Landowner’s Voice: Keeping the magic of forestland ownership alive; outreach to our youth

My husband and I have owned a tree farm about 15 miles east of Okanogan for almost40 years. The 460 acres is a mixed conifer forest—ponderosa pine, with some Douglas-fir and western larch. The little Loup Loup Creek spends about three-quarters of a mile meandering through our property. The land is the heart and soul of our family. This is the place we gather to play and work together and share family lore and love.

Field trip
Omak Middle School students spent a day learning about forestry at the Rosenblatt's working forest. Photo: Fernne Rosenblatt

Owning our family forest is a joy and a challenge. We get a great deal of satisfaction from the process of improving our forest, maintaining wildlife habitat land, and selling timber to local mills. There is no more rewarding activity than helping to maintain sustainable forestry, pass values on to the next generation, and be a productive part of the larger community. It can be a challenge when we are dealing with broken fences, invasive weeds, and insect infestations. Add to this aching joints, tired muscles, unstable timber prices, and at times, managing a forest can feel more like a burden than a joy.

Roger and I have been able to nurture the magic we felt when we first purchased this land almost 40 years ago by keeping our focus on the future: the future of our land, our family, our community, and our ecosystem. We want to share with you the birth and development of our annual middle school field day—one way we nurture ourselves and our community.

The idea of hosting a school field day on our property grew out of our own education about land stewardship and conservation. We looked back at our field and classroom experiences and realized we learned best when we worked with experienced teachers who got us out on the land, getting our hands dirty, and our shoes wet. The idea for a middle school field day came to fruition in April 2000 through a partnership developed with Cathy Darley, a science teacher at the Omak Middle School. Cathy had been looking for a place that would serve as a natural laboratory for her students, and we wanted to help her educate the next generation of decision-makers about forests and their community. Cathy prepared the students and we organized the field staff. Roger and I recruited natural resource professionals and educators from around the county to handle the education modules.

During our first field day we overheard our neighbor Gordon Kent, a local teacher and stream flow instructor, ask, “Why do we want to know about streamflow?”

“This creek is connected to several things,” explained Kent. “This creek, the Little Loup Loup, might fuel the irrigation in our own neighborhoods. It also provides water and habitat for many animals, fish, insects, and plants. Many things rely on this creek.”

Omak Field Day
Nearly 100 students and 20 teachers, parents and volunteer teaching staff attended the 11th annual Omak Field Day in 2011. Photo: Fernne Rosenblatt

Seventh graders quickly learned why the creek’s flow rates were important and that Streamflow equals Velocity times Area. The kids measured a section of the creek and calculated the streamflow rates. “The best part,” as kids said, “was that the scientists actually used our findings in their research. What we did was important.”

The seventh grade field trip to the creek and forest included startling and amazing discoveries. Places where deer and bears had scratched the bark from trees, a tiny snake, and nightmare encounters with insects were just a few. Shrieks of horror and surprise frequently echoed through the area. Students returned to school ranting and raving about the experience. They had learned new things about nature while having fun.

The eleventh annual Omak Field Day occurred on May 30, 2011. Almost 100 students and 14 volunteer teaching staff were supported by a dozen middle-school teachers and parents. The excitement of the students as they got off the school buses and ran down the hill was palpable. The teaching staff was energized by the day. Their confidence in this next generation was increased and they wanted to come back next year.

Roger and I learn something new each year from the instructors and from the students. We feel an increased sense of confidence in our young learners, an admiration for the volunteer teaching staff, and a stronger connection to this land and our community. And it keeps the magic of those first moments of looking at this land alive and enriched.

By Fernne and Roger Rosenblatt, Okanogan County forestland owners
Readers: For the “Landowner’s Voice” section of this newsletter, we are on the lookout for first-person stories highlighting the rewards, lessons and opportunities associated with owning Washington forestland.Contact Carol Mack, WSU Extension, 509-447-2401 for more information, suggestions, or to submit an article.