Higher education is perched among the trees


The future of the forestry industry depends on cultivating the next generation of foresters, and on that note, we have some positive developments in the Northwest this month.

The good news rolled in this week with the announcement from Washington State University that it will restart its forestry major after a four-year hiatus. The major was shut down because of budget cuts and will now be revived beginning this fall, with the support of the Legislature and industry leaders.

WSU’s restart of the major comes, not coincidentally, as the number of forestry jobs starts to swing upward.

The job market for foresters has improved in recent years, said (Keith Blatner, program leader for forestry at WSU and a WSU professor). The number of lumber and pulp and paper mills has declined, but the remaining mills are larger and more automated, Blatner said. Timber firms, consulting firms and governmental and non-governmental organizations all need foresters, he said.

“We’ve seen a lot of restructuring in the way lands are held and managed, but there’s still a demand for foresters out there to do the work,” Blatner said. “It’s a different mix of employers than we used to have.”

For the forestry major to be viable, WSU hopes for at least 100 certified majors within the next few years. Forestry students need a good foundation in biology, chemistry, college-level algebra, introductory calculus, statistics, communication skills and computer applications, Blatner said.

“It’s always important that our students be field-ready when they graduate,” he said. “We’ll be stressing having students get some professional experience through summer jobs so they are very comfortable on the ground when they graduate.”

The College of Forestry at Oregon State University, meanwhile, is much more established but is not resting on its laurels. The school said this month it will build a $60 million complex to boost its education and research programs. The centerpiece of the new complex and its activities will be cross-laminated timber (CLT) and the growing trend of using CLT to construct large buildings. CLT will be used not just in the construction of some of the new complex but also be a key part of the school’s teaching and research, said Dr. Thomas Maness, the Dean of OSU’s College of Forestry.

“We are excited about leading a new national effort to advance the science and technology necessary to primarily use wood in the construction of 5- to 20-story buildings,” Maness said. “Developing these new, competitively priced, environmentally friendly products will not only increase the value of Oregon’s natural resources, but also grow jobs in our rural communities, with substantial benefits for our state.”

Maness spoke about many of the same themes, including the fact that CLT helps educators connect with forestry students and push the timber industry out of old ways of thinking, at last fall’s annual meeting of the Washington Forest Protection Association. Go here for video of Maness’s comments.

It’s also important for forests to be part of education even at a much younger age. Which is why a program in Baton Rouge, La., (featured in its local paper this week) is so uplifting. The program, called Biggz Kidz, teaches preschool and kindergarten-age children about urban forestry, with the lessons set in the forested environment.

For the January lesson, the children started out looking at the bare tallow tree behind the A.C. Lewis Branch of the Capital Area YMCA on North Foster Drive. The tree’s leaves had blown off months ago. It was still alive, they were assured, just like all the plants around them.

Inside a classroom at the Y, they watched a science experiment that illustrated a bit of their December class on the water cycle — carnations and daisies placed in colored water changing color.

They were starting to learn that plants drink water the same way they do.

“And the rain gives the trees a drink?” asked 4-year-old Louis Baustian, one of the least shy of the class. “I wish I was a tree and when it rained, I got a drink.”

According to parents, the program is having a tangible impact.

Lindsey Litchfield brought her 5-year-old daughter, Adele, to Biggz Kidz because Adele enjoyed working in the garden more than playing soccer.

“I agree that kids need to know more about the environment,” said Litchfield, 30. “We see all these buildings going up and parking lots being built. They need to know the importance of keeping the trees.”