When it comes to the ancient Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountain ranges of Western North Carolina, there’s a wide network of stewards protecting and conserving these vast wilderness areas.
“Around our region and across the country, there are a lot of changes going on, especially when it comes to land use and making sure forests stay as forests,” said Alexander Storm.
An instructor for the Forest Management Technology program at Haywood Community College in Clyde, Storm is on the frontlines of teaching and inspiring the next generation of land stewards and forest rangers.
“Our programs have become a magnet for people who care about the environment,” Storm said. “And, by the time they graduate from our program, they have a better understanding of the environment and how humans interact with that environment—something we all need to know to ensure the survival of our natural world.”
Coupled with Forest Management Technology is the Fish and Wildlife Management Technology program. Both offerings involve education and career paths in “planning, production, processing, management, and conservation of wildlife, timber, and agriculture.”
“Our students go on to become good communicators in how to protect our forests,” Storm said. “Not everyone understands the nuances of how forests and ecosystems are managed, and those nuances need to be conveyed to the general public.”
Western North Carolina itself has a long, storied history of pioneering conservation for the modern world. Established in 1916, the nearby Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah Forest is regarded as the “birthplace of science-based forest management”. It was a cause championed and funded by George and Edith Vanderbilt of the famed Biltmore Estate.
“What we’re doing at HCC is the legacy of those who came before us at the Cradle of Forestry,” Storm said. “We’re making sure our students have experience in several areas of forestry and fish and wildlife management, something that’s always been supported by the college.”
Though the HCC campus is equipped with high-tech classrooms and laboratories, a key component of the outdoor programs lies in off-site field trips and hands-on experiences in the depths of Mother Nature.
“We really utilize our local forests and also go out of the area to immerse the students in other practices, like controlled burns and monitoring coastal ecosystems,” Storm said.
And within these outdoor programs at HCC is the award-winning and nationally-renowned Lumberjack Team. Participating around the Southeast and beyond in forestry competitions, the team has won numerous trophies while pitted against larger four-year colleges and institutions.
“You see these students coming to us not knowing how to do an underhand chop or throw an ax for accuracy or climb a pole,” Storm marveled. “But, then we get them involved in these competitions. And they learn all these skill sets and end up winning these competitions.”
As each class passes through HCC and eventually graduates, Storm is well aware of the importance of those students now entering the world and the workforce as the future stewards of these ecosystems in vital need of protection.
“It’s about passing the knowledge of the forest and ecosystems from the faculty to our students—to carry on conservation traditions and techniques,” Storm said.