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Teachers dig the learning experience

Pete FowlerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Pete Fowler
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. About 30 teachers from across Colorado are visiting fire sites around Glenwood Springs this week to get hot ideas about fire ecology.On Wednesday, it was the site of the recent New Castle Fire. Thursday and Friday, teachers planned to visit the sites of the Coal Seam and Storm King fires and other locations. “It’s so much more meaningful and they’re so much more likely to get interested and teach kids if they get out, get dirty and collect insects,” said Shawna Crocker of the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS).Teachers examined effects of the New Castle fire including impacts on soil and insects’ activity in the burned area. At one point they learned how to dig a fire line – at least, in theory. Firefighters would be digging for hours instead of minutes, an instructor joked.CSFS entomologist Ingrid Aguayo discussed insects with groups of teachers huddled around a burned tree. Some insects kill vegetation in unburned areas, indirectly causing fires. But insects also help to break down burned vegetation, ultimately transferring the nutrients to the soil and speeding the regeneration process.”The system should be doing this,” she said. “Everybody’s doing their job, and they (insects) come at different times.”The week-long class, called the Fire Ecology Institute, examines fire science, forest ecology and restoration. The class is funded by a national fire plan grant and is conducted by the CSFS, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW). It’s free to teachers.Among other things, teachers learned from the fire pros about hydrophobic soil. Crocker at one point poured water on the ground to see if it would absorb or run off.”When the fire is really intense, organic matter turns to oily vapors that coat particles of soil,” she said, adding that this prevents water from absorbing.That, in turn, prevents vegetation from growing for a time. The water was absorbed in the spot she poured it. The fire must have been moving fast through that particular place, she said, since the soil hadn’t turned hydrophobic.Grand Junction teachers Kendra Walter and Jeff Ventling heard about the class during a different CDOW class. They signed up for the last two spots in this week’s class.”It’s been interesting. It’s been good,” Ventling said.He said getting kids to recognize what’s out there in the environment could get them to act locally, which could affect the nation or world.They’ve been putting in some long days. On Tuesday, they went from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Ventling said.”There’s so much to do,” he said. “Teachers are always hounds for knowledge.”Contact Pete Fowler: 945-8515, ext. 16611pfowler@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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