Save the Oaks: Reaching Out To Our Community

One of the objectives of our Oak Woodland Restoration grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust is to inform and educate the public about our conservation efforts. Although, physical manipulation on the land is extremely important, we would not be able to continue our important work if people don’t know about and support it. Plus, Fontenelle Forest does not exist in isolation, but rather we are located smack dab in the middle of an urban setting. We need our neighbors’ help to restore this unique mosaic of habitats along the Missouri River!

Matt Miller and I (the Oak Woodland restoration biologists) previously worked in the education department here where our interpretation and outreach skills were honed. Jeanine Lackey, our Director of Research and Stewardship, also has experience doing outreach and education. With the knowledge and experience our rangers, Josh Preister and Jim Beebe, bring, we have a well-rounded team of biologists who can present our story to our community.

Who is our audience? Roughly 30,000 school children who come through our doors get a first-hand glimpse into what we do, and some get to see the work in action. We have taken breaks from our field work to talk to school groups on their hikes and explain what we were doing and why. We also work closely with our education staff providing information about land management, conservation and ecological restoration which helps incorporate conservation messages into their programs. Several educators have assisted with field work including invasive plant control, prescribed fire implementation and thinning. This helps staff gain a better understanding of what we do.

Oftentimes, we encounter hikers on the trail while we are out working. We may be thinning with chainsaws, creating new firebreaks, spraying invasive plants, or out monitoring work areas when a hiker happens upon us. We are happy to explain our conservation actions, and it helps our visitors to appreciate the complex landscapes that make up Fontenelle forest.

More formal outreach is done as well. We held town hall meetings in anticipation of our first formal prescribed fire season in Fontenelle Forest proper in the fall of 2015. Our conservation staff, in collaboration with Green Bellevue, conducted an invasive plant workshop. The main goal of the workshop was to inform and educate community members about invasive plants and how to control or even eradicate them. Several in-house presentations have been conducted in order to keep staff updated with conservation efforts and successes.

We have teamed up with several classes and instructors at Bryan High School including an Advanced Placement Biology and Ag Science class. This partnership was formed to help the students become more involved in restoration and conservation of natural resources. Additionally, students assist with our trail cam project and also assist with invasive species eradication. We also hire interns from various colleges in the area.

There are targeted outreach audiences, as well. We attend conferences and meetings in the conservation community. We participate in forums, give presentations, and engage in conversations with other land management practitioners about best practices and new research as well as challenges and successes. We also partner with organizations such as Green Bellevue, Nebraska Prescribed Fire Council, and the Nebraska Oak Woodland Alliance to help get the message out to other conservation practitioners.

A team of passionate and dedicated staff makes up the conservation department here at Fontenelle Forest. Every one of us conducts outreach and education in our personal lives as well, just as an extension of how we feel about the restoration work we are engaged in. My kids’ classmates all know that their mom is a trained wildland firefighter who does prescribed fire, and uses a chainsaw and herbicides to help save oak woodlands. Each person we talk to, we hope, tells someone else in turn about this amazing and unique landscape we call Fontenelle Forest.  As we strive to inspire current and future generations to learn about and explore conservation and ecological restoration we are hopeful that a fully engaged public will help us save the oaks.

See you on the trails!

Michelle Foss, Restoration Biologist

Fontenelle Forest is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit.

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