Greening STEM gets middle and high school students involved in fire ecology

Story by Nikki Grant-Hoffman, education specialist. Photos courtesy of the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association.

Today, in honor of National STEM Day (Nov. 8, 2022), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is featuring a Greening STEM project that took place on BLM-managed lands in Colorado in late May 2022.

The Royal Gorge Field Office of BLM Colorado’s Rocky Mountain District partnered with the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA)—a Colorado-based nonprofit dedicated to the natural conservation of the state’s Arkansas River region—to provide unique learning opportunities to local middle and high school students. The project was made possible through a Greening STEM grant. Since 2020, the National Environmental Education Foundation has collaborated with the BLM to fund Greening STEM demonstration projects for middle and high school students at BLM field sites across the country.

GARNA conducted fire ecology fieldwork experiences on BLM-managed land in Colorado that allowed students to engage in environmental monitoring and citizen science. Students from Salida Middle School, Buena Vista Middle School, and Chaffee County High School engaged in a variety of activities during three days of fieldwork. They viewed burn scars and past fuels mitigation project work. They also collected data about dispersed campsites in the area. With the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires in recent years, fuels mitigation efforts and education and community programs are aimed at improving wildfire awareness and safety, as well as helping the community become better prepared for wildfire. Giving students a first-hand working experience with public land agencies allowed them to broaden their awareness surrounding forest health, and how it also impacts citizens and the community’s preparedness for wildfires.

A group of middle school students is standing with a BLM Natural Resource Specialist and looking out over the Colorado landscape. Mountains are in the distance.
In late May 2022, middle school students from Buena Vista and Salida, Colorado talked with Glenda Torres, Natural Resource Specialist with the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office. Students arrived on BLM-managed public lands to see past fuels mitigation project work, view burn scars, and collect data on dispersed campsites.

The students were encouraged to practice environmental stewardship, and the experience increased their interest in STEM content. The place-based fieldwork also strengthened the schools’ STEM curriculum by allowing students to gain hands-on experience and observe factors directly related to fire ecology and the natural landscape. Collaboration with the BLM allowed students to gain exposure to career pathways in public land management agencies. 

Two students are walking around orange cones that are in the grass.
In late May 2022, middle and high school students visited BLM-managed public lands to see past fuels mitigation project work, view burn scars, and collect data on dispersed campsites.

Greening STEM approaches environmental education in a way that makes the information more accessible to both educators and students by giving them access to real world issues and problems. BLM awarded its first pilot Greening STEM project in 2020, two additional awards in 2021, and six more in 2022.