In Their Nature – Towne Post Network
Members of the local forestry club put their knowledge to the test
Screenwriter / Lois Tomaszewski
People who work with young people want to make sure that everyone finds a place where they can succeed. This is evident in the decades-long success of an Argos-based forestry club.
The group is associated with the county’s 4-H system. The school system provides meeting space, bus transportation and other needs for the club. Students must join 4-H individually. It is open to any student who wishes to participate in one of the two age divisions, including home-schooled students. Students in the program compete against other teams in the state and even at the national level.
The club is hosted by Gene Cooper, a former high school science teacher, and Jennifer Stults, a middle school science teacher. Cooper is stepping down after more than 60 years at the helm, with several competitions reaching the highest levels. He took his first team to the state in 1960.
“Once I started teaching, I started this business,” says Cooper. “There were students who were left out and they could‘not doing what they could do, which is working on something, going to win a prize.
The prize was to reach state and national competitions by demonstrating their knowledge of forestry. Students begin preparing for the competition in the fall. The regional contest is held in October or November, the state contest is held in December, and the national championships, for state-qualified teams, are held in the summer. The junior division is for students in grades three through eight and the senior division is for high school students.
At the state pageant, the members of the junior division have an arduous task. They are required to identify 55 varieties of trees native to Indiana, name the seeds of 25 trees, identify 12 wood samples, name 25 insects or identify damage caused by specific insects and name 15 tree diseases by examining a sample of each disease. These requirements increase for the older age group, Cooper says.
The contest is coordinated by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division and the FFA.
While the contest is an opportunity for students to earn accolades, understanding forestry and learning about trees is its own reward, Cooper says.
“If they develop a love and understanding of trees and federal and state parks, that’s really enough,” he says.
Tree learning requires students to study and research to prepare for the questions, but nationally, other skills are needed to reach the top spot. The Argos-based group has already done so. The national competition requires competitors to identify trees from across the United States, such as balsam fir, lodgepole pine, Sitka spruce and cabbage palm. There are more insects to identify and more diseases to diagnose.
Students are also required to demonstrate their understanding of how to measure a tree and determine the board feet of lumber that could be obtained if that tree were harvested. Other tests involve using a compass and pace, reading topographic maps, and participating in team competitions in the form of a quiz-bowl.
While Cooper‘s the visits to the national competition were numerous, Stults is present this year‘competition for the first time. She has been part of the club’s mentorship for three years, but the National Championships were canceled in 2020 and held virtually in 2021 due to COVID-19. She and the team members are looking forward to the trip to Jackson‘s Mill in Weston, West Virginia.
“It’s a positive thing for the kids,” Stults says. “The other students in the school recognize that these students are part of the forestry club. This‘it’s nice to see other kids respond to the teams‘ Hit.”
While the focus on forestry and a successful season is an accomplishment, Cooper and Stults also see the students achieve other successes and enhance their lifelong learning. They learn the importance of preparing, working as a team and supporting each other. Study skills such as memorization techniques also impact future projects.
“It gives students a boost of confidence that they don’t have‘I don’t always make it to class,” Stults says.