FOREST LESSONS: Annual event puts students in Conecuh outdoor class [with gallery]

Published 1:30 am Thursday, May 2, 2019

Several Covington County elementary schools participated in the Covington County Extension Office and the Forestry Planning Committee’s Walk Through the Park at the Conecuh National Forest this week, to learn about different birds of prey, reptiles, amphibians and prescribed burning of the forest.

Covington County Extension Office coordinator Chuck Simon said he has noticed that students are learning more throughout the year about how important the animals in the national forest are.

“In the beginning, when we would do this event, the kids would scatter and be afraid when we would pull out an indigo snake,” Simon said. “Now we have barely any kids that are scared when they pull out the snakes. The education is definitely kicking in. The kids are learning which snakes are poisonous and which ones aren’t which is important because we do need some snakes in our ecosystem.”

Simon said that this is the only program that he knows of in Alabama that kids learn and get to witness first hand a prescribed burn.

“We will take the kids down there and we have it all marked off and ready for them,” Simon said. “We have the Alabama Forestry Commission firefighters here and they will teach the kids about how important prescribed burnings are. Especially in our ecosystem they are so important, so they get to see first hand what they do.”

The students also got to see America’s national bird, the bald eagle, up close and personal.

“It is absolutely imperative that we get these environmental messages out about these birds,” Dale Arrowood from the Winged Ambassadors Birds of Prey said. “In 1782, there were 750,000 bald eagles in North America. By 1973, the numbers dropped down to only 600 to 700 per breeding pair. I don’t think anybody ever expected that.”

Arrowood said that there are several reasons that caused the American Bald Eagle to go on the endangered list.

“Deforestation, chemical contamination and just relentless pressure on the birds,” Arrowood said. “That is what really caused that initial decline. By the time that we realized we were in trouble, it was practically too late.”

By the efforts of different organizations, Arrowood said that the awareness of the American Bald Eagle is climbing.

“There was a tremendous amount of resistance,” Arrowood said. “But once it got out there, things are starting to change for the better. I have definitely seen a change not only from our department, but several different departments and programs where we have made a lot of improvements.”

This year, Fleeta Junior High School, Straughn Elementary School, Pleasant Home Schools and Andalusia Elementary School have participated in the Walk Through the Forest. Tomorrow, W.S. Harlan Elementary School will participate.