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Local teacher attends forestry institute
Turlock teacher FIT
Lassen National Forest Presenter Greg Mayer describes sustainable forest management techniques at the FIT program in Lassen National Forest. - photo by Photo Contributed

Along with math, science and writing skills, environmental education is another important thing for students to learn. A Turlock native and Modesto educator recently returned from a trip that will enable her to better teach students about what goes on in our forests’ ecosystems.

Laura Markley just returned from the Forestry Institute for Teachers program on Lassen National Forest. She and a select group of 24 other teachers gained hands-on experience in forest ecology, forest management and curriculum development in sessions facilitated by Lassen National Forest staff and other natural resource professionals.

The Forestry Institute for Teachers is a weeklong workshop developed for K-12 teachers. The program brings together teachers and natural resource specialists from urban and rural settings for one week, working side by side to gain a deeper understanding of forest ecosystems and human use of natural resources.

Markley teaches special education at the Stanislaus County Office of Education. 

“Most everything I learned here was new information; I knew next to nothing about forestry before,” she said. “I discovered a tremendous amount about California forests and best management practices. I also learned how to teach the next generation science standards using forestry-related units.”

She looks forward to sharing her new insights with her students this fall.

“Many of the participating teachers are leaders in their profession,” said University of California Cooperative Extension Natural Resource Advisor Mike De Lasaux. “The initial goal of the program is to provide them with the information and tools to teach a balanced environmental education curriculum.” 

Teachers met with practicing resource professionals from nonprofit organizations, universities, private companies and government agencies who present college-level instruction in forest management, wildlife biology, watershed management, archaeology and fire science. These lessons are followed by field trips, where participants see natural and planted forests, active timber harvest sites, a state-of-the-art lumber mill, stream restoration projects, projects to reduce fuels on the forest to reduce fire hazards and more.

“As teachers become better informed, they share their findings with their students, giving them the skills to recognize, analyze, and make sound decisions regarding environmental and natural resource management issues,” De Lasaux said.

Since 1993, half of all participants have come from Southern California, a third from the Bay Area and Sacramento and 16 percent from the rest of the state.

“This is a great opportunity for us to share the Forest with a group of people who might not otherwise experience it,” said Lassen National Forest Timber Management Officer Greg Mayer, one of the program’s field instructors. “I think a lot of teachers leave the program with a better appreciation of the role that active forest management plays in keeping the landscape healthy.”

Ultimately, the program seeks to create an informed citizenry that understands the many values of the forest and the competing demands for its resources.

“One of our main goals has always been to bridge the perception gap between the state’s urban and rural residents,” said De Lasaux. “Urban residents are often most concerned with protecting natural resources and recreational opportunities. Those who live in the rural north, closest to the forests, care greatly about creating resilient forests capable of surviving wildfire, providing sustainable, locally-grown lumber, and supporting abundant, high-quality water resources.

“Both perspectives are valid,” he emphasized. 

Organized by the Northern California Society of American Foresters, FIT is supported by public and private funding with the Northern California Society of American Foresters and the University of California Cooperative Extension providing overall leadership. For more information, visit