UW-Madison students learn sustainable forestry in Northwoods

As some UW–Madison students flew south for spring break, 10 forest and wildlife ecology students from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences drove north. It’s rare that a distance learning course offers hands-on fieldwork. And how special it is when that fieldwork involves a week in the forests of Wisconsin’s Northwoods, still blanketed in deep snow.

After nine weeks of classroom work, the FWE 305: Forest Operations course, which emphasizes sustainable forest management, culminated in an extended stay at Kemp Natural Resources Station. From there, students ventured out into the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest to practice timber cruising, tallying and marking. They also had the opportunity to meet managers in the wood products industry face-to-face at nearby mills.

Students watch forest management being implemented by local logger, Lorry Krause, on the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. Krause is operating a state of the art Ponsse Scorpion harvester. Photo by Scott Bowe/UW–Madison CALS.

“We really hit the mark this year,” says forest and wildlife ecology professor Scott Bowe, superintendent of Kemp and co-instructor of the course supported by the Gordon R. Connor Center of Excellence Fund.

“[Co-instructor] Steve Guthrie brought 40 years of forest management experience to our students. Hosting the field camp at Kemp Station provided experiences that can’t be found on campus. It would not have been possible without the generosity of Ms. Mary Roddis Connor and the Connor Family.”

On screen, Scott Bowe, left, and Steve Guthrie, right, teach the FWE 305: Forest Operations class remotely from Kemp Natural Resources Station to students in a conference room at Russell Labs in Madison, Wis., Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Photo by Michael P. King/UW-Madison CALS.

Guthrie, who retired from the industry in 2017, held management positions at six major forest product companies in northern Wisconsin and upper Michigan.

Earlier in the semester, students gathered weekly in a Russell Labs conference room to video conference with Guthrie and Bowe at Kemp. On the walls looking down on the future foresters were a taxidermy bull elk and fowl, and a stunning painted portrait of the quintessential conservationist Aldo Leopold. After working at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Leopold joined the UW–Madison faculty in 1933 and helped found what would later become the UW–Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology.

Phil Krahn, a senior forest science major from Brillion, Wis., right, and classmates listen as Scott Bowe and Steve Guthrie teach the FWE 305: Forest Operations class remotely from Kemp Natural Resources Station to a conference room at Russell Labs in Madison, Wis., Tuesday, March 13, 2018. The room features a portrait of the late professor, forester and conservationist Aldo Leopold, background right. Photo by Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS.

During a lesson on ethics, Guthrie quoted Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, drawing a comparison between forestry and hunting with two parenthetical additions:

“A peculiar virtue in wildlife (forestry) ethics is that the hunter (forester) ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience … It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact.”

“This class was among the most applicable and useful classes that I’ve taken at UW–Madison,” said Noah Fredel, a junior forest science major from Wausau, Wisconsin. “The combination of experience and learning that we were provided will be essential in my future career as an industry forester.”

Bowe says he hopes to offer the course again next spring.

By Michael P. King, CALS External Relations