Little did the students at Van Buren High School know that when they started the new ecology unit from MDC, Nature Unbound, it would include instruction on the Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project (MOFEP). MOFEP is the 100-year research project taking place right in their own back yard at the Peck Ranch Conservation Area. To make the lessons even more personal, the class was able to meet with Resource Scientist Carrie Steen and Naturalist Skyler Bockman at Twin Pines Conservation Education Center to learn the techniques used by biologists at the many monitoring plots at Peck Ranch.
The first stop for the students was a mast monitoring plot. A series of cone-shaped baskets are placed in a grid pattern in the forest to catch nuts. Acorns and hickories of all kinds are collected, sorted, counted and evaluated by students in this case. It was here that Carrie explained that nut crop studies like this have been going on for more than 30 years and they already had some results. This data, combined with weather and location, is used to help scientists better understand why mast crops can be so variable. Weather, of course, is one part, but students learned that there are many other factors that may affect the crop. Predicting the harvest could be very valuable to wildlife management biologists as well as a host of other fields of study. And, since many of these students are also deer and turkey hunters, they see the value in it from a personal perspective.
The students learned that MOFEP is only possible because of the foresight of Missouri residents. Without the one-eighth of 1 percent sales tax, these long-term studies would not be possible. These long-term studies will allow future wildlife and forest managers to make decisions based on sound, research-based science so Missourians will always have healthy forests. This is just one of the many studies going on at Peck Ranch and other conservation areas. Visit the Related Information link below for more information. Or, to get your local high school students connected with nature and Nature Unbound, contact the conservation education consultant for your area.