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Job Corps students develop necessary awareness for sustaining a healthy forest

Armillaria infiltrating the Scarlet Oak tree in Cherokee, North Carolina, on Sept. 23,2019. USDA Forest Service photo by Birdie Powell.
Armillaria infiltrating the Scarlet Oak tree in Cherokee, North Carolina, on Sept. 23,2019. USDA Forest Service photo by Birdie Powell.

NORTH CAROLINA – Oconaluftee Job Corps Students participated in a sustainable forestry project by clearing Armillaria, parasitic fungi, from one of the oldest Scarlet Oak trees in Cherokee, North Carolina. From Sept. 23 – 26, the Forestry Conservation & Fire Fighting Deptartment trainees at Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center learned more about the Scarlet Oak and to put into action the training and leadership skills they are receiving.

The students learned what to look for in the surrounding trees in order to spot the telltale signs of Armillaria. Each student had the unique opportunity to see, touch and learn about this fungus.  Students were led by Dr. Bradley Sauls, Forestry Conservation and Firefighting program instructor at Oconaluftee, to determine if more Armillaria could be found. “Armillaria is very common and very distinct. This has been a great teachable moment right in our backyard,” says Dr. Sauls.

“I would have never thought that tree was sick or even dying.  You just didn’t see anything wrong with it until we started cutting it up and then you could see the white fungus,” said Desmond Williams, Oconaluftee Job Corps student.

The Scarlet Oak was estimated to be 80 yrs. old, 75-80 ft tall and well over 10,000lbs.  The Oak was in its mid-20’s when Oconaluftee opened its doors to serve the youth of not only North Carolina but also the surrounding states. Its towering branches gave shade to countless students and staff through the years. It also provided food to, not just the smallest of animals that call Oconaluftee home, but also to bigger ones such as elk.

“We have to protect our environment and do everything we can to keep it healthy,” said Jared Alcaraz Cousins, Oconaluftee Job Corps student. “Having the opportunity to be able to work and learn the 3 days with the tree is just building the foundation stronger for my future.”

Jared Alcaraz Cousins is a student that has his sights set on pursuing a career as a park ranger. He has a heart for preserving our National Forests so generations can enjoy them as much as he does. “Being at Oconaluftee and in the Forest Conservation Trade has just made me realize I’m on the right path.”

“When I see the hard work and dedication unfold and I see the passion of what they do come together working as a team, it’s what keeps me going,” said Dave Collins, firefighting instructor for the Forestry Conservation program. “It gives me hope for the future to see young adults that come from varied backgrounds come together and achieve something special for their future.”

For more information about Oconaluftee Job Corps and/or the career trades provided at the center, visit https://oconaluftee.jobcorps.gov/. Also, to learn more about the Forest Service leading sustainability efforts, visit https://www.fs.fed.us/managing-land/sc/sustainability.

Group  photo
Desmond Williams, Tyronne McNeil, Tyler Byrd, Joshua Lambe, Darien Knotts, Dave Collins on the project site in Cherokee, North Carolina, on Sept. 23,2019. USDA Forest Service photo by Birdie Powell.