Northwest timber festival shows hope of younger generation


The forestry industry is well aware that it needs to get younger as many of its leading professionals age without enough replacements on the way among Millennials, Generation Y or Generation X.

One of the most promising avenues to reach this critical audience is logging shows. Teenagers and 20-somethings, many of whom were already interested in working in outdoor and rural settings, jump at the chance to compete in logging competitions and prove their worth among their peers.

Earlier this month, the Astoria Timber Festival kicked off in the Oregon coastal town, and reading the media coverage of the event, it’s hard not to be uplifted about the spirit and enthusiasm of the forestry industry’s future leaders.

The Oregonian wrote three stories about the one-day festival: about how the young lumberjacks will help the industry, an exploration of the various logging competitions and how teenage female competitors are shattering industry stereotypes:

Some in the industry openly question the work ethic of the youth. They just aren’t hard workers, they say, they just don’t have the drive.

But judging by the crowd of hard-working teenage lumberjacks – and lumberjills – competing at the Astoria Timber Festival and Job Fair on Saturday, there’s good reason to disbelieve that broad generalization.

The focus of this weekend’s timber festival was the logging competitions themselves, featuring three local high school teams, from Knappa High School, Vernonia High School and Clatskanie Middle and High School.

Not a strict competition, like the number of events they travel to around the state, the Astoria Timber Festival is more of a demonstration of what these kids can do. And as it turns out, their skills are good enough to make the local timber industry send recruiters in to snag them.

The girls competing in Astoria also proved their mettle.

There were only a few girls on each team from Clatskanie and Vernonia High School – the other two schools competing at the Timber Festival. At Knappa (High School), Meisha (Boettcher) and Stacey (Aho) are two of only five girls on the team, but they’ve earned quite a reputation around the state for their skills.

Their teamwork, which the duo demonstrated at the festival, is hard to match, and as they regularly dominate the lumberjill competitions, they also beat their fair share of jacks.

So how do the guys take losing?

“I think it hurts a little,” Skirvin said. “But I don’t think it hurts like it did in 1980.”

With such promise on display, it shouldn’t be surprising that organizers of the festival added a job fair to this year’s event.

According to the Oregonian, the job fair is a welcome development:

The fair (says it will) bring “a special focus on job and career opportunities in the logging and forestry industry,” bringing out logging companies that are looking for young people “to join this good paying sustainable industry.”

Between the high school logging competitions, the job fair and the Astoria Timber Festival itself, it looks like local loggers are doing just about all they can do to bring in young recruits.

Because while the timber industry might be rebounding well enough, it will certainly struggle without young, skilled labor to replace the older workforce. They might just find the workers they need, however, rolling each other off logs in Astoria.

The local newspaper, the Daily Astorian, agrees:

New to this year’s event is a jobs fair. Like all industries and professions, logging and millwork must attract a new generation of workers. Kudos to the festival’s organizers for adding this component.

If you have memories of a Pacific Northwest sawmill in the 1950s and have walked through a contemporary mill such as Hampton Affiliates in Warrenton, the contrast is striking. Today’s mills use far fewer people. They depend on computers. Contrary to the belief that wilderness designations reduced sawmill employment, automation was the principal cause.

But mills do require a highly skilled workforce, and these are good jobs. So are jobs in the woods.

…Good luck to all of the high school teams. And we hope that some of these young people will connect with future employment.