Fire Ecology with FJA

Authored by Kim Cleary

On September 19, 15 students from Mrs. Chapman’s fifth grade class at Flagstaff Junior Academy ventured into the Coconino National Forest along the Arizona Trail to observe and learn about the fire-dependent ponderosa pine ecosystem they live in. Being their first outing with Seeds of Stewardship, students were introduced to our program as well as the Arizona Trail. 

Our goal for the day was to examine the role and effects of fire by immersing ourselves in a forest that had recently experienced fire. Thus, we visited Mount Elden where the Shultz Fire burned nearly 15,000 acres surrounding Flagstaff in 2010. While many of the students were not old enough to remember this event, most of them had heard of it. However, these students were familiar with the topic of forest fires after gaining personal experience with it during the Museum Fire this past summer. 

We began our hike on the AZT along the Weatherford Trail and almost immediately found clues that a fire had rushed through the area in recent years. Students found burnt logs and bits of charcoal and even melted, deformed pieces of plastic, which we gathered to dispose of in spirit of Leave No Trace.

Further along the trail, we stopped in a forest clearing and played a game to help students understand how different factors, such as the abundance of fuels and weather conditions, contribute to the development and spread of wildfires. Students played several rounds of this game, enjoying analyzing how changes in conditions each round altered the size of their “fire.”

Continuing along the AZT, we stopped to observe trees affected by fire, rock formations, and the regenerating plantlife.

During lunch, students had time to do some free-form exploring and playing. Post-lunch, we circled up to learn about the benefits and issues of fires in the forest and our community. They challenged what they already knew about fires and learned more about why the ecosystem we live in needs fire to thrive.

We then began our hike back to the trailhead, but the fun was not over! We had the opportunity to observe some of the plants, rocks, and trees we had passed earlier in a whole new light. Students brought along portable microscopes with them, so we stopped several times to take samples of different items and inspect them up close.

By the end of the day, students were buzzing with excitement about Mount Elden, having experientially learned about the area, with the Arizona Trail as our classroom and gateway to adventure!