The plan is just one piece of one of the first four community partnerships announced by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz to leverage resources of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to support development solutions for rural Washingtonians.
The Rural Communities Partnership Initiative
As part of Commissioner Franz’s Rural Communities Partnership Initiative, DNR solicited ideas from rural communities across the state. The agency received more than 80 proposals. The Forest Management Learning Laboratory is one of the initial projects selected and was announced earlier this month.
“Communities know best what they need, but often lack the resources for economic initiatives. If you have a good idea, let me know. Because my agency is investing in good ideas.” Said Commissioner Franz. “By investing in rural Washingtonians – by supporting community-driven economic development – we are creating lasting and sustainable opportunity.”
“By investing in rural Washingtonians – by supporting community-driven economic development – we are creating lasting and sustainable opportunity.”
~ Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz
The Forest Management Learning Laboratory
The Kalama School District is partnering with DNR to connect students with forestry careers by managing a 32-acre forest adjacent to the district’s middle-high School. Additional partners span industry, higher education and state agencies, including: RSG Forest Products, Green River College, the Pacific Education Institute, AWC Center for Quality Communities, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
“We’re very excited about the Rural Communities Partnership Initiative, as it will not only bring industry expertise into our program, but it will be one more opportunity for students to see how their learning about science relates to the real world and careers in fields related to natural resources,” said Kalama School District Superintendent Eric Nerison. “The program also helps to leverage the local expertise through partners like RSG Forest Products. We’re looking forward to seeing the learning opportunities and partnerships continue to grow as a result of the program.”
“We’re very excited about the Rural Communities Partnership Initiative … it will be one more opportunity for students to see how their learning about science relates to the real world and careers in fields related to natural resources.”
~ Kalama School District Superintendent Eric Nerison
For example, students – working with DNR staff – will develop a harvest schedule for their adjacent 32-acre forest – a practical application of their knowledge that can lead to a career.
It’s a particularly poignant project for the Department. Under the guidance of the Commissioner, DNR manages 3 million acres of state-owned trust lands. Revenue from state trust lands – much of them forested – helps fund construction of public schools statewide and supports state universities along with other public services.
A Natural Resources Career Path
DNR staff will pull from their professional networks to bring additional expertise into the “classroom” too. And, to further connect the 18-20 annual student participants to natural resource education experiences, DNR staff will share with the students information on the Washington Conservation Corps, DNR job shadowing, and DNR college internships.
DNR and other timber interests can have difficulty recruiting for forest management jobs in this area and similar regions. Each year, DNR recruited for 260 temporary and permanent positions in this region alone. State and private forestry professions are a way for future generations to stay and give back to the rural communities where they grew up.
“We want to create natural resource aspirations in these students,” said Commissioner Franz. “Working in the forest – whether building a forest road or laying out a timber sale – is not the kind of work you see glamorized in the media.
“But these professional positions are critical to both a solid rural economy and our agency. We want students to know they don’t have to leave the lands they love to have a fulfilling career.”
“We want to create natural resource aspirations in these students … they don’t have to leave the lands they love to have a fulfilling career.”
~ Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz
A DNR outreach and education survey will further inform agency involvement in the Forest Management Learning Laboratory, which could be replicated in other schools who wish to pursue education experiences around our state’s natural resources.
Commissioner Franz and DNR’s management of state lands ensures ongoing access for recreation, forested watersheds for clean water and wildlife habitat – all important things for local communities. In addition, she and her staff oversee the state’s geologic information, forest health, forest rules, 94 natural areas and wildfire protection via the state’s largest on-call fire department.
An Ongoing Initiative
Commissioner Franz will make additional Rural Communities Partnership Initiative project announcements in the near future says DNR Senior Strategic Advisor Josh Wilund, who is administering the program.
“By investing in rural communities, the Department of Natural Resources is building, expanding, and maximizing relationships,” said Wilund. “We’re incredibly excited to bring this and more projects to fruition, and drive positive impacts for communities.”
The agency is well positioned to do so – literally – as DNR is present within every county across Washington.