MEXICO — Hateya Levesque of Sumner wants to be a game warden when she gets older.
But for now, the Dirigo High School junior is wowing her instructors in the first-year forestry and wood harvesting class at the Region 9 School of Applied Technology with her knowledge and use of power tools.
At the beginning of the course, students are told they must complete a tree identification project and are given a month and a half to do it.
“We go over 21 species of trees that are basically indigenous (to Maine),” instructor Mark Beaudoin said Wednesday morning in the classroom.
“There’s more than that, but we only do 21 and we do it at the beginning of the year, obviously, before the leaves fall off the trees,” instructor Dave Mason said. “Once they fall off, it’s a whole different ballgame.
“To start to learn them, it’s much easier to learn them with the leaves on,” he said. “Come wintertime, they have to be able to tell us what that stick of wood is, so it’s critical that they learn their trees.”
As students are learning safety and other useful information, Beaudoin and Mason take them outside every day so they can “learn the trees by their leaves, by their bark, by the wood and the cones and those type of things.
“So then the students have to do this type of project so we know that they know what they’re doing,” he said.
The tree identification project was due Oct. 14. Both instructors will help students with one species if they have a problem identifying it. Some have trouble with the different types of maple trees, like distinguishing between red and sugar maples.
“If they can’t find, say a basswood, which is kind of hard to identify, we’ll go out and find a basswood so they can get their basswood, but we certainly don’t let them do them all like that,” Beaudoin said.
“Mainly, they have to do them on their own,” Mason said. “We will give them a little bit of leeway.”
Tree identification is a yearlong process in the class. First-year students also learn to operate chain saws and heavy equipment such as bulldozers, skidders and excavators.
The tree identification project starts the entire process of learning how to measure and grade trees to market the timber to earn the most money. The school has a woodlot that it manages for Wagner Forest Management Ltd.
Beaudoin said, “We might go out and find a red pine and either I or Dave will ask them, ‘OK, what do we use a red pine for?
“And we have that little discussion with them then, but almost all your telephone poles are red pine,” he said. “There’s a lot to it really. It ain’t just about going out and cutting down some trees. That’s a very tiny part of it.”
Because different trees are worth different values to sawmills and paper mills, they have to be separated out at the wood landing.
“You’ve got saw logs and even the pulp is different prices, so you want to know what that is,” Beaudoin said. “Where it really comes into play with us on the marketing end of it, is if you don’t know what you’re cutting, how are you going to know how to market it?”
Students doing the tree identification project are told they need to provide a needle sample, a piece of the wood and a cone for softwoods, and a leaf, bud, twig and piece of the wood for hardwoods.
Most students place these items on large boards, along with labels stating the Latin name of the tree and its regular name, “which is really a nice way of doing it,” Mason said.
“But Hateya’s was really a very unique project,” he said.
Levesque cut slices called ‘cookies’ from the 21 different trees, and used a wood burner to write the name of the tree on one side of the block.
Next, she used a router on the reverse side to create a display holder inside the wood for its leaves, buds and cones. Then she stacked the wood cookies between dowel rods on a larger slab of wood, making one display for hardwoods and another for softwoods.
“That’s about as cool of a one as we’ve ever had,” Beaudoin said. “She did a really pretty spectacular job.”
“It’s a pretty impressive project,” Mason said.
It was so impressive that both teachers want to keep it for the class and use it to train future students. They also displayed it Wednesday night to loggers and timber buyers at Region 9’s annual advisers’ dinner and meeting.
Levesque said she took the instructors’ description to heart when she created her project.
“They said grab pieces of wood that help you identify trees and I didn’t think little tiny sticks would help identify trees, so I went out and cut up some trees,” she said.
Levesque said she likes forestry because she gets to operate chain saws.
Projects of other students, such those by Nate Legere and Robert McPherson, Rumford sophomores at Mountain Valley High School, were also “pretty impressive,” Mason and Beaudoin said.
Beaudoin reiterated the importance in logging of knowing how to identify trees.
“Because what we do when they start cutting wood off the trees, they have to tell us what it is or they don’t cut it,” he said.
“Say if we walk up to a white maple and I’m going to say, ‘OK, what is it?’ And they have to tell me. If they can’t tell me, I tell them, ‘You better go find your book.'”