After three years of virtual meetings and webinars to fill the absence of in-person conferences, the national Sustainable Forest Initiative and Project Learning Tree hosted their annual conference in Madison, Wisconsin, in the middle of June. Every state in the United States and province in Canada has a Project Learning Tree coordinator responsible for connecting the states’ educators, students, and classrooms with their standards-aligned curriculum. Lena Ives, Maine TREE’s Director of Education and Maine’s PLT coordinator, joined the rest of the PLT family in Madison for the conference. The program’s highlights included discussions around growing forest literate citizens, advancing opportunities for diverse communities in the forest sector, and urban and community forests. 

Creating inclusive spaces that create opportunities for engagement with every individual is a goal of Project Learning Tree’s curriculum and our use of the curriculum here in Maine. With such a geographically diverse set of PLT coordinators, there were great conversations about opportunities and successes across North America. 

In addition to days spent collaborating and connecting, the PLT coordinators also spent a day on a field trip to forestry famous sites in Wisconsin. Our first stop was the USDA and Forest Service’s Forest Products Lab. Forest products like lumber, fire-resistant building materials, and materials made out of wood fiber have been tested and further developed for over a century. Meeting the researchers behind these forest product advancements and seeing their technology provided insights into the path it has taken to evolve from the beginnings of weatherproof wood to today’s studies on fire resistance and tools for wood forensics. 

On the forestry tour, participants got the chance to stop at the Leopold Center, the forested property of Aldo Leopold. Leopold is considered the father of wildlife ecology and is the author of the idea of “land ethic,” which calls for an ethical and caring relationship between people and nature. Leopold’s career was based in Wisconsin in the early twentieth century and significantly impacted the state’s relationship with its forest and other natural resources. Getting to experience his property and learn more about his relationship with the land and natural resources was an incredible way to ground ourselves and experience place-based learning firsthand. 

As educators, the Project Learning Tree community is dedicated to the evolution of our learning and the growth possible when we come together to connect on our work. In addition, these annual experiences bring being a part of a national community of outdoor, environmental, and place-based educators full circle!

Project Learning Tree Conference participants at the US Forest Service Forest Products Lab

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