Maine Forest Service District Forester, Shane Duigan introduces students to the FERN Program

By: Logan Johnson

On a sunny day in May, 56 students from Miss Hali Andrews’ 7th grade science classes at Telstar Middle School in Bethel collected data for the first time at their newly established research plot. 

Established in 2005, The Forest Ecology Research Network (FERN) is a community science program designed for students to collect forest inventory and ecology data in their local communities. Students collect data ranging from diameter at breast height (DBH) of overstory trees to composition of the understory. By returning to local sites year after year, schools build a database describing forest change over time. 

Telstar Middle School students use DBH tapes to measure the diameter of overstory trees

At Telstar Middle School,  Maine Forest Service District Forester Shane Duigan and Maine TREE Executive Director Logan Johnson prepared students with background on forest data collection, including how research plots help foresters estimate forest inventory, how to measure DBH, and what all of that data can tell us about the forest. The students then collected data on 25 trees, including species and DBH. 

Establishing a FERN plot at Telstar Middle School builds upon previous work with Rural Aspiration Project’s Maine Forest Collaborative, a program that “[empowers] students to actively contribute to the vitality of our forested communities today and into the future.” Through the Maine Forest Collaborative, Rural Aspirations’ hosted a Natural Resource Career Day at Telstar earlier this spring, where students met professionals with forestry, wildlife, and recreation backgrounds. 

Following this introduction to outdoor careers, the FERN activity gave students hands-on experience with the skills a forester uses to monitor forest development. Through collecting forestry data, students learned about the importance of our natural resources and the role they play in our environment. The goal of the FERN program is to provide teachers with tools to teach science outside, and to contribute local, long-term forest monitoring data to a statewide community science database.

Shane teaches students how to use their Biltmore sticks as a secondary method for estimating DBH

After the activity, Miss Andrews shared: “The hands-on experience gave students the confidence to become more independent in researching the forest plot. They easily understood Shane and Logan’s directions, which led to successful data collection. Students reported back to the classroom that the experience was ‘fun, safe, and exciting.’”

All of us at Maine TREE look forward to continuing data collection efforts at the Telstar Middle School and the more than 40 other plots found throughout the state. To see where other FERN plots are located, visit

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