Dairy barn endangered
The dairy barn at Central State Hospital is the landmark on the hill that everyone recognizes. Read about its history.
Exporting Louisiana wood
Wood exports from the state are small but for one company they are very profitable.
Myths and misconceptions
Read about the science behind the facts on forestry and wildlife.
Opinion: No Child Left Inside
Cindy Kilpatrick, a teacher of the year, shows how "No Child Left Inside" helps children..
Column by Buck Vandersteen
The legislature had some dire consequences but forestry was not in the spotlight this year.
By Melanie Torbett
Perched high atop a grassy knoll overlooking Buhlow Lake and busy Highway 71/165 in Pineville is an iconic landmark for motorists, fishermen, and pilots flying their small planes in and out of the nearby lakeside airport.
Though familiar to residents in Central Louisiana, this 89-year-old dairy barn on the grounds of the public mental health hospital is an unusual sight in the deep South. With a massive, curving gambrel roof over a stunning, two-story hay loft and twin wings that jut out on either side, the wood frame barn has an architecture and history that make it unique.
The “Old Dairy Barn,” as it is known, once housed a thriving dairy operation for the residents of Central Louisiana State Hospital, the mental health institution that has served the north-central region of the state since 1906. Named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, the barn has now been placed on a considerably less honorable list. In 2009-10, it was chosen by the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation (LTHP) as one the most endangered historic sites in the state.
“It’s very, very unique,” says Michael Wyatt, field officer for the LTHP. “I’ve never seen anything like this in the Southeast. It’s good that it’s still there.” The Trust’s endangered list, he explains, is to draw attention to “irreplaceable assets in the state that will never, ever be built again.”
The barn’s status as a threatened historic structure has recently gained the attention of history buffs, state officials and local residents who want to save it from further decay or destruction. No longer in use by the hospital, the building sits empty, except for a smattering of stored odds and ends, and abandoned, except for occasional visits by the curious.
Peeling paint, a few missing shingles and damaged siding make the red-trimmed white barn appear in worse condition than it actually is, says Ken Roy, a local amateur historian who has adopted the barn’s preservation as his personal cause. “It’s really in very good shape,” he says. “We just can’t let it go by the wayside.”
For the past three years Roy has been working to raise awareness of the barn’s importance, researching the structure, writing a detailed history, and seeking support. His concern for the barn’s future is heightened now by the announced intention of the state to relocate the mental health services of Central State Hospital to a site a few miles away, and to dispose of some or all of the hospital’s property. Roy says hospital administrators and local governmental officials endorse efforts to save the building, yet it will be up to the state to determine the barn’s future.
“I would like to see the state donate the building to the Central Louisiana Historical Association, and then it could ultimately be sold and used for some purpose,” he says.
The 12,500 square foot dairy barn was built in 1923 on a four-acre plot to produce dairy products for the residents and staff of the hospital, and to offer “occupational therapy as complementary to psychiatry, as it had the promise of meshing humanitarian values with science.”
Central, which opened soon after the turn of the 20th century as Louisiana Hospital for the Insane, was a large operation which at its zenith in 1959 included a residential community of more than 3,000 patients. To provide food for residents and employees, the hospital raised cattle, swine, poultry and other agricultural products on nearby farms.
While dairy operations had been in place before 1923, the grand barn we see today came into being through the efforts of a former patient at Central, a man named Joseph H. Carlin of Rayne, La., who was treated at the hospital from 1909 until 1912, according to hospital records.
Though documentation is sketchy, Carlin remained at Central after his treatment, working in the maintenance department, where he applied drafting and carpentry skills previously gained in his family’s construction company. Besides building the dairy barn, Carlin is credited as the designer and builder of the hospital’s pathological lab and morgue, built in 1917 and now known as the Rose Cottage. (This building still stands on the hospital grounds and now houses a small museum that chronicles Central’s past.)
According to a report sent to the Louisiana governor in 1918 by the hospital’s superintendent, “Another two hundred ton silo has been added to the dairy outfit and additional milk rooms have been installed to meet the requirements of the State Board of Health...” Soon after Carlin supervised the building of the new barn (with the labor of Central patients) in 1923, the 54-year-old man died, and was buried in his hometown of Rayne.
The barn’s design reflects the style common to Midwestern dairy barns of the early 20th century. Ken Roy believes it was built using mail order plans or perhaps even a “building kit” from the Louden Machinery Company of Iowa, which once offered architectural plans for barns along with accompanying machinery.
“We identified some of the cow stanchions, pulleys and railings with the Louden logo,” says Roy. A 1926 report from the hospital’s superintendent refers to the new barn: “It is built and equipped on what is known as the Louden plan and it is hoped will meet the demands of our institution in aiding the dairyman to provide more milk for our institutional use.”
However, one Alexandria man whose grandfather served as Central’s superintendent when the barn was built says the barn’s design came from Wisconsin. Windsor Thomas, Jr. relates that his grandfather, Dr. John N. Thomas, sent his son, Windsor Thomas Sr., to the University of Wisconsin to study modern dairy operations prior to 1923. He returned with a master’s degree in dairy science, plans for a new barn and insights to help Central improve its dairy management. (His son Windsor Jr. eventually spent six years supervising Central’s feed mill.)
Whatever its genesis, the barn’s design was neither typical nor necessary for Louisiana’s mild winters. Originally built to accommodate 75 cows, the barn’s first floor wings were lighted and ventilated by a series of small, nine-light casement windows, and serviced by big sliding plank doors. A concrete foundation extends up the sides of the building to just under the window sills and clapboard siding. Inside, the remnants of an overhead tracked “carrier” system still run throughout the first floor, probably used for feeding the animals and removing manure. The foundations of two silos that once served the barn can still be seen today. The spectacular curvilinear hay loft, six distinctive roof vent stacks and part of a rooftop crane on the eave of the north side of the barn reflect the style of the old Louden barns.
Because central Louisiana had a wealth of timber and sawmills in 1923, it would seem logical that locally-sourced wood was used in the structure, says Bill Johnson, vice president of Tudor Companies of Alexandria. He and other observers believe the barn is mostly constructed using virgin pine from Louisiana. About 15 years ago, his company— which is in its fourth generation as a general contractor in the region— performed extensive renovation work on the barn’s loft when it was in danger of collapse. They made laminated beams on-site to replace about 10 of the original curved wooden ribs that support the roof of the structure and resemble the underside of a massive wooden boat.
“It is a very, very unique building, and the project was a challenge to do,” says Johnson, who has been with Tudor for more than three decades. He explained that rotten wood had caused the center line of the barn’s roof to sag in the middle, which threatened to eventually pull the entire building down. Workers used 20 10-ton jacks to stabilize and hold the roof, then made “virgin pine equivalent” replacement ribs by laminating small pieces of select pine together. Steel tension bars were placed horizontally throughout the loft’s interior to satisfy engineering recommendations for extra reinforcement.
The project, he says, “really worked out beautifully.” He believes the building to be structurally sound now, and could “last for another 100 years,” if properly cared for. “It’s a beautiful old building.”
Central’s records show that the hospital’s herd of dairy cows once included Holstein, Jerseys and Guernsey breeds. Long-time residents in Cenla remember the cows regularly trekking through a tunnel that once ran under the adjacent highway to pasture on low land that is now known as Lake Buhlow. Central patients tended to the cows as well as the hospital’s other agricultural enterprises.
It’s Windsor Thomas’s recollection that Central State Hospital moved its dairy operation to property in Grant Parish in the late 50s when Buhlow Lake displaced the cows’ pastureland. New government rules eventually prohibited the use of patient labor for agricultural production, and changes in the treatment of the mentally ill began to diminish the hospital’s population. No longer needed for its original purpose, the dairy barn was converted into a paint and glass shop, and later used for storage.
Today, the historic old dairy barn’s future remains in question. If there are enough advocates who care about this endangered wooden landmark, yet another reincarnation may just be possible. But that will take new vision, development savvy and money.
Sums up Michael Wyatt with the state preservation group: “It’s a great building, and something should be done with it.”
(Melanie Torbett is a writer in Alexandria.)
By Janet Tompkins
Wood exports out of Louisiana are such a small piece of the production pie that many people don’t even think about local logs riding across the ocean. But for some companies like Almond Brothers Lumber of Coushatta, it is their business. And with a stagnant domestic market, more people are wondering if it’s a market that can grow.
Richard Kleiner, director of international market development for the Southern Forests Products Association, describes the export area as a “relatively small but stable part of the Southern yellow pine” market. “It has grown in recent years as the domestic home building market imploded,” he said.
The traditional export avenues have done well consistently, he said, regardless of prices, the economy or currency fluctuations, but other markets could develop with a weaker dollar. Southern yellow pine is also recognized for its strength, ample supply and its distinctive aesthetics that are so different from tropical hardwoods. But one of its most important attributes, both domestically and overseas, is its outdoor applications because it is particularly good for treating. For example, many of the walkways at the Chinese Olympics were Southern yellow pine, Kleiner said.
Figures from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service for total solid wood products (hardwood and softwood) exported from Louisiana in 2011 were valued at $70.9 billion, down from 2010 but more than the three years prior to that. The top three destinations were Mexico ($24.6 billion), Canada ($10.4 billion) and the United Kingdom ($8.3 billion). Figures for Southern Yellow Pine for the region show the top three (see chart) were the Dominican Republic, Mexico and China.
William and Vince Almond are veterans of the export market since their sawmill embraced it in 1991. They may be located in Red River Parish with slightly more than 2,000 people living in Coushatta but they were set to be a part of the trade mission to Tunisia in April. “About 95% of our market is overseas,” said William.
They ventured into some exports in the Eighties but when it was time for mill upgrades they decided they needed to make a decision––stick with the domestic market with many more big competitors or carve out a niche market overseas. They decided to produce high quality pine logs for the export market.
“We start with big logs because that’s where all the clear wood is,” said Vince Almond, sales manager for Almond’s European and Asian markets. “Yellow pine is one of the few species that you can get big pieces of wood that is clear wood.” Most of the shipments are rough cut, not dressed lumber, that are further processed once they are exported. “They want as much wood as they can get,” said William. “They want it rough and as much fiber as possible.”
William said the company was using export agents when they first began shipping overseas primarily into Europe. The agents would handle the whole process including finding customers. In visiting customers he realized that the agents were misrepresenting the lumber, sometimes calling it a higher grade than it was.
“We saw that we needed to sell direct through our own agents,” he said. “We created our own grades and we have the reputation in the business as the best in the yellow pine market.”
Europe, especially Spain, was the customer base for Almond Lumber for many years. “They had a local pine that is similar (to Southern yellow pine),” said Vince. Those pine forests had been decimated so they looked overseas for a product they were familiar with. William explained that in Europe, yellow pine is considered a high grade forestry product–an appearance grade wood valued for its aesthetics.
But in recent years, the European market hit the skids even before America’s economy slumped and the Almonds found a new niche––the Middle East. “We are the number one supplier of yellow pine into Libya,” said William. “If it hadn’t been for the Middle East, we would probably be shut down right now.” Egypt and north Africa are also interested in southern pine.
The U.S. government has no restrictions on wood shipments to Libya but the war there has tested the arrangement. There were shipments in port and another on the water when the Libyan civil war broke out. The customer had already paid the Libyan bank for the shipment but the whole banking system was in an uproar. “On April 1 we got approval from the new government to pay the existing letters of credit,” said William. “We expect to be paid this week.”
That is one of the safeguards of the export market. Documents release the lumber while another releases the cash to the seller. The arrangement varies depending on the buyer. William estimated that 30-35% of the price is transportation.
The Caribbean countries when grouped together are big importers of Louisiana wood as well. Figures provided by the SFPA show large shipments to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and smaller amounts from other countries.
China is the growing market for all kinds of goods including wood, but the Almonds have found that it’s all about price there. “That’s not what we’re about,” said William. “We’re looking at the smaller importers who want 3-10 loads at a time who understand quality and are willing to pay for it.”
But they hope to make inroads there and are presently translating their lumber grading book into Mandarin Chinese. Some of the other Asian countries buying from Almond are making products destined for the Chinese market.
“Ten years ago the Caribbean was the largest importer (from the Southern U.S.),” said Kleiner, “and that remains the same today.” But he notes that the Chinese economy is growing so much that they need to import wood from everywhere. “Now China rivals the Caribbean.” In the last two years, he said, there has been more interest from export agents and brokers and more trade inquiries from that area.
As China’s need grows other manufacturers in Turkey, India and southeast Asia are eyeing products to be made for the growing Chinese middle class. Kleiner said the SFPA promotion strategy to “up market” Southern yellow pine showcases the material as a product that can do things that other softwoods and hardwood can’t do. “We won’t focus on one market (like China) but we will have a balanced approach,” he said.
The SFPA has educational seminars for builders and designers and demonstration projects and promotions in other countries. One promotion for Eastern Canadian consumers shows Southern pine decking. Mexico uses much of the yellow pine product in hotel and motel construction, furniture, pallets and the “up market “ would be in décor.
(Janet Tompkins is editor of Forests & People magazine.)
(Editor’s Note: This publication by Timothy Traugott, retired professor of forestry, Mississippi State University Extension Service, was excerpted with permission for Forests & People. He discusses some widespread myths and misconceptions about forest management.)
Fire is bad for wildlife.
Wildfires can be very bad for wildlife and timber, but prescribed burning in pinestands improves wildlife habitat.
Prescribed burning is the deliberate use of fire under controlled conditions to accomplish certain forest-land objectives. It is one of the best wildlife habitat improvement techniques available to forest managers.
Browse plants (hardwood sprouts and other forage plants) soon grow beyond the reach of deer in managed pine stands. Prescribed burning at 2- to 3-year intervals keeps browse within reach of deer and stimulates the growth of green, succulent plants.
Also, fire improves the nutritional quality of deer browse for two to three years. Quail and turkey also benefit because heavy brush is removed and annual plants are encouraged to grow.
Prescribed burning used with pine thinnings can dramatically improve wildlife habitat. Research has shown it can result in the production of more than five times the available wildlife food.
Misconception #2: Pine forests are biological deserts and there is nothing there for wildlife.
Much of our land is better adapted to pine, and, in most cases, forest landowners and forest industries should be managing this land for pine.
The debate over hardwood or pine, however, is not the most important issue. How we manage our pine stands is really the most important issue. About half of our forests are pine, and because many other forests and fields are now being converted to pine plantations, many sportsmen are afraid wildlife habitat is being destroyed.
Through proper forest management, these pine plantations can provide good wildlife habitat and may actually provide more wildlife food for certain game species such as deer, turkey, and quail.
By now you may be thinking of those pine plantations you have seen that are just rows of pine trees with nothing but pine needles on the forest floor. Pine plantations such as these have been called “biological deserts.”
We have all seen pine plantations in this condition, and they definitely are not producing very much wildlife food, but this situation does not and should not go on in a properly managed pine stand.
Unfortunately, the picture most of us see when pine trees are mentioned is one of dense, dark rows of pine trees. Pine p
lantations go through many stages, just as a person goes through many changes from birth to adulthood.
Throughout the lifespan of a pine plantation (which may vary from 30 to 60 years), wildlife habitat is constantly changing.
For the first 5 to 6 years after pines are planted, a wide assortment of grasses, forbs, and browse in the understory provide lots of food for deer and turkeys. In this period, a pine plantation can be very productive for wildlife, especially if these young pine stands are mixed with other habitat types, such as older pine stands, hardwood stands, and pine-hardwood stands.
After this first growth period, management plays a key role. The pine tree crowns soon grow close together, and sunlight is shaded from the forest floor. Ultimately, the grasses, forbs, and browse plants will start to disappear because they need sunlight to grow.
If left unmanaged, the “biological desert” perception of pine stands results. This is where management in the form of thinnings plays an important role.
As soon as pine plantations reach pulpwood size, between 15 to 18 years of age, they should be marked and thinned. Properly thinned stands will allow production of substantial amounts of forage. Herbaceous plants respond to the increased sunlight and produce food for wildlife.
Pine stands should be thinned every 5 to 6 years to maintain production of browse plants. After three to four periodic thinnings, the stand should be ready for a harvest cut and, once again, reforested.
Over the entire life of a pine forest (30 to 60 years), only 5 to 8 years could actually be in the dense, dark, unproductive stage most people think of in a pine plantation.
To improve our wildlife habitat, we must learn to manage our pine stands. Our main soil types dictate that we grow pine trees. If we manage these pine trees, we will not sacrifice good wildlife habitat. Properly managed pine stands can and do produce very good wildlife habitat for most of our game species.
Misconception #3: All hardwoods are good for wildlife.
Are all hardwoods good for wildlife? The answer to this question would have to be “not necessarily.” Many hardwoodspecies provide little value to wildlife, although others provide tremendous benefits.
Ask yourself these questions: “What hardwood species are beneficial?” “Do these hardwood species exist in my favorite hunting area?”
If you are interested in deer, turkeys, or squirrels, oak trees are the species you need to look for. Oaks produce acorns, one of our most valuable and nutritious wildlife foods. However, acorn production each year depends on two important factors:
1. The age of oak trees in a hardwood forest is very important. Most species of oaks begin producing acorns after about 25 years. Therefore, a hardwood forest must have oak trees more than 25 years old to ensure acorn production. Does your favorite hardwood forest have oak trees this old?
2. The type of oak trees is also very important. The two types of oaks in Louisiana are red oaks and white oaks.
The major difference in red oaks and white oaks is in acorn production. White-oak acorns mature in one growing season, or every year. Red-oak acorns usually mature in two growing seasons. White oaks are often prolific seeders or acorn producers, but good acorn years do not occur regularly, and sometimes several years may pass without an acorn crop. Red oaks are generally more reliable acorn producers than white oaks, but red-oak acorn production can also vary from year to year.
Some common red oaks are cherrybark oak, southern red oak, shumard oak, nuttall oak, black oak, and water oak. White oak include overcup oak, post oak ,and swamp chestnut oak.The composition of oaks in a hardwood forest does affect the dependability and size of acorn crops each year.
Misconception #4: Cutting only big trees leaves the younger trees room to become more valuable.
You have probably heard this statement, “The best way to harvest (or sell) timber is to cut the big trees and let thelittle ones grow.” Another way to express the same thought is, “When I sell timber, I sell only the trees bigger than 14 inches in diameter.” These statements reflect the common misconception that large trees are old trees and small trees are young trees.
Larger trees are not necessarily older than small trees.
In fact, often the larger trees in a stand of timber are about the same age as the skinny trees. The large trees are bigger because they grew faster. Prove this to yourself the next time you see a pine plantation. The diameters of the trees in the plantation will vary in size from small to large, even though all the trees were planted at the same time.
This can also be true in natural stands.
The rate at which a tree grows depends on species, soil fertility, competition, and other factors. It’s a mistake simply to “cut the big trees and let the little ones grow.”
You may be harvesting the fastest growing trees and leaving the poorest ones.
Suppose you had a herd of dairy cows. Each year you sold the cows that produced the most milk and kept the poorest producers. How long would you be in the dairy business? Not long, because soon you would be left with only dry cows! When you harvest your timber by cutting everything larger than a specified diameter, you are doing the same thing to your timber that was done to the dairy herd. This technique is called “diameter-limit cutting.”
Many people have sold timber this way only to realize later the “little trees” that are left are very poor quality and unable to reseed the harvest area. Often the only alternatives available afterward are expensive site preparation and planting or leaving the land cut over.
Misconception #5: Clearcutting is bad for wildlife.
Clearcutting is OK! Did you feel upset when you read that?
Did you get angry? Somehow, over the last 10 or 15 years, we have been conditioned to respond negatively to the suggestion of clearcutting. As a starting point, let’s consider clearcuts in general.
Most people think of clearcutting as the end of a forest.
Foresters regard clearcutting as a way to reproduce or begin a new stand. Clearcutting is the complete removal of all trees from a designated area and is the best regeneration method for sun-loving or intolerant tree species, such as southern pine and many valuable hardwood species.
Many oak species that are most valuable for wildlife are very shade intolerant. This means they must have open sunlight to regenerate and grow. In other words, they do not reproduce under other trees in a forest. This can and has caused loss of good hardwood forests for wildlife.
When hardwoods were harvested in the past, and in most cases when harvested today, the larger trees were cut and smaller trees were left. This is not good forest management, and it is also poor wildlife management.
Because good oak species are shade intolerant, they usually are not found in hardwood understories. Therefore, when the large oak trees are cut, they usually are replaced by other hardwood species less valuable to wildlife. This is why wildlife managers sometimes recommend small clearcuts in hardwood stands. The small clearcuts provide habitat diversity, understory browse, and plant growth, and most importantly, clearcuts provide for the regeneration of valuable oak species that require open sunlight.
Clearcutting is a valuable management tool for foresters and wildlife managers. Many wildlife species need diversity in their habitat. That is, they need open areas, large timber, and herbaceous vegetation in their natural range. Often this natural range is relatively small, and it is hard to find these conditions on a small area. By the proper use of clearcutting, you can maintain this diversity, and you can create and maintain the “edge effect,” where two of the conditions meet.
Good clearcuts for wildlife are small, irregular in shape, and well-distributed over the tract of land being managed. Also, streamside management zones should be left where streams run through these cuts. You can use the clearcut to maintain the diverse habitat conditions required by wildlife while practicing good forest management.
Contrary to popular belief, clearcutting does provide some benefits for many of our most important game species. For rabbits and deer, there is an abundance of food plants. Brushy conditions also are available for rabbit nesting and cover. Quail find food plants, thickets for nesting, and open vegetation. Cleared areas offer turkeys open grassy areas for summer food and brood rearing, as well as brushy areas for nesting.
Clearcutting, however, virtually eliminates squirrel habitat and should not be used if squirrels are the major management consideration.
If you consider the different age classes of trees on your property, and if you properly design and execute your clearcuts in terms of size and shape for maximum “edge,” interior diversity, and spacing, you will see benefits to game populations.
Misconception #6: Foresters are converting all our hardwood areas to pine.
Uninformed people often make this statement.
Sometimes you hear, “Timber companies are cutting all our hardwoods!”
It is true that many acres are being converted to pine from low-grade, off-site hardwoods to meet landowner and industry objectives and product demands. In addition, timber industries are practicing more intensive pinemanagement. (The land area of hardwood forests is about equal to pine in Louisiana.)
The real culprit of hardwood losses is the conversion of hardwood forests to other uses, such as agriculture, housing developments, and road construction.
Misconception #7: It is good hardwood land if white oaks are growing on it.
The majority of the hardwood trees grow best on moist, fertile soils. This is one reason bottomland hardwood forests are so productive for wildlife. These soils are very fertile and result in good wildlife habitat.
Good hardwood sites are found in stream bottoms, small drainages, coves and hollows, and generally the lower one-third slope on hill land. The soil on these sites will produce good growth of hardwood trees and also of understory plants, which are very important to many wildlife species, such as deer and turkey.
Hardwoods do not grow very well on dry, sandy, well-drained soils. Hard-woods, including white oaks, however, do grow on these sites but do not produce the quality of wildlife habitat we see in bottomland hardwoods.
Soils dictate how productive hardwoods are for wildlife, and these sites have very poor soils for hardwoods.
Misconception #8: If you have plenty of mast-producing oaks, you don't have to worry about providing wildlife food.
Although many species of wildlife feed on acorns, acorns and other mast are seasonal and sporadic. Deer, for example, must depend on year-round browse plants for their food supply.
The two basic wildlife food-producing areas in a forest are the trees and the forest floor. Hardwood trees produce acorns, nuts, berries, and fruits. Plants growing under hardwood and pine trees produce other food sources: grasses, forbs, fruits, and browse.
Acorn production is very unpredictable. This makes it difficult to manage wildlife populations because this food source varies from year to year.
To add to this problem, acorn production by oaks depends on soil types. Good hardwood sites produce more acorns than poor sites.
Deer and other wildlife must find food year-round. Other food sources must be available. These other food sources are normally found on the forest floor.
Forest management usually enhances this food source.
For example, thinning or harvesting trees allows sunlight to reach the ground. The result is a great increase in grasses, forbs, and browse on the forest floor.
Misconception #9: We can’t manage timber and wildlife on the same acreage.
Nothing can be further from the truth. Sound timber management practices will create a dynamic forest habitat that can be modified to meet specific wildlife objectives.
Thinning pine forests increases timber growth on future crop trees but also increases understory browse and plant growth for wildlife. Prescribed burning benefits timber but usually benefits wildlife even more. Fire lanes protect timber from fire and provide logging roads for future harvests, but they also provide good wildlife food plots if planted in wildlife plants. Clearcutting timber is part of growing a crop of trees and also of beginning a new forest. If done properly, clearcuts can provide food, cover, edge, and diversity to wildlife habitat.
As an educator it is often difficult to evaluate the results of your efforts. So, today we use standardized test to determine if grade level expectations have been mastered or if enough basic information has been retained to allow the student to advance to the next grade. The pursuit of “the test” is now a year to year endeavor on which all eyes are constantly focused.
Teachers feel constant pressure, students know advancement depends on results; parents have to constantly remind their children that learning is their job and they must learn to be responsible to be successful. Then school board officials and politicians use the test results to evaluate whole school systems, complete teacher evaluations and determine placement for students as they advance to the next grade. Last year I was a part of an easier way to determine if learning was accomplished.
After a year of fund raising, from washing cars, selling pizzas and candy bars to soliciting donations from family members and area businesses the seventh grade students at Oil City Magnet School in northern Caddo Parish were able to take the trip of a lifetime to Calwood Environmental Education Center north of Jamestown, Colorado.
The week long adventure would be like nothing they had ever experienced before in rural Louisiana.
The week included activities that were new to all, teachers included. A visit to a mica mine on the side of a mountain, a five mile hike through aspen groves, meadows filled with wild flowers, fishing for trout in a mountain stream, and watching the stars from a sleeping bag atop a mountain on a dark night. Students learned the names of trees and flowers they had never seen before using activities from Project Learning Tree. They played in snow in June, watched elk feed on roadsides in small towns, enjoyed white water rafting down a Colorado river and chased chipmunks around their cabins.
Each day was filled with activities from morning till late at night. Every student went to sleep as soon as their head hit the pillow and was up early each morning ready for another adventure. The experience fostered a new sense of responsibility. Students willingly cleaned their own cabins, bused tables at meals, and kept up with their own equipment, duties often not done at home. Being responsible meant that others had meals on time, students were ready to leave on time and that they could depend on one another on the trail.
The lack of technology made the adventure even more unusual. The students had to turn off cell phones when we reached Calwood and were only allowed computer access at night before lights out. The amazing thing– none of the students complained, they survived without video games, texting friends sitting in the same room or needing to “google” constantly.
The trip ended with the realization that each student would forever remember the experiences they had enjoyed and the new relationships they had developed with the staff, and even their teachers. All of the students returned home more mature from having to depend upon themselves to be prepared, learning how to work with a group, and how to follow directions without complaining or causing problems.
The results were measured in journals, stories told and retold, pictures sent to relatives and sponsors, and memories shared. No test needed! They returned to school anxious to share with the students moving to seventh grade that would soon begin planning their Calwood trip. This January it became apparent that not enough students would be paying for the trip for this year, so Principal Mike Irvin opened the trip to students who had attended last year. Every eighth grade student signed up to return.
The students truly experienced the ideals set forth in the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv who coined the phrase, “nature deficit disorder”. Our Oil City students learned volumes by being outdoors and using the world around them as a classroom. They were proof the national movement of “no child left inside” is successful. It was education in the finest sense of the word.
Not all outdoor experiences have to be this remarkable, but what a gift that outdoor education can be so amazing. Exposing children to the beauty of nature and the adventures that can be found outside their own back door is a responsibility of parents and teachers. There is no substitute for experience.
I have now retired from Oil City Magnet School, but tomorrow I will meet a kindergarten class at Walter Jacobs Nature Park near Blanchard for their first lesson in the forest. The little ones will have so much to learn. I begin again.
(Cindy Kilpatrick is the Urban Forestry Outreach Coordinator for the La. Office of Forestry and coordinator for PLT. )
The 2012 Legislative Session was the first session with new legislators elected in November 2011. With the state budget struggling to find a balance, money issues overshadowed all issues and state agency requests, including those of the Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
Within the Department of Agricul-ture and Forestry, the Office of Forestry receives the largest share of state appropriations. Monies are used primarily to protect forests from wildfire, insects, and other destructive events. The 14 million acres of forestland across the state are protected by only 102 firefighters.
There are 60 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes with timber exposure. That means less than two people per parish to protect the forest resource. It has been necessary to concentrate firefighters in critical areas, leaving some parishes without any firefighters. The situation will get worse as the number of personnel continues to decline with additional budget cuts.
Another contributor to the decline in personnel is the proposal to change the state retirement system. In order to fund a growing liability in the retirement system, the legislature was debating changing the retirement age and the amount of employee contributions to the system.
Many seasoned employees will retire early, making an already critical personnel shortage even worse.
The State Fire Marshal and Commis-sioner of Ag and Forestry will be teaming up to enforce burn ban declarations and issue civil citations and fines to violators.
Another of the most discussed events in the legislative session was legacy lawsuits. The issue involves responsibility for cleaning up oil and gas production sites when work is completed. In the past, numerous producers went out of business leaving the sites contaminated for someone else to clean, hence the term legacy. Current producers can’t afford the cost of being responsible for cleaning someone else’s mess.
At presstime, the legislature was wrestling with a procedure to have landowner’s property cleaned to a regulatory standard with the current oil and gas producer being responsible for only cleaning up what they created. The Office of Conservation within the Department of Natural Resources, the landowners, and the courts will continue to wrestle with those abandoned sites where the polluter is long gone.
Landowners are also expecting legislative approval of 30-day notification ahead of oil and gas production operations moving on their land. This should help in planning forest and farm management activities in the areas of oil and gas production to minimize disruption to those operations. Department of Transportation will also be advising landowners, businesses and interested members of the public of proposed railroad crossing closures. Landowners and other interested parties within two miles of a proposed closure will be given up to 30 days to respond to a Notice of Closure.
Managing and over-seeing the sale and use of surface water in Louisiana was given added attention by re-defining the responsibilities of the Groundwater Commission, changing the name to the Water Resources Commission, and including surface water issues.
Legislators have begun to see surface water as an asset of the state. Any sale of surface water will have to go through oversight by the Senate and House Natural Resources Committees prior to the governor’s approval. Use of surface water for ag and forestry purposes remains exempt from oversight and permitting.
The effort to better control the rising population of feral hogs was strengthened by proposals to make it easier to hunt, trap, and eliminate these outlaw quadrupeds.
One of the first bills signed by Governor Jindal was the creation of a forestry license plate. Proceeds from the sale of the prestige license plate will go to the Office of Forestry to assist the Department in protecting Louisiana forests. The design of the plate will involve the Office of Forestry and the Louisiana Forestry Association.
(A complete summary of bills is available to members through the LFA office.)
Copyright 2010 Louisiana Forestry Association