School of Forest Resources faculty honored by Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District – S. Birkel

The Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District named faculty in the University of Maine’s School of Forest Resources Outstanding Conservation Educators of the Year.

Nicole Rogers, assistant professor of silviculture; Jay Wason, assistant professor of forest ecosystem physiology; Shawn Fraver, associate professor of forest ecology; Jessica Leahy, Henry W. Saunders Distinguished Professor in Forestry; Brian Roth, an external graduate faculty member; and Sean Birkel, Maine state climatologist and assistant professor with a joint appointment in UMaine’s Climate Change Institute and University of Maine Cooperative Extension, were all recognized for their contributions to the district over the past five years.

“Since 2018, faculty and students from the School of Forest Resources have worked on numerous projects in Piscataquis County, which resulted in improved forest management, efforts to better connect local youth to natural resource careers, exciting new partnerships and opportunities for college students,” said Kacey Weber, the district’s educational coordinator.

Rogers hosted a “Silviculture 101” workshop for the district and is currently pioneering red spruce silviculture techniques on Appalachian Mountain Club land in Piscataquis County.

Wason collaborated with Birkel on a workshop for the district called “Climate Change: Forest & Ecosystem Impacts,” and with Fraver on another one titled “Climate Change and Forest Ecology.”

Wason also is leading a Northeastern States Research Cooperative project on the district’s Law Farm property to study how climate change impacts tree regeneration in Northern Forests. District staff are also collaborators on the project. Law Farm is also home to the American Chestnut Germplasm orchard, where Roth collaborates with staff at the district and the American Chestnut Foundation to explore the northern range of the species.

Leahy worked with the district to create applied learning opportunities for UMaine students that, in turn, helped inform stewardship of district-managed lands and updated the trail map for the Williamsburg Forest.  Leahy co-hosted “Teas and Trees” with Maine Forest Service district forester Terri Cooling to foster discussion among women landowners about shared needs, the challenges they face and what resources may be available. She also hosted the district’s “Forestry for Maine Birds” program on one of her woodlands.

The district also noted Leahy’s service to Piscataquis County, including establishing a new wood bank outreach coordinator that will be based there. Leahy also co-led a project with Mindy Crandall, a former UMaine assistant professor of forest landscape management, to ask high school students in rural forest communities about their aspirations and the obstacles they perceive to achieve them, as well as their perspectives on schools and where they live. The researchers published the study’s findings, which included insight from Piscataquis County students, in fact sheets for schools and local leaders to help them better meet rural students’ needs.

The Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District awards an Outstanding Conservation Educator of the Year every other year to honor educators who connect students to conservation. School of Forest Resources faculty will be recognized by the district during an awards ceremony this fall.