Welcome to the forest. Ample learning opportunities available!
Classes visiting Starker Forests are invited to spend three to four hours with us at our trail near Blodgett. Professional guides will lead students around a 1/4-mile interpretive trail with booklets. The second part of the field trip includes a one-mile hike, where we make many stops for learning. Lunch is between these two activities. We will work with each teacher on field trip timing depending on bus schedule. As we go around the Starker Forestry Trail, there are several key ideas we typically focus on. However, if the teacher/class has other interest areas, we will address those areas as well. (These ideas can be reinforced with many of the activities from Project Learning Tree.)
Our goals for your tour
- Hands on learning in the outdoors where students can explore, discover and learn.
- Students will learn about competition and how all plants need sunlight, moisture, nutrients, and air for survival. Since most plants can not move, plants must compete with one another for what they need. Those plants that do the best job of competing and meeting their needs become the dominant plants. In western Oregon, the dominant plants are trees; thus, we have forests. This whole process is called succession, change over time.
- Though a forest is so much more than trees, many people can not see the forest for the trees. We want children to see the forest, e.g., buds, leader, soil, needles, sounds, history, water, shrubs, wildlife, canopy layers, etc. We hope this sharpens their observation skills as they begin to see and understand the whole forest, not just the trees.
- A landscape is so much more than just the science; it also has a long history, both natural and human. We want students to understand that the landscape they see is a consequence of both science and history.
People have inhabited the Pacific Northwest for at least 10-12,000 years. The lands and waters provided for all their needs. As with people at any other time or place, the Native Americans manipulated their environment to better provide for their needs.
They did this primarily by burning the forest to create better habitat for the animals they hunted and for the roots and berries they gathered. The early settlers found many of the hills barren. Much of Oregon’s Coast Range was homesteaded after the arrival of the wagon trains in the mid-1800’s. Many of those homesteads disappeared during the Great Depression of the 1900’s. Many of today’s Coast Range forests are a result of the cessation of burning by the Native Americans and the abandonment of homestead fields and pastures.
Trees reproduce by producing seeds. In the case of conifers, the seeds are produced in cones. To disperse the gene pool and to lessen the competition for nutrients, moisture, and sunlight, the seeds have wings to help move the seed away from the parent tree.
There is a great diversity of plant species that are readily visible in a young forest. Animals are also diverse but are less visible. Later in the field trip, we focus on an older forest that is much less diverse. The canopy of the older forest is closed and allows much less energy (sunlight) to reach the ground. This energy loss limits the amount and variety of plant growth and reduces the variety of habitat niches.
We look at an old stump with termites and carpenter ants. Ants, termites and fungi (decomposers) are often thought of as ‘bad guys’ but they also have beneficial effects; they help return the nutrients in dead plants to the soil and lessen the fire danger. Sometimes, whether or not something is a ‘good guy’ depends of the point of view.
We see that plants must have nutrients, moisture, air and energy to live. Plants use photosynthesis (a chemical process) to convert these things into carbohydrates (sugars). Photosynthesis takes place in the leaves chlorophyll. Animals (and humans) also need nutrients, moisture, air and energy.
Nutrients and energy generally come from plants or other animals rather than directly from the soil and the sun. This relates to the concept of food chains. [Plants are producers; herbivores are primary consumers; and carnivores are secondary consumers. Humans are either primary or secondary consumers.] Either directly (producers) or indirectly (consumers), most organisms meet their needs by extracting their nutrients from the soil, moisture from the water, and air from the atmosphere. Energy comes from the sun either directly for plants or indirectly (via plants) for animals.
Competition and dominance
In the space they occupy, plants and animals must compete with each other to meet their needs. This competition is both inter-specific and intra-specific. Those species that do not compete well are eventually crowded out by the stronger and more dominant competitors. They may be present for only a short time in the plant succession process. Forests are plant communities that are dominated by trees. The other plants and the animals that do well in forests are adapted to survive in tree-dominated plant communities.
Seasonal changes occur constantly and, as the seasons change, plants and animals change accordingly. Over the longer term, plant communities change in predictable ways (plant succession) through the processes of tolerance, competition, dominance, disturbance and growth. As the plant communities change, animal habitat changes accordingly. If the concept of plant succession (constant change) is valid, then it follows that the ‘balance of nature’ is probably not valid. Disturbance in a plant community is a normal event and is typically caused by insects, disease, fire, wind, volcanoes, harvesting and so forth. Indeed, many species of plants and animals depend on disturbance for their survival. Douglas-fir, for instance, depends on disturbance to provide the sunlight it must have to successfully regenerate because it is shade intolerant.