Learning stewardship
Forester Andreas Suchanka discusses fox habitats with a class of fourth-graders from Hohenfels elementary school during Earth Day activities, recently.

HOHENFELS, Germany -- Fourth through sixth-graders from Hohenfels' Elementary School took to the trails through the Hohenfels training area to get an up-close and personal look at nature as part of the Earth Day celebrations here, recently.

"We want to try and tell the children about nature, about forests," said Klaus Messerklinger, forester. "Not just living with the environment, but also that we have to take care of the environment. Different flowers, insects, birds, all need to fit together for a healthy ecosystem."

"Some people think that the training and the forest don't go together, but the environmental aspects and the military use actually go along together very well," he added.

Throughout the day, children visited stations set up along the trails and manned by foresters who explained various aspects of the "circle of life."

At the 'woodpecker tree', children not only learned about this fascinating fowl, but of the importance of dead wood to a forest. They also learned how forests benefit people through providing wood for furniture and homes, protecting crops from the wind, preventing erosion, and providing abundant recreational activities such as hiking and hunting.

The second station helped children identify various trees from the shape of the leaves or the type of needles growing on it.

"When you touch the needles of a spruce tree, they're very spiky," explained Forester Armin Armruster. "But the needles of a fir tree are very soft. That's why we use it for our Christmas trees."

Another station explained how trees are harvested in the training area for sale, and a fourth exhibited a fox den.

"The fox only lives in the hole during breeding time," said Andreas Suchanka, forester.

Many of the children cited seeing foxes while driving through Hohenfels and Suchanka said this is because foxes often feed on other animals that have been struck by passing cars. He also warned children against feeding or trying to pet foxes, as they often carry diseases.

Later children visited a dry meadow environment, and learned about the importance of allowing sheep to graze in the training area. They also viewed an exhibit of poisonous plants such as Deadly Nightshade, but also learned how these same plants can sometimes provide surprising benefits such as use in medications or even to brew a tasty tea.

At the bat habitat, children learned that Hohenfels serves as an important home for many bats.

"Of the 24 bat species that live in Bavarian, 22 of them live in the training area," said Forester Desiree Schwers. She explained how foresters help care for the bats by introducing fruit trees and providing water basins that attract insects for the bats to eat.

Besides the habitats constructed for the bats, Schwers said there are three large caves in the training area where the bats hibernate during the winter.

Schwers explained how bats navigate and hunt using high pitched 'sonar' inaudible to the human ear. She played a specially recorded CD of the sounds for her enthusiastic audience.

The day ended at the Forester Hut where children examined an insect hotel, a variety of mounted or 'stuffed' animals and learned about the unique ecosystem that develops in and around Hohenfels' small ponds.

"There are so many animals and plants out here, it's like an ecosystem right in their backyard that they can study," said ESL teacher Chris Hite. "I don't think they get a lot of chances to do that, and so it's good to get them outside."

"This was set up like an outdoor classroom," said fourth-grade teacher Christy Martinez. "It makes the kids a little more aware of what their seeing around them when they're out playing."

Though the children all had fun spending the day hiking and enjoying the fresh air, the lessons were well-learned.

"Being here was important and it gives us a lot of knowledge for the future," said fifth-grader Colton Carnes. "If we don't protect the natural habitat of the animals and trees, it can mess up a lot of things, like the food chain."

"And we learned that we should take care of nature rather than leave it like a big garbage can," added fifth-grader Roberto Martinez.

Page last updated Thu June 14th, 2012 at 00:00