MHCC Natural Resources Students Help Preserve Crane Habitat

Posted: December 5, 2013

Students in the Wildland Fire class at Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) got some valuable hands-on experience recently–and helped preserve wildlife habitat in the process.

Kevin Smith and Tomi Iler, MHCC students
Kevin Smith and Tomi Iler, MHCC students

Twenty students from the Natural Resources Technology program each spent six hours burning piles of logging debris at Young’s Wetlands in Glenwood, Wash. The Columbia Land Trust, a private, nonprofit organization committed to conserving signature landscapes and vital habitat, invited the MHCC students to help in their efforts to restore habitat for sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis).

“Columbia Land Trust only expected us to burn about 15 piles of slash, but working together we burned nearly 100, about half of the habitat,” says Nik Lane, first-year student. “Students in the forestry program don’t get this experience every year, so I’m glad that all the conditions–weather, coursework, opportunity–lined up. It’s the hands-on nature of the program here at MHCC that makes it stand out.”

Pile-Burning Helped Preserve the Habitat

Jason Pinkerton, MHCC instructor, says, “Past land-use and forest succession had converted the wetland from a grassland and aspen-dominated landscape into a ponderosa and lodgepole pine forest as the forest encroached onto the grassland. Columbia Land Trust developed a plan to harvest most of the trees within the wetland area, remove the commercial logs, pile the slash (leftover tree parts, limbs and tops) and burn the piles (logging debris).”

It’s that last step–the controlled burn–that Columbia Land Trust needed MHCC’s help to accomplish. The piles provided hiding spots for predators which made the area less desirable for the cranes, says Pinkerton.

“The experience was well worth the trip,” he says, citing six lessons that students learned from the project:

  1. How to safely operate a drip torch or propane-firing torch.
  2. How fine fuels (small diameter) are the primary drivers of fire.
  3. How proper pile construction techniques effect burning.
  4. How wind, weather and fuels influence fire behavior.
  5. That flame lengths above 4 feet make working conditions for humans very difficult.
  6. Working as a team, you can accomplish a lot!

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 Last Modified: 12/11/2013 03:45:26 PM