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Students warm to work in woods

Skill Center program trains generation in 'renewable resource'
by: raymond rendleman Jonathan Carreira (left) and Randall Sam, sophomores at Milwaukie High School, take turns chopping logs outside of Carver as part of a Sabin-Schellenberg Professional Technical Center program.

It doesn't matter whether it's sunny out or, more commonly, cold and rainy, students who take forestry in the North Clackamas School District keep hard at work either way.

Despite numb fingers and sore muscles, the students typically love the annual chopping about 15 cords of wood, trail building and learning the basics of taking care of trees.

'This is probably my favorite out of all my classes,' said Jonathan Carreira, a sophomore at Milwaukie High School.

Tyler Feero, a student at Clackamas Middle College, has enjoyed participating so much that he plans to make a career in forestry because he'd 'love to be outside every day.'

To benefit the program, the students sell each cord of wood for $160 to regular customers. This year's lumber was donated from a salvage logging operation from a firing range at Camp Withycombe. Although the bullet-riddled wood posed no additional danger for students, forestry teacher Rob Waibel warned them to be careful about spent shells that could break chainsaws.

The Sabin-Schellenberg Professional Technical Center has the Portland area's only forestry program. Waibel, who's celebrating 10 years leading the program, said that lots of opportunities will emerge in the forestry industry.

'Like so many industries, is really top-loaded with baby boomers, so over half of the people working there could retire over the next decade,' Waibel said.

That thinking cuts against the grain of traditional wisdom, especially in Oregon, where a recession and timber-industry crisis caused high unemployment and crippled the state's economy during the early 1980s. But, as Waibel points out, skills students gain in the forestry program can be applied to work with the U.S. Forest Service, conservation programs and even firefighting.

'We're trying to get away from fossil fuels, and the skills that arboriculture provides can be applied to numerous emerging industries,' he said. 'And the lumber itself is being seen more and more as a renewable resource, since we can grow and manage forests, unlike oil in the Middle East and Alaska, which is finite.'

Waibel noted that his grads who go on to the forestry program at Oregon State University have almost 100 percent placement in living-wage jobs, and that some of his talented Sabin-Schellenberg students find apprenticeships and even paid gigs right out of high school. Feero, who's now a program assistant after winning in regional forestry competitions, could be eligible for the workforce even though he probably isn't college-bound.

Forestry was not among the many programs at Sabin-Schellenberg that were slated to be cut earlier this year, but the program has seen nearly 50 percent budget reductions in previous years.