Tree School Online helps woodland owners during COVID-19

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More than 79,000 family forest owners in Oregon manage 3.6 million acres of private forestland, providing substantial economic, social and ecological value. Surveys show that landowner goals are diverse, as are the challenges they face in their forest stewardship.

The annual Oregon State University Extension Service Tree School is an important opportunity for landowners to gain knowledge and skills or find assistance. But COVID-19 forced cancellation of all three in-person Tree Schools in 2020.

After cancellation, the Tree School events were provided online in a series of 35 webinars in 2020 hosted by OSU Extension in Clackamas County in collaboration with the Oregon Forest Resources Institute and the Oregon Partnership for Forestry Education. The classes provided comprehensive coverage of major subjects to support successful forestland stewardship to meet diverse landowner objectives. Topics were developed based on needs assessment surveys, focus groups and conversations and included reforestation, thinning, forest health, wildfire, safety and more.

The 2020 Tree School Online webinars drew more than double the number of people than in-person events in 2019. Participation included 3,046 people on live webinars, 5,796 views of recorded webinars on YouTube and 4,019 views on Facebook. Though people missed in-person networking, the online format allowed many more participants compared to typical sessions that are limited by classroom size and geography. In post-program surveys with 1,420 responding, 98% said the classes were very useful or useful, and 97% of participants indicated they would use the information they learned.

Tree School Online continued in 2021, drawing about 4,000 attendees to live webinars. The recorded webinars were watched a combined nearly 17,000 times on YouTube and 4,000 times on Facebook. The online format has allowed many more people to join sessions compared to in-person sessions limited by classroom size and availability to join. The large number of views of the recorded sessions shows that this option greatly expanded the availability of Tree School classes compared to the in-person events.

Collaborators include the Oregon Department of Forestry, Forests Forever, Inc., Oregon Small Woodlands Association, Ecotrust, Clackamas Community College and Clackamas County.

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