By TIM HEARDEN
ANDERSON, Calif. -- More than two dozen FFA students tested their knowledge of forestry and natural resources at the Sierra Cascade Logging Conference.
The students were taking part in a competition centered on the timber industry. They were tested in map reading, compass use, determining the volume of logs, identifying tree species and calculating acreage -- all skills they would need in the field.
"I'd like to be a fish and game warden, and I think doing these competitions helps me to achieve that goal," said FFA member Wyatt Rivas, 17, of Trinity High School in Weaverville, Calif.
For Trinity High's Jonny Bayinthovong, 17, the competition was a prelude to a military career.
"I'm going into the Army," he said. "I think this will help me when they give me a map and compass. I'll be able to read it."
The forestry-related contests Feb. 7 were among about a dozen math and science competitions set up by FFA. Ken Nolte, a forest science and technology instructor at Shasta College in Redding, Calif., started the contests at the logging conference three years ago to bring students closer to people in the industry.
"Once the students are here with the contests, they have the ability to walk around and see all the exhibitors," Nolte said. "It just gives them a chance to see about the industry."
The contests give the students practical experience, too, said Mike Rourke, an FFA coach and ag instructor at Trinity High.
"The skills they have to learn are skills that foresters need," Rourke said. "The advantage to bringing it here to the logging conference is that it puts them in touch with people in the industry."
The FFA competition fit a larger theme of education prevalent during the conference and equipment exposition Feb. 7-9 at the Shasta District Fair grounds.
Reminders of the importance of instructing young people -- and recruiting the next generation of forest professionals -- could be seen as about 800 elementary-school students toured the grounds Feb. 7. In addition, students from area community colleges and universities take part each year in logging sports competitions, and several local colleges have booths at the conference trade show.
At one of the stations during the education day, John Nicoles, a retired forester from Oakland, Calif., explained how an old steam donkey engine operated.
"I think it's highly valuable," Nicoles said of the education day. "We think of California as being built on gold mining, but timber was a very important piece and it's still a very important piece of the economy in this region. I'm from the (San Francisco) Bay area, and people look at you funny when you talk about that, but it's true."
The FFA competition draws between 20 to 40 students each year, and it's a good way "to see if the kids are interested in doing this stuff," Shasta College's Nolte said.
For Trinity High student Travis Palermo, 17, who would like to become a registered nurse, the FFA activities offer another opportunity.
"I just see it as an opportunity to be outdoors rain or shine," he said, "and meet some new people."
Sierra Cascade Logging Conference: http://sierracascadeexpo.com/