YULEE, Florida — How do you teach a class of teachers a lesson they’ll never forget? You do exactly what they would do: invite them to touch, see, hear and—most importantly—ask questions.
Each year, 45 Florida school teachers are selected for the 4-day Florida Forestry Teachers’ Tour, where they experience sustainable forestry firsthand. Offered by the Florida Forestry Association in concert with the Florida Forest Service, Project Learning Tree of Florida and Friends of Florida State Forests, the tour includes real-life demonstrations like a timber harvest, a controlled burn and processing at a paper mill.
The hope is that what’s learned on the tour informs the lessons teachers offer their students about sustainable forestry. Only 10 percent of the world’s forests are certified sustainable, which means the landowners protect wildlife, water quality and soil quality. Rayonier, which is 100% certified, takes part in the tour, hosting the teachers for half a day on our land.
Learning about Sustainable Forestry on Rayonier Land
“Listen! What do you hear out here?” Rayonier Sustainable Forestry Manager Ben Cazell asked a group of teachers on a recent tour. They were crowded around him for a presentation in the middle of one of our Nassau County, Florida, forests.
The answers came back: Cicadas! Insects! Frogs! Birds!
“It’s a community,” Cazell concluded, explaining Rayonier’s sustainable forestry practices help protect the wildlife that lives within our forests.
The teachers learned about research advances that have improved Rayonier’s production over the years. Resource Land Manager Josh Steiger explained that our improvements in site preparation, fertilization and other practices like controlled pollination have significantly improved what we can do with one acre of land.
“We grew under 50 tons per acre in the 1940s. By 2010, our tonnage was over 200 per acre,” Steiger said.
Learning How Rayonier Uses GIS to Make Decisions
Technical analyst Hillary Sherrill explained how Rayonier’s in-house Geographic Information System, or GIS, plays a role in our decision-making process.
“Say there’s a forester who wants 12-year-old loblolly pine trees within 25 miles of a certain mill, but it’s the wet season so he needs to be sure they’re dry. We can help with that,” she said, explaining our in-house system contains multiple layers of data about each stand of trees’ size, age, soils, elevation, and more.
Technical analyst Sara Bellchamber showed the teachers how Rayonier uses drones to gather data and save time in the field, and Senior GIS Programmer Greg Day taught the teachers how to survey a stand of trees using a prism and a clinometer.
The teachers joined Timber Marketing Manager Rusty Cobb for a timber harvest, watching mature trees being harvested as he explained that -- once a stand is clear cut -- work immediately begins to prep the site for the next generation of trees.
The teacher tour is a favorite event of the year for the Florida Forest Service’s Jacksonville District Manager, Jenn Hart, who organizes it.
“These teachers deserve some special time, this is our opportunity to give back to them,” she said.
The last day of the tour, when each teacher speaks about what he or she has learned, is one of the most memorable parts for Hart. The day is often filled with emotions and even tears as the teachers talk about what they will take back to the classroom from their hands-on lesson in the forest.
To learn more about the Florida Forestry Teachers' Tour, visit floridastateforests.org/teacherstour.