No ‘big shindig’ for 100th Forest Week, but some education

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

While 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of National Forest Week, the celebrations and education opportunities around Lesser Slave Lake, will be different than normal.

Most years, Lesser Slave Lake Forest Education Society has a ‘big shindig’ during National Forest Week, says Cori Klassen, LSFES executive-director. This is an all day event for Grade 6 students. In order to fit in all the Grade 6 students in Slave Lake and Kinuso, there are usually two days on the east side of the lake. There are also events on the west.

This year, because of COVID-19 health restrictions, LSFES developed forest kits and is meeting with students one class, school, or family at a time. They are also doing online information sessions.

The forest kits are for “bringing the forest to your classroom,” says Klassen. The Sustainable Forest Initiative funding which was originally earmarked, for the the larger events was shifted to this project and the smaller class presentations. As of September 21, LSFES had distributed kits to nine Grade 6 teachers in the region, and planned to send four more out during the week.

So far this fall, LSFES has done small group field trips in Joussard and High Prairie. All field trips have to be within walking distance of the schools, says Klassen, as schools aren’t allowed to bus for field trips.

“We’re really open to pretty much anything,” says Klassen about the online courses. LSFES has government forestry and forest company experts who can talk to classes online along with the existing forest education courses.
In early summer, LSFES started doing family field trips. These are still an option for anyone interested in learning more about the forest and watershed.

Lesser Slave Lake is in the boreal forest, which encircles the globe covering parts of Europe, North America, and Asia.

There are lumber mills, logging companies, and other forest-related industries in both Slave Lake and High Prairie. Also, the various campgrounds, Crown land, and Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park provide forest recreation. The forestry and wildfire fighting branches of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry are active in the area.

“National Forest Week is a time to celebrate everything that forests mean to Canada and Alberta,” says Jason Krips, president and CEO, Alberta Forest Products Association, in a government of Alberta news release. “Our forests are beautiful recreation spaces and an important resource for our economy. The people in Alberta’s forest industry work hard to ensure sustainable forests for today and future generations. This includes steps like planting two trees for every one we harvest and making detailed plans for water and wildlife.”

Vanderwell Contractors has a lumber mill east of Slave Lake. Ken Vanderwell is the general manager.

In a normal year, Lesser Slave Lake area celebrates Alberta Forest Week, he says. This is the first full week in May. However, this was postponed because of COVID-19. With COVID-19 still here, there won’t be many big events for National Forest Week. In some previous years, Alberta Forestry organized forestry games. These included axe throwing, water pack relay races, and timed tree cutting competitions.

With people spending more time at home, there’s been a lot of home building projects, Vanderwell says. The price of lumber has gone up. This was “a welcome shock to the industry.”

Vanderwell planted four million seedlings this year, he continues. With a wet spring, these trees should do well. In a number of decades, these will provide a sustainable harvest.

West Fraser and Tolko also operate mills in Slave Lake and High Prairie. The three companies are in the final stage of a plan for the next 20 years of harvest in the region.

The theme of Forest Week is forest health, says the news release. “Albertans own some of the most beautiful forests in the world. More than 60 per cent of Alberta’s land mass is forest – maintained and protected through partnerships with foresters and the provincial government.

“More than two million acres of forest burned last year in Alberta due to wildfires. This year in the United States, devastating fires are threatening communities and eliminating animal habitat. Proper forest management lowers wildfire risks and reduces the spread of pests like mountain pine beetles that can destroy forests.

“Responsible forest harvest plans in Alberta are developed and monitored to maximize the economic benefit while preserving our forests for generations to come.”

A Lesser Slave Lake Forest Education Society forest kit. This is one of the tools that LSFES is using instead of it’s annual large scale event for Grade 6 students during National Forest Education week. Photo courtesy of LSLFES.

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