Natural Resources Education a Priority
Over the last decade, the Manitoba Model Forest (MBMF) has worked tirelessly to develop and promote education and outreach mechanisms to inform and explore the complexities of natural resource management with students, educators and the public at large. This has taken on numerous forms, including the development of natural resource focused curriculum supplements for middle years and high school, in-class presentations, and single day and week long field trips and outdoor programs in the boreal forest.
The standard curricula and textbooks used in schools tend to treat the topic of natural resources very broadly (for example, focused at a national level). Rarely do these include examples from our own province, and it is rare to find any mention of the management of natural resources such as wildlife. The MBMF curriculum supplements, which are widely used not only across Manitoba but also in other provinces, provide Manitoba-based examples on topics ranging from wildlife and species at risk management (e.g., moose, woodland caribou), boreal forest ecology and forest management, to glaciation and the use of glacial deposits (aggregates) in construction and building. The Manitoba focus provides teachers and students with local examples that they can easily identify with.
Learning by Doing
One of the best ways for both educators and students to learn about the environment and natural resource management is through hands-on experience.
For educators of all grade levels, the MBMF has developed and run our Summer Institute for Teachers program, which has been held in Nopiming Provincial Park for the last 8 years. This professional development program walks teachers through the MBMF curriculum supplements and their ready-made lesson plans. Topics covered at the Summer Institute include wildlife management (including the role of hunting and fishing in management), forest ecology and forest management, water quality, geology and mining and GPS and navigation in the forest. The theory is complemented with hands-on activities in the forest including wildlife research (e.g., telemetry tracking of wolves, moose and caribou, use of trail cameras, track and scat surveys), setting up and monitoring forest health research plots, and fisheries surveys and water quality testing. Of course there is also plenty of time for canoeing, swimming, fishing and relaxing around a campfire each night. Almost 70 educators have participated in the Summer Institute for Teachers. The MBMF hopes to run the program again in July 2017 (pending confirmation of funding).
For high school students with a passion for environmental sciences and a desire to explore career options in natural resource management, the MBMF developed the KEY (Knowledge, Environment, Youth) to the Forest Program. The program (usually 7 to 10 days in length) has been run for the past 3 years and, just like the Summer Institute for Teachers, is held in Nopiming Provincial Park. Students from grades 10 to12 learn about the science and art of managing natural resources such as wildlife, fisheries, water quality, forests and minerals through presentations each morning. The remainder of each day is spent conducting environmental monitoring projects in the field. This includes tracking wildlife (moose, woodland caribou and wolves) that have been previously fitted with GPS collars, learning to identify wildlife tracks and scat, using trail cameras to investigate habitat use by various wildlife species, conducting fisheries surveys using gill nets and beach seine nets, conducting water quality assessments on lakes and rivers, monitoring forest health, and how to not get lost in the forest (i.e., map reading, and navigating with compass and GPS). Each evening, the students review and interpret the field data that they collected earlier in the day. Evenings are also a time for campfires, swimming, fishing and relaxing. The KEY to the Forest program provides a valuable mechanism to re-connect our youth to their natural environment. This has taken on even greater importance in a world where our children’s life experiences are being lived out on-line, in a more virtual environment and where other demands on our youth compete with “nature time”. Unfortunately, the MBMF has found it increasingly difficult to recruit high school students to the Key to the Forest program due to the desire for most students to hold summer jobs. The days of “summer holidays” from school, where kids used to spend their time riding bikes, hanging out with their friends, playing in puddles or exploring the environment around them has been replaced with the need to be employed. Despite these challenges, students who have participated in the KEY to the Forest program have said that it was an extremely worthwhile and rewarding experience and opened their eyes to career paths.
Both the Summer Institute for Teachers and the KEY to the Forest programs would not be possible without the support and participation of other agencies and groups. For example, Manitoba Sustainable Development has provided the use of their cabins at Shoe Lake in Nopiming Provincial Park as an in-kind contribution to the programs. In addition, wildlife and fisheries staff, as well as Natural Resource Officers have come out and provided presentations and participated in some of the field work. Financial support is also crucial, and in 2016 this was provided by grants from the Manitoba Wildlife Enhancement Fund and the Hunters and Anglers Preservation Fund of the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association. We are grateful for this support.
Education and outreach regarding Manitoba’s natural resources and their wise management remains a cornerstone and one of our strongest programs in our 25-year history as an organization. In the last 7 years, we have engaged over 4500 students and teachers through in-class presentations and our outdoor programs. We are helping to build a society that is knowledgeable and values our natural resources and the role that wise management plays in ensuring a sustainable environment and economy for the future.