores ever recorded.

"Not only did the Minarets win this event but they are ahead of the winning team from two weeks ago and may very well have the highest score from the Forestry Challenge in its 10- year history ... they did exceptionally well."

Neill said it was obvious that because Minarets are the FFA forestry champions they are inherently good with their field skills. However, unlike past FFA forestry champs Neill said this team was able to come up with a cohesive presentation that is not something the FFA teams are always able to do.

According to Neill, one major highlight for the students this year was the opportunity to revise an interpretive trail guide for the one-mile Forest Information Trail at Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest. After spending a day hiking the trail to collect data and confer with the State Forest staff, students created their own versions of the trail guide, providing future hikers with information on tree species, animal habitats, evidence of past human activities, and recent harvest activity.

Neill said that the event gives all the students who attend an opportunity to experience real-life fieldwork and get exposure to people who are currently active in the fields of Biology and Forestry.

"They gain knowledge, learn something and interact with people who are natural resource professionals.....having experience in the field of analyzing is beneficial and the quality of work that they are doing matches or exceeds what people are currently doing in the workplace," Neill said.

Neill hopes to expand the Forestry Challenge in coming years, hopes to get an event in the San Bernardino mountains and says it's just a matter of getting the right funding.

Ponderosa High School from Shingle Springs, California took second place and Harmony Magnet Academy from Strathmore took third in this year's Sequoia Forestry Challenge.

Details: Diane Neill (530) 417-1960, forestrychallenge.org

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