OSD applies for School Forest designation at Forest Edge Elementary

The yellow area north of Forest Edge Elementary is “Werth Woods,” around 20 acres of forest the district is hoping to be named as an official State Forest by the Wisconsin DNR. The designation would allow the district to receive technical assistance and supplies from the DNR.

Last school year, students across the Oregon School District chose the name “Forest Edge” to best represent the district’s new elementary school in Fitchburg.

So perhaps it’s only fitting that the school is now on the verge of having its very own official state School Forest.

The Oregon school board approved registering around 20 acres of woods on the school’s north side with the Wisconsin DNR for that designation at its Monday, Feb. 8 meeting. The district purchased the land, named the “Werth Woods,” last July for $450,000 as part of the 2016 referendum budget.

At the time, district superintendent Leslie Bergstrom said the purchases were the result of two years of planning related to the district’s long-term vision for outdoor learning and environmental education, and would benefit students in all grades, “perhaps for generations.”

“It’s not difficult to imagine the hands-on learning experiences that can take place in a school forest that contains both old growth forest and prairie, and a natural water source,” she said.

At Monday’s meeting, Bergstrom talked about the “multiple benefits” to the district by applying for the designation, including free trees and seed, and technical assistance from DNR foresters on planting and forest management. A school forest is land registered through the state community forest program and owned or controlled by a school to use for environmental education and natural resource management.

“It does not restrict us, it only opens doors for us,” she said.

In materials prepared for board members, district corporate counsel Jina Jonen wrote that education programs at school forests help meet state mandated education standards, and that integrating environmental education into the curriculum increases standardized test scores, improves attendance, and decreases behavioral problems. They can also help build partnerships in the community and even provide income to support programming through non-timber forest products and rental of facilities.

“A school forest should be an extension of the classroom that is used to enhance learning through hands-on, experiential approaches that can’t be accomplished in the school,“ she wrote. “The forest provides opportunities for students to become involved in resource management planning, implementing, and utilization of forest products.”

To gain final approval, the district needs to complete a forest management plan that the state Department of Natural resources must approve within one year of acceptance.

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