PHILOMATH — Philomath Middle School eighth-graders spent Wednesday planting trees, learning how infra-red cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles are used in forestry and practicing use of the radio telemetry that tracks tagged animals.

So, not a typical day in the classroom.

Simon Babcock, Philomath High School’s forestry and natural resources teacher, said the event at the Downing Forest adjacent to the schools is intended to introduce this fall’s incoming freshmen to the subjects covered by the school’s forestry course offerings.

The event is called the Paul and Genie Mortenson Forestry Expo Day after a longtime Starker Forests Inc. employee and a PHS teacher, respectively.

Starker Forests Inc., Miller Timber, the Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon State University partnered with the school to offer activities such as wildland firefighting technique and equipment presentations and a demonstration of mechanized timber processing equipment.

Babcock said PHS’ forestry program also includes natural science and fisheries and wildlife classes, in addition to the forestry courses.

“The beauty of the program is that it can be personalized to the needs of different students,” he said.

Babcock said forestry involves ecology and use of computers, GPS and high-value logging machinery.

John Burnett, an OSU forestry graduate student who is researching using unmanned aerial vehicles to survey timber lands, gave one of the event’s presentations. He said he believes the devices will be the center of a new service industry for timber companies in the next few years.

Miriam Coskey, an eighth-grader at Philomath Middle School, said the expo helped her to make a decision.

“I’m going to do forestry in high school; I know that now,” she said.

Jasmine Payne, another PHS eighth-grader, said she didn’t know the school had a forestry program before the expo, and liked that she would be studying outside.

“I think you learn better through hands-on activities,” she said.

Madeline Lehman and Brooke Wendland are PHS seniors who took natural science classes at PHS, and are officers in the school’s forestry and natural resources club, which helped to coordinate the event. Students in the club also helped staff the stations at the expo, and did many of the demonstrations.

Lehman and Wendland said the school’s forestry program has seen declining enrollment, and they hope the expo will become an annual event that encourages more incoming freshmen to take forestry.

“The program is so diverse, and it’s existed so long that there are lots of connections between it and the community and industry,” Lehman said.

Anthony Rimel covers K-12 education. He can be reached at 541-758-9526 or anthony.rimel@lee.net.