Branching out with forestry studies
It's an autumn afternoon on the woodsy, sprawling Bend campus of Central Oregon Community College, and just beyond the library, a class of 14 forestry students is confronting a known tree thief. That's what "Phoradendron," the genus of mistletoe, translates to from its Greek roots — an apt description for a plant that pirates water and sugars from trees. "It's not a fungus or a lichen, it's a flowering plant," explained Rebecca Franklin, Ph.D., a professor in the college's Forest Resources Technology program, standing beside a young ponderosa pine and pointing to little yellowy sprouts of Arceuthobium campylopodum, a species of dwarf mistletoe, that bloom in the branches. "It uses the 'pondo' as its host." Many conifer species have a unique, accompanying dwarf mistletoe species specific to their host, Franklin informs the dendrology class. They differ from the Christmastime variety in that the holiday sprigs have larger, fuller leaves. Dwarf mistletoes have barely any leafy parts at all, and generally cause tree limbs to swell and deform. With an obvious energy for trees and a fun, engaging manner, Franklin, with a set of red-handled bypass pruners sheathed on her belt, shows her students how to witness the plant's seed dispersal in action. Cupped in hands, and with a puff of warm breath applied, the dwarf mistletoe pops its seeds. The students laugh and marvel at the science, then hike on again, back on the hunt for thieves. From dendrology — the study of trees — and fire science to forest preservation and wildlife management, the COCC Forest Resources Technology program taps into a diverse and immersive curriculum. The training is configured mostly around labs and field trips. For instance, the dendrology class will visit 10 sites during the term, from an old-growth forest along the Willamette National Forest's Hackleman Creek to the tree-studded slopes of Pine Mountain. And it's a unique education: COCC's is one of only two associate degree programs in Oregon accredited by the Society of American Foresters, and one of just eight accredited programs west of the Mississippi. With an on-site arboretum and a fully equipped lab, plus a forestry club that facilitates state conference participation, the program has the resources to support and inspire futures in the field of forestry. Students can earn six different certificates — advanced forest concepts, cartography, conservation, ecology, forest measurements and forest protection — and one of two types of degrees: an Associate of Applied Science in Forest Resources Technology or an Associate of Science degree in Natural Resources, Forestry or Agricultural Sciences. The latter type preps students for a four-year degree path at Oregon State University. Early on at COCC, there's focus on workplace readiness. "We have a requirement, a co-op work experience, that requires students to go out and get 300 hours of work, the equivalent of a summer," explained Michael Fisher, Ph.D., instructional dean, who began his own forestry career as a COCC student. "Generally speaking, that's built around the concept of people going to work for the Forest Service, the primary employer of our folks." Students, through fighting fire or other forest-based skill development, such as bumblebee research, fulfill this part of the program during their first summer. Kayla Herriman graduated from the program and went on to receive her master's degree in forest resources from the University of Idaho. Having managed the Region 6 Seed Extractory — a Bend-based U.S. Forest Service facility within the National Forest Nursery system — for a number of years, "working with seed from across the United States from more than 4,000 different species of grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees" to assist with restoration and research, Herriman was recently promoted to national seed specialist for the Forest Service. "I got my first Forest Service job doing stand exams because I knew how to use all of the equipment," she said. "The foundational skills I learned at COCC were instrumental in getting me here." Back on the Bend campus, professor Franklin gathers her dendrology class beneath a towering paperbark birch to discuss leafage. "Let's think about the patterns of those veins," she said, holding up a serrated-edged leaf from the birch. Leaf veins, she explained, transport sugars and water and can be either classified as pinnately veined (with veins branching out from a central vein), such as the birch's leaf, or palmately veined (a pattern that resembles an open hand), represented by the leaf of a nearby vine maple. "Those are the two main vein patterns we see." Soon, she's kneeling on the ground and showing the class — who have been collecting leaf and needle samples at each stop of their open-air lab — how to press their specimens with their portable, water-absorbing plant presses. It will keep their findings from rotting, requiring a week's time for the samples to dry. But the class is already on the move again, heading for a group of apple trees and another interactive lesson in the leafy world. For more details on the Forest Resources Technology program, visit Forest Resources Technology or call 541-383-7700.
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