Research forest blends recreation and education

The Gunnar Nilsson & Mickey Lammers Research Forest opened a new playground last weekend. A lot of Yukoners don't know that the forest is there for their enjoyment, too, said research forester Robin Sharples.

The Gunnar Nilsson & Mickey Lammers Research Forest opened a new playground last weekend.

A lot of Yukoners don’t know that the forest is there for their enjoyment, too, said research forester Robin Sharples.

“We’re happy with (the playground) because it’s forestry themed but also because it encourages families to come out here. It’s kind of like a gathering place here now.”

Parents in the Takhini Hot Springs Road area had requested a playground, and the research forest was found to be the perfect spot, according to a Yukon government press release.

Sharples hopes that it will bring more attention to both the recreation and educational opportunities available at the forest.

The area was set aside for forestry research in 1964 by the Canadian government, and Yukon took control of it in 2003.

There are five well-marked trails ranging from under half a kilometre to four kilometres.

All display signs that tell you about the local history, environment, and research projects.

Around the trails you can see evidence of past work.

One project asked how a 25-year-old stand of lodgepole pine would fare after being thinned out by cutting down trees.

The theory is that the trees left standing might do better in response to less competition.

That project began in 1983, and results have yet to be finalized.

In another section of forest, researchers are testing how different tree species might adapt to a changing climate.

The project is in partnership with governments and agencies in the U.S. and British Columbia.

Plots of trees have been planted from northern California to Yukon to test how different species fare in different climates.

The study involves 15 species native to B.C. and Yukon.

Nine were planted in 2011 in a clear-cut plot at the research forest. The other six were determined to be inappropriate for the Yukon environment.

You can see them along the Forest Science Loop trail in the northwest corner of the forest.

The saplings stand maybe 10 to 20 centimetres tall, and some are doing visibly better than others.

While many look tall and healthy, others have started to redden and brown while others appear to have died completely.

The site is the most northern of 48 plots where the trees have been planted.

Along with information, some of the trails boast spectacular views over the Takhini River.

And for the technologically inclined, 10 geocaches have been hidden on or near the trails.

Finding them involves visiting www.geocaching.com to get the GPS co-ordinates for the treasure boxes.

Then, with the help of a GPS device, seekers can sleuth out the caches.

In each hiding spot is a box that contains an information card, a log book and small trinkets that can be traded for the finder’s own small treasures.

During the school year, Sharples is kept busy taking school groups through the forest, teaching them about trees and science.

A highlight for the kids is learning how to measure trees and count their age using tree rings from core samples, she said.

Researchers were surprised that that activity catches the kids’ attention especially often, said Sharples.

“All the kids want to take the core samples home.”

Sharples is responsible for projects not only in the research forest but across the territory.

One focus for her right now is tracking the mountain pine beetle in its northward migration.

The tiny bug has devastated forests and economies across British Columbia.

There has yet to be a confirmed sighting in the Yukon, but last summer it was found within 75 kilometres of the border.

There is a theory that new habitat for the beetle might respond differently to infestation compared with areas where it is native. Trees that don’t have a history with the insect may not have the same defences in their systems.

Sharples’ research aims to help answer that question.

All of these projects help to inform forest management decisions here in the Yukon and beyond.

The research forest is open to the public year round. It is located off the Klondike Highway one kilometre north of the Takhini River bridge, just before the Takhini Hot Springs Road.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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