Essay contest in its 27th year always delights

Essay contest in its 27th year always delights 1
Illustration: Paisley, Indian Creek Elementary Honorable Mention K-2nd.

Every fall, for the last 27 years, the Idaho Forest Products Commission sponsors an annual Forest Products Week Essay Contest. This year’s submissions were exceptional!

“Our judges had a difficult task this year. In fact, we had so many terrific essays that we awarded first place and honorable mentions in six divisions instead of the original four,” says IFPC Education Program Manager and Idaho Project Learning Tree director, Michelle Youngquist. “We are grateful to educators for helping students tackle the writing prompts, conduct research, share information and defend their positions. It is hard work and educators and their students should be proud.”

K-12 students submit essays based on grade-level prompts.  Essayists come from public/charter, private, and home schools.  Several hundred students from throughout the state wrote essays this year.  

Grades K-5 were asked to write an essay to an audience of Idaho trees or a forest expressing how the writer appreciates them and how they will ensure healthy trees and forests for the future. 

Melina from Tech Trep Academy in Malad was the first place winner in the K-2nd grade category.  “My grandma and grandpa live in Idaho’s forests,” writes Melina. “Their house is made of wood, which comes from Idaho trees. I love going to their house and playing in the forest.”

“Out in the woods I feel at home,” writes Slocan from Selle Valley Carden School in Sandpoint, the first place winner of the 3rd grade division.  “The key to a healthy forest is space, water, and fresh moist topsoil,” explains Slocan.  “I will help people to understand why a happy and healthy forest is important and that forest fire is beneficial to a healthy forest.”

Neil from Discovery Elementary in Meridian was our 4th grade winner for his clever and punny message about forests.  “But now let’s not think about what you can give to us, but what we can give to you. If “Yew” are hurt, I’ll make sure you’re ‘Oakay’. I’ll stay day and night until you say I’m ‘Pine’. I love to see all the healthy tree’s branches sway.  I won’t let people cut too much of you and cross the line.’

“Trees help with health and that is important,” says our 5th grade first place winner Jakob from Natural Connections Academy in Worley.  “You have chemicals that we use for medicine that help save peoples lives.  You also help with mental health. Trees reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve mood.  So it is healthy to be near you.”

Writers in grades 6-12th were asked to imagine if they were in charge of Idaho’s forests and to write an essay discussing the challenges faced by Idaho’s forests and their recommendations for how forests should be managed for the future. 

Max from Franklin Middle School in Pocatello was our first place winner in the 6-8th grade group. He says that Idaho’s forests are a blessing to our state. “Another great thing about forests,” writes Max, “is that they are renewable and clean; we can continue to harvest trees, and as long as we are careful, we won’t run out. However, today, our forests face many challenges; wildfires, disease, and invasive species are all hurdles to overcome.  We have to raise awareness and take action now to continue to benefit from this resource we are so lucky to have.”

Our 9-12th grade winner, Zachary, from Orofino High School described his plan for mitigating threats to the health of our forests.  “My plan to accomplish this is to separate the forests into sectors based on the density and volume of the overgrowth. The density and volume of overgrowth will be calculated by servers on foot or through the use of drones when applicable. The map will then be used to identify the sectors that require the most cleaning and allow us to determine where to begin.”

“Our essay contest helps Idaho youth become good critical thinkers and communicators,” says IFPC Director, Jennifer Okerlund.  “The contest aims to help students work toward mastering standards, while helping educators accomplish their curricular goals.”

Congratulations to the winners and honorable mentions. You may read the honored essays at

“…today, our forests face many challenges; wildfires, disease, and invasive species are all hurdles to overcome.  We have to raise awareness and take action now to continue to benefit from this resource we are so lucky to have.”

-Max, Franklin Middle School in Pocatello, first place winner, 6-8th grade group