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Students sample forest work

FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2011

Borah Elementary fifth-grader Austin Schmeling measures the circumference of a tree during the annual Idaho State Forestry Contest at Delay Farms in Careywood, Idaho, on Thursday. (Kathy Plonka)
Borah Elementary fifth-grader Austin Schmeling measures the circumference of a tree during the annual Idaho State Forestry Contest at Delay Farms in Careywood, Idaho, on Thursday. (Kathy Plonka)

As workers age, industry hopes youth will step up

Groups of Idaho students walked through the forest in Careywood on Thursday identifying damage done to trees by animals, insects and parasitic plants.

One birch tree had mushroom-like growths called heart rot protruding from the bark. A small grand fir had been rubbed raw by a bull elk. Other trees had been damaged by wood bores, root disease and dwarf mistletoe.

The students were among 500 in grades 3 through 12 competing in the 29th annual Idaho State Forestry Contest on the 1,300-acre Delay Farms. The students were tested on soil composition, compass use, log measuring and other forestry skills.

“It gives you a good perspective as to what you’re going to be doing, day in, day out,” said 18-year-old Keith Fitzmorris, a senior at Priest River Lamanna High School who hopes to work at a lumber mill when he graduates. “It lets you know whether you want to do it or not.”

For 29 years, the forestry contest has introduced students to elements of working in the woods, whether in soil science, hydrology, the timber industry or fire management, said state Sen. Shawn Keough, the event’s honorary chairwoman and a longtime advocate of the timber industry.

“The goal is to get kids thinking about forests, forest management and forest career opportunities,” she said.

Pete Van Sickle, who supervises log scaling for the Department of Lands in Coeur d’Alene, said the job market in the timber industry is “rather tight to say the least” right now but should open up in the future due to retirements. The average age of workers is about 50, he said, adding that he’s concerned about the limited number of young people who have expressed interest in the field.

That didn’t seem to be a problem among the youngsters roaming the woods on Thursday, many of whom expressed an interest in forestry careers. Austin Theander, a Bayview 18-year-old who is homeschooled, said he is considering a career in fire management.

“I like … being able to use fire to be able to create a healthier forest. It’s really interesting,” said Theander, whose Eager Beavers 4-H Team No. 1 placed third in the event’s senior division.

The forestry contest is put on by the Idaho Department of Lands, Bonner Soil and Water Conservation District and the U.S. Forest Service. In addition, more than 150 people from public agencies and private industry volunteer.

Ashley Stoneham, a volunteer who works for the Department of Lands, said when he attended Sandpoint High School, he took forestry and ecology classes and competed three times in the forestry contest. When he graduated in 2003, he went to work for his current employer.

“It was my field of interest, so it was nice at the time,” Stoneham said.



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