Wildlife workshop teaches students survival skills

Workshop talks campfires made with corn chips and the natural healings of Douglas fir

The backwoods of B.C. can be a dangerous place, but a group of TRU students are better prepared for being lost in the wilderness after a hands-on lesson in outdoor survival. The workshop educated students of all outdoor experience levels on the survival uses of various common plants that can be found in the forests around Kamloops, as well as ways to start a fire without using matches or a lighter.

The Gathering Place, TRU’s on-campus aboriginal cultural centre, organized and hosted the course. Jason Johnston, an experienced Parks Canada employee and wilderness guide, gave an interactive lecture about plants common to B.C.’s forests that can save the life of someone lost in the woods. Johnston said that outdoor activity is “a lifelong hobby” of his that he was happy to share with the students.

Education and Skills Training student Clay Hodges and TRU alumna Stephanie Gaudet demonstrate a firestarting technique using steel wool and a battery. (Jim Elliot/The Omega)

Education and Skills Training student Clay Hodges and TRU alumna Stephanie Gaudet demonstrate a firestarting technique using steel wool and a battery. (Jim Elliot/The Omega)

Johnston, a graduate from TRU with a bachelor of interdisciplinary studies, has honed his wilderness skills with a certification as a wilderness first responder. He is also an authorized scientific wildlife collector and has taken a course on bear awareness and avoidance.

Students were taught about the various ways to use the Douglas fir, which is helpful for everything from brewing a tea for sore throats to dressing small cuts with its sap. They also learned about reindeer lichen, a type of lichen that can absorb water to carry it long distances. The discussion also covered some unlikely edible plants that are found in B.C. such as rock tripe, a species of lichen that grows on rocks and the roots of the cattail plant which Johnston said “taste a bit like cucumber.”

After learning about and tasting the plants, Johnston took the class outside to demonstrate ways to start a fire without matches and a lighter, two things someone may not always have available in the wild. Along with traditional methods such as creating friction with wood, Johnston demonstrated the use of steel wool and a battery to create a spark and the mixture of hand sanitizer and corn chips to help ignite kindling. Students were encouraged to try the method.

With camping season just around the corner, the workshop was well received by many of the students who attended. Sam Sturgeon was most interested in the session on Kamloops-grown plants.

“I found out just how uninformed I am about nature today, but it was nice to come learn how to identify plants, and find out which ones are edible.”