Faux snag hooks students.
BLUE RIVER - A roll of gray foam, some 1-inch PVC pipe, torn up strips of blanket, paint and several handfuls of moss: It doesn't, at first blush, suggest the woody realities of a forest snag.
But a lively group of McKenzie School District middle school students took the materials, and with some guidance from an artist and a wildlife biologist, have built a reasonable replica of one of the forest's more ironic structures - a dead tree trunk pulsing with life.
They made it for Ruby Seitz, a wildlife biologist at the McKenzie Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest.
Seitz often arranges presentations about the forest at elementary schools and a life-sized replica of a snag - a little Disney-fied to be sure - can make all the difference in keeping young students engaged.
Other ranger district offices in Oregon have such a prop - some have even been designed and built by professional theater designers in Portland, Seitz said. But borrowing them adds another layer of organizational complexity to the school presentations, and Seitz wanted one of her own.
So she contacted the McKenzie School District and asked director of programs Elaine Bryson if it was a project the school had any interest in taking on.
Bryson liked the idea.
The district has gone to a four-day school week to cope with the most recent round of budget cuts. Bryson was preparing a request for a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant. The federal funds support after-school and non-school day programs, she said.
Bryson was specifically looking for a project that would bring art and science together, she said.
"This was a great project. It was a great way for students to learn about the environment they live in."
The federal money came through the Lane Education Service District. The Lane Arts Council provided consulting artist Daniel Dronsfield and the McKenzie Ranger District sent over visiting wildlife biologist Hernan Arias.
The biologist helped the students understand the many ways a dead snag supports life in the forest, while the artist helped the students brainstorm their way to an appropriate design.
Seitz needed a structure at least 6 feet tall, large enough to hide a person, light enough for one person to carry and something that could be broken down to fit in the back of her station wagon.
The students began working on it last October and put the finishing touches on their project on Friday, hot gluing moss they'd gathered from the nearby forest.
Student Halle Peters, 12, said that before this project, she hadn't really grasped the significance of snags.
"I knew there were a lot of animals that lived in a snag, I just didn't know what kind," she said.
For 13-year-old Sierra Johnson, the intriguing thing about the project was simply the fact that students started with nothing, not even a concept, and came up with something that seems to work.
"I definitely didn't know if it would look good," she said. "But if I were a third-grader, I think I'd really like it."
Johnson and Peters had help from 11-year-old Raven Stevens, 12-year-old Kody Brewer and 13-year-old Dylan Garr.
Together the group used the PVC pipe to build a lightweight frame for the snag's structure and bark in the form of foam covered with painted blanket strips. It stands a little over 6 feet tall and there's ample room inside.
That inside space allows a person with puppets to demonstrate the variety of critters that call a snag home. The students have soft-fuzzy versions of woodpeckers, squirrels, bears, even an eagle, tucked onto the snag's branches. And they've also made papier-mache replicas of mushrooms, another important part of the snag's complex living systems.
For some of the students - Kody, mulling a career in either pro sports or the Forest Service, and Sierra, who'd like to be a renewable energy engineer - the project was a good opportunity to consider environmental issues.
For others it was just another day's school work: "I'm here for the bonus points," said Raven, who needed some extra credit to help boost his science grade.
As they wrapped up work on Friday, Seitz stopped by and pronounced herself satisfied, not only with the work, but with the collaboration.
"I'm excited that we're going to have our own snag," Seitz said, "I think it's a very worthwhile project and I see the opportunities for partnering with them in the future."
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|Title Annotation:||City/Region; The replica of a dead tree is a popular prop for teaching lessons about forest ecology|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Dec 20, 2009|
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