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FFA students test knowledge in great outdoors

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Rarely is a vehicle seen on the bumpy road leading east into the towering pines and even taller rock faces of North Crow Canyon’s tribal wilderness area.

But on May 22, several school buses and vans squeezed into the small turnaround that also marks the beginning of the scenic trail as more than 80 student members from 11 FFA chapters around the state descended on the canyon to test their forestry knowledge in a statewide competition.

North Crow Canyon boasts one of the most diverse populations of trees in the western states, according to Reese McAlpin, agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Ronan High School.

“Some people might argue and say forestry is not part of agriculture, but the National Forest is part of US Department of Agriculture, and they have the same goal: responsibly manage resources and provide for the world,” McAlpin said. “Our goal is to prepare the student to have an agricultural-based career when they get out of high school.” 

Today’s forester not only harvests timber and earns a profit, but also manages the forest to improve health and increase production, McAlpin noted.

In the canyon, volunteers from Salish Kootenai College’s forestry program joined other community volunteers to man seven career development event stations. Students gathered facts about chainsaw use and safety, forestry equipment, plant and tree identification, tree and forest disorders, map interpretation and GPS. Students also learned the process of surveying forest land with the objective of predicting how many board feet of lumber a plot will yield, commonly called “timber cruising,” and forest management and evaluation known as “silviculture.” The word is derived from the Latin word “silvi,” meaning forest, and culture, as in growing.

FFA also teaches a strong work ethic, McAlpin said, and Wednesday’s field trip was no walk in the park for the students. After gathering information by rotating through the various stations, the FFA chapters competed to see which team had retained the most knowledge.

The Missoula FFA chapter emerged on top, and will represent Montana at the National FFA Forestry Competition October 13 in Louisville, Ky.

“The winning team is going to have to learn about hardwoods,” McAlpin said.

The young Mission Valley FFA chapter finished in 11th place.

FFA alumni helped organize the event, offering a warm place to fill up on a chili lunch at the North Crow Clubhouse. The alumni membership comprises former FFA students, parents, and other willing participants who just want to help the students succeed.

FFA is the largest youth leadership organization in the nation, with more than 500,000 members.


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