Getting young people engaged in Northwest forestry

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Organizers of the Oregon Logging Conference knew there would be something perfect this year for its 80th annual event: a career day for the Northwest’s newest generation of forestry workers.

So last week, the conference devoted one of its three days to its first-ever Future Forestry Workers Career Day. More than 600 students from 22 different high schools showed up to hear forestry professionals talk about the benefits of the industry, according to KEZI TV in Eugene.

Many of (the students) said they were feeling inspired to get involved in forestry after attending the event.

“Forestry is such a personal industry. And you can work as hard as you want and gain your way up by working hard,” said Mallory Stokes, a senior at Philomath High School.

Staff at the conference said the turnout blew them away, and because so many students were excited to be a part of the event. They plan on making it an annual event.

The industry will need young workers to meet the demand for new wood products like cross-laminated timber and slash for biomass energy.

With 100 employees at Ochoco Lumber (in Prineville, Ore., Company President Bruce Daucsavage) is hoping to increase those numbers as the biomass industry expands.

“We’re the only mill within 150 miles,” Daucsavage said. “At our mill we’re always looking for quality people. We want to expand, and we feel comfortable with our agreements with the U.S. Forest Service that the wood will be there. If the biomass industry grows, it will require a highly trained workforce.”

That’s the intent of (the Oregon Logging Conference) career day, said Jim Dudley, vice president of the board at the Swanson Group, which owns sawmills and plywood plants in Glendale, Roseburg and Springfield.

“Loggers are hard to find. That’s what the career day is all about,” he said. “We’re hoping to connect with young people who want to live outside the big city, work outdoors and use heavy computerized machines.”

Conference organizers brought in two loggers who were also recent high school graduates to speak to the teenagers who attended the career day. Attracting a new generation is personal for many forestry leaders, who manage their businesses with their families heavily involved.

Rick Kriege, owner of Kriege Logging in Prineville and a logger with about 35 years of experience, is using his one-time stint as conference chairman to stump for more younger people joining the industry.

His pitch: “Your office is outdoors. You’re not stuck in a cubicle someplace.”

He said the two loggers the conference is bringing in to meet with high-schoolers run machines for companies harvesting timber just outside Eugene.

Logging lacks an influx of new workers, Kriege said. He said he hopes eventually to hand his own business over to his 28-year-old son, who was a professional bull rider before becoming a logger.