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82nd Oregon Logging Conference in Eugene Gives High Schoolers a Taste of the Industry

Cat Frink

At least 700 high school students from across Oregon attended the event. In its 82nd year, the conference serves as an educational opportunity for middle school and high school students to learn about forestry practices and available career opportunities in the industry—such as wild land firefighting, equipment operation, millwork, and silviculture.

According to 2020 Logging Conference President Greg Stratton, this is the largest equipment show this side of the Mississippi river.

Springfield Student Pursues Career in Forestry

Credit Cat Frink
Students from across the state gather for opening statements on the second day of the conference.

Springfield High School sophomore Katelyn Branson attended the conference. She said she is the teacher’s assistant for one of the school’s machine classes, and is currently enrolled in Auto 1.

As she starts thinking about her future career, she said the conference is important to her to see what options she has in the industry.

“I definitely want to do something with my hands—do something that I've been studying,” said Branson.

During the second day of the conference, environmental activists held a rally against forestry practices. But Branson said she just wanted to learn from industry professionals.

“I feel like there's also just things that everyone's gonna have their own opinion on it,” said Branson. “Different people view it different ways. And I think things like this are important. Especially bringing kids and schools in to learn about stuff like this because that's your future. That's who's going into the new industries.”

Stratton Defends Forestry

Stratton said he started out as a wild land firefighter. Now, he owns his own logging business. He said he joined the industry because he has a passion for healthy forests. Due to large population sizes, Stratton said the logging industry is essential for survival.

Credit Cat Frink
The conference included a high school skills competition where students practiced some of the tasks forestry workers do in the woods. Students stand on a log and prepare to begin the race.

“There's three industries in the world that you cannot function without—forestry, agriculture, and mining,” said Stratton. “You have to have something to live in, right? Shelter—that comes from logging. If it doesn't, it comes from mining.”

He said the arguments that the industry does not use most of a tree are not true.

“There's been arguments [that] we only managed to save 20% of the carbon, which is false,” said Stratton. “And a tree stores that carbon at the highest rate when it's growing—it's a thrifty growing tree. Once it matures, that process stops and as it gets older—they start to rot from the inside out [and] that carbon is being released back out in the atmosphere. If we don't control fires, those fires release.”

Forestry Activist Disagrees with Industry Practices

But Oregon Wild Western Oregon Field coordinator Chandra LeGue said that is not correct. LeGue said we should be reforming our logging practices so trees grow longer, and therefore store carbon longer.

Credit Cat Frink

She said the logging conference was spreading information that is counter to that science.

“I think that they're not telling the whole truth,” said LeGue. “If we look at a sort of a carbon accounting of the logging industry and how much carbon is actually released every time a forest is logged, it's pretty clear that a lot is released into the atmosphere. Some is definitely stored in wood products, but if we were to allow our forests to keep growing, we would store a lot more carbon over the long term. Plus we'd have healthier soil and wildlife habitat and it would help our water.”

LeGue said these factors, as well as climate change, impact the environment.

“When you look at most of the logging practices that are being done by the companies you know that are represented here, we're looking at clear cuts that don't leave very many trees for wildlife, right up to streams that don't get many protections,” said LeGue.

But Stratton said protesters are misguided.

“If they understood the true science of it, then I don't think they would have near the problem they have with it,” said Stratton.

Credit Cat Frink

When asked about Eugene logging companies who have been accused of contaminating water, he said the industry has strict standards.

“Our standards that we're held to far exceed what most people would think of,” said Stratton. “When you wash your car, and it runs down into the storm drain, we're not allowed to do that. The contaminants we use—or are allowed to have—nowhere close to that. But it's gotten to where if when it rains and you walk down a dirt path, you'll see muddy water. That's turbidity. And that happens when it rains—it happens whether we're out there or not.”

Both Sides Weigh in on Cap-and-Trade

Senate bill 1530, also known as the cap-and-trade bill, would cap greenhouse gas emissions. But republicans in the Oregon house and senate are boycotting the vote because they say it’s too costly, and want the bill to go before voters.

Stratton and LeGue both oppose parts of the current cap-and-trade bill—but for different reasons.

Stratton said the cap-and-trade bill will “decimate the economy of Oregon. It's not just our industry.”

In contrast, LeGue said the bill could do more to provide a sustainable forest.

Credit Cat Frink

“It really doesn't do anything to address the impacts of logging on the climate,” said LeGue. “There's no regulations that increase timber rotation age or add more protections for streams or anything like that that might help the climate.”

Stratton felt the media is not sharing both sides of the debate about the industry. He referred to a timber rally on February 6 that he said had about 9,500 people—many of them industry workers and rural Oregonians. He said there was minimal media coverage of the rally in comparison to protests led by climate change activists.

“A couple of days later, there was another rally with people that were for cap-and-trade—which is going to decimate the economy of Oregon,” said Stratton. “It's not just our industry. There were 50 to a hundred people there and they got twice the coverage.”

Message to Students

In regard to the conference, Stratton said he just wants the kids to understand potential career opportunities—some of which do not require higher education.

Credit Cat Frink
A high school student in the skills competition, runs toward the finish line.

“We have a student loan debt in the nation that is unbelievable. Not everybody is set to go to college,” said Stratton. “What we're showing here today, we're showing opportunities for kids that can't afford college. They can come out and make a good wage right out of school.”

For students who are considering a career in forestry, LeGue said new ideas for developing better practices is something that students should consider pursuing.

“We're going to need all of the scientists and foresters with new ideas about sustainability that we can get in the future if we're going to actually preserve our climate and our environment,” said LeGue. 

Elizabeth Gabriel is a former KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She is an education reporter at WFYI in Indianapolis.
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