PHILOMATH, Ore. — Simon Babcock, forestry teacher at Philomath High School, compared the thinning of Downing Forest to Christmas morning.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “It’s been needing to happen.”
On June 1, the Forestry and Natural Resources Club organized a demonstration with Miller Timber Services to thin half of the 10-acre certified forest behind Philomath Middle School. Using a Ponsse harvester, Miller Timber Services had thinned 5 acres by the end of the day. The demo was open for elementary and high school students, as well as community members.
“Forest thinning is the process of taking trees out to make the forest healthier,” Katelin Walker, forestry instructor and FFA adviser, said. “They’re cutting down dead and diseased trees that aren’t quality timber.”
This method is more environmentally sustainable than clear cutting, which is more commonly criticized, Walker said.
“It’s a really great opportunity,” she said. “The biggest thing is for (the community) to see that we care about what we do, and we want to give back to the community and eco-system.”
Another aspect of the demonstration was to show how technologically advanced the industry has become. In about 30 seconds, the Finnish Ponsse harvester can cut a tree and section it to the length mills require. The smaller branches with needles are left for soil protection.
Kacie Hillery, an operator at Miller Timber Services, has been running the machines since September. She said it was a challenge at first, but has become muscle memory.
“It’s like a video game,” she said.
Hillery didn’t think a career in the forestry industry would be a possibility for her, but as the technology advanced, it has enabled all genders to be in the field.
“The nature of the industry is changing,” Matthew Mattioda, manager and forester at Miller Timber Services, said. “Jobs that were never considered because they needed brute strength now need finesse — the technology changed that.”
One of the Forestry and Natural Resources Club members, Kelsey Looper, has been considering entering the forestry industry. She said her favorite thing about the club is how much she’s learned.
Mattioda said over 60 percent of the company’s workforce are millennials, and often don’t have a forestry background. He said the company training teaches the “why” they’re doing something, not just what to do.
“What you leave behind is more important than what you take out,” he said.
The logs will be used either for studs or wood chips.
Even though the forest could be thinned one more time before its next rotation, Mattioda said that even thinning one side of the forest shows the difference.
“Contrast is important,” he said. “It’s a good way to learn and show the actual practice of forestry. You can already see more light through the trees, the crowns have lifted. It’s already changed for the better.”
Walker said her passion has been “reconnecting the community with the industry.” Her goal was to have community members interact and gain exposure to an industry that is integral to the state.
For Mattioda, who is also on the board of the REAL Oregon program, which helps the natural resource industries tell their story, foresters are just farmers on a longer time frame.
“We’ve dealt with the urban-rural divide and it was amazing how many people don’t understand what we do,” he said. “We’d like the community to see our operations, ask questions and learn the benefit economically and environmentally. We need to re-engage in a positive manner. If we don’t tell our story, who is? I’m proud of what we’re doing.”