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Educators learn about forest products industry from planting to production

Teachers look forward to summers, some for the days away from the classroom to relax and rejuvenate. For 36 educators, however, at least part of their summer was spent traipsing through forests, wetlands and mills to learn what they can about forestry.

The annual Teachers Tour, put on by the Louisiana Forestry Association and Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, has been ongoing for more than 20 years, said Ricky Kilpatrick, area forestry agent for the LSU AgCenter for Northwest Louisiana, and it’s come far.

Kilpatrick has been involved with the program since it started at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry facility in Woodworth. It was just a week in the classroom then, but it has expanded since.

“Our goal is to expose a group of teachers to forestry in Louisiana, how big of a role forestry plays in the state’s economy,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s to provide them with a better knowledge and background of this industry so they can incorporate that information in their classroom lessons.”

The program now is tied to Project Learning Tree, Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) and Project WILD, programs about conservation for kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers and their students. Teachers get to tour mills, forested areas and learn about how sustainable forestry practices take into account water and wildlife, as well as the importance of replanting.

“It’s neat, for one thing, to see how much they enjoy (the week) and how much their eyes are opened about how the forest industry really is,” he said.

June Zaunbrecher teaches primarily science (and a few math classes) at Delcambre High, the school named for the small fishing village that straddles the Iberia and Vermilion parish line. During a trip on Bayou Manchac headed to the Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station, she said she was hopeful she would learn more and gain more resources to help teach her students.

“I think what they’re doing is great,” Zaunbrecher said.

That was early in the Tour. Teachers got to see Louisiana marsh land and learn how cypress trees were once harvested more than a century ago, as well as about the state’s battle with erosion. They also got to learn the changes in how trees are harvested now with an eye toward sustainability.

“Some (teachers) have a negative view of harvesting, but when they see the efforts that go into sustainability, their minds are often changed,” Kilpatrick said. “They have a much better respect and appreciation for forestry when they leave. They’re very impressed with how much work goes into sustainability.”

Zaunbrecher said she was surprised by the depth of the program. Teacher Tour participants also visited Idlewild Experimental Station, the Big Branch Marsh Wildlife Refuge near Lacombe.

“I thought they’d bring us to the forests and it would be a nature hike thing,” she said. “It was so much more.”

Teachers learned about how the industry deals with water, the environment, coastal and other issues particular to southeast Louisiana, Kilpatrick said. From a logger, they learned about the challenges harvesters face while working in the woods.

They toured the International Paper mill and the Joe N. Miles & Sons Lumber Co. sawmill, both in Bogalusa, as well as Bracy’s Nursery, a large commercial facility in southeast Louisiana.

“That was really cool,” Zaunbrecher said. “It was so neat and orderly; it was so pretty. To think what it takes to keep it like that.”

The change of scenery for the program that has been traditionally held in the Alexandria area was a good one, said Cindy Kilpatrick, who helps head PLT.

“We’ve had several North Louisiana teachers who got to go on a boat ride to Lake Ponchartrain and thoroughly enjoyed it,” she said.

Now organizers are considering other areas of the state for the program held in mid-June each year.

“Northeast Louisiana hasn’t had much participation (in the program), so having it in the Monroe area would entice those teachers,” Cindy Kilpatrick said.

Each year the program relies heavily on sponsors to provide the educational experience for teachers. From tours of forest products industry facilities and forested areas, to the cost of housing about 40 teachers, food and transportation for them, even materials provided for teachers to take home for use in future lesson plans are provided by sponsors.

Each January, the LFA sends out letters to members inviting them to participate in sponsoring one or more teachers, Cindy Kilpatrick said.

It also invites mills, loggers or nurseries to open their facilities to tours so the breadth of their exposure to the industry is broadened.

For Zaunbrecher, the experience was well-rounded and something she will take to her classroom.

“No matter what subject you teach, you can incorporate (the lessons learned) in there,” Zaunbrecher said.

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