To some people, being stranded in thousands of acres of dense forest with only a map and compass is a scene from an adventure movie gone wrong; for some Purdue students, it’s just another day of class.
The purposeful stranding of these students is part of an activity called “Find the Flag” for the five-week practicum, Forestry and Natural Resources 370 (FNR 370), which takes place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is required for all students majoring in fisheries, wildlife and forestry.
After being dropped off in groups of three at various locations, students spend seven hours locating all eight trees pinpointed on their maps without the aid of modern technology. ‘Camp’ director, Stephen Creech, said the activity is an effort to make students feel comfortable working in large expanses of forested area.
”What’s really cool is we haven’t lost anybody,” Creech joked.
Although many students enjoy practicum, they endure long days and nights dealing with erratic weather, wild animals and lack of phone service. This year, students have experienced both summer and winter weather. They have worked out in the field in 20 degree weather, 80 degree weather, pouring rain and snow.
Kalli Fredrickson, a junior in the College of Agriculture who is currently at practicum, explained a typical day at camp, which starts at 8 a.m. rain or shine and can continue late into the night.
”This week we are working on mammal trapping and bat surveys,” said Fredrickson. “Last night we decided to pull some of our mammal traps due to the intrusion of bears into the study area.”
In the field, students learn hands-on skills that they will use after graduation. Students majoring in fisheries practice electrofishing, a method which stuns fish temporarily so that they can be studied. The students majoring in wildlife and forestry work on skills such as recognizing birds and plant identification.
Creech explained that even quizzes are out of the ordinary at practicum. Sometimes, a group of students will be out with a professor and hear a bird call, then the professor will say, “That’s your quiz, what bird is that?”
Creech has a special connection to the program, as he is not only the ‘camp’ director, but has also experienced practicum years ago as a student. Creech attended practicum as a married father to a one-year old daughter. After the first two weeks of the program, Creech was joined by his wife and baby who camped in a tent on the side of the lake opposite him for six weeks without running water.
”We look back on that as one of the best times (at practicum),” Creech said.