Summit County students tackle pine beetle issue |

Summit County students tackle pine beetle issue

Julie Sutor
Summit Daily News
Summit, CO Colorado
Mark Fox / Summit DailyDave Miller, school programs director with the Keystone Science School, talks with a group of Lake County and Summit middle school students prior to the start of the student's presentation on the Mountain Pine Beetle Youth Coalition at Copper Mountain Thursday evening. About 85 students participated in the interdisciplinary project, which included classroom learning, community service, field research and citizen action.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Local students got a dose of science and civics during the past several months through a semester-long project on the pine-beetle epidemic.

A handful of Summit middle schoolers joined with dozens of their peers from Leadville to form the Lake and Summit County Middle School Mountain Pine Beetle Youth Coalition. About 85 students participated in the interdisciplinary project, which included classroom learning, community service, field research and citizen action.

“It’s not just the dead trees that make this issue a front-page story, but the behind-the-scenes discussions for managing the situation,” said Dave Miller, school program director at the Keystone Science School, one of the project’s partner organizations. “What might be a good solution for one particular stakeholder might be a bad solution for another. It is this exact challenge of colliding stakeholder interests that our students took on.”

The project began inside science classes, where students received background information on the beetle epidemic. Students then ventured outdoors with Keystone Science School to conduct an assessment of forest health and teamed up with Friends of the Dillon Ranger District to plant 115 trees in a reforestation effort.

“Following their service project, students were faced with the biggest challenge. Each student assumed a stakeholder role within this issue and was charged with determining solutions all stakeholders could agree with,” Miller said.

That problem-solving component culminated in a town-hall meeting, where students role-played representatives of the tourism industry, environmental groups, private landowners, and the Forest Service. And as with so many real-life town-hall meetings, facilitators practically had to pull the students out of the building at the end of the event.

“The biggest lesson I learned was that kids can make changes in this world,” Summit seventh-grader Logan Weinman said. “We learned how to contribute to the pine beetle issue and issues in our own neighborhood. It was really fun, and I made a lot of friends – we were working together every second out there.”

The students gathered at the Copper Conference Center Thursday night to present their recommendations to state Sen. Dan Gibbs, state Rep. Christine Scanlan and Nissa Erickson, district representative for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis.

“You reached those conclusions so much faster than we did,” said Scanlan, who, along with Gibbs and Polis, has been active in addressing the pine beetle issue in the policy arena in recent years.

“We’re always looking for new ideas to help solve problems, and sometimes those ideas come from students,” Gibbs said. “Just because you’re not old enough to vote doesn’t mean you can’t be involved and participate.”

The Pine Beetle Youth Coalition was funded by the Copper Frisco Environmental Fund.

Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or

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