Forest Operator Solutions in Oregon
A few weeks ago, you heard from FRA’s Northeast Region Coordinator, Eric Kingsley, about the struggles in the logging sector. The pacific northwest is not immune to these same issues, but organizations like the Associated Oregon Loggers (AOL) are developing workforce solutions to help solve capacity challenges.
Forest health issues and wildfire risk in Oregon are big problems. The Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response Report indicates that Oregon will only be scratching the surface of its needs through work being completed at the current pace and scale. With higher costs for diesel fuel, supply chain disruptions, and a critical labor shortage, the state’s wildfire and natural climate change solutions are looking even harder to achieve.
However, state and federal governments are investing in local forest management.
During the 2021 Long Legislative Session in Oregon, SB 762 passed. This was a wildfire omnibus package with a price tag of $200 Million. It included $20 Million for the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) to develop the Oregon Conservation Corps and a grant program to expand workforce development in forest management. This bill also requires the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) to develop a 20-Year Strategic Plan addressing landscape resiliency through shared stewardship and increased management across Oregon.
At the federal level, the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) appropriates billions towards climate change solutions and wildfire mitigation which will significantly help restore forests in Oregon and play into the goals and successes of the 20-Year Strategic Plan. But these projects and goals are only able to be achieved with an adequate contractor workforce.
If solving these challenges are truly priorities, then scalable workforce solutions must accompany appropriations at the state and federal levels.
So, during the 2022 Short Legislative Session, AOL engaged heavily on the Future Ready Oregon Bill (SB 1545) to get a spot in the $200 Million of appropriated funds for workforce development in Oregon. AOL explained to legislators in their testimony that they are on the cutting edge of workforce development for the forest contracting sector. Their testimony states, “In the past six months, AOL has sought to identify workforce development “best practices” for the forest operator community. Often times they are specific and localized, but we believe many can be replicated across the state, making a lasting and positive impact on rural communities and the health of Oregon’s natural and working lands.”
AOL is looking to expand innovative programs with partners in Oregon.
Some of them include:
- A Youth Internship program in the Port of Morrow dedicated to supporting Juniors and Seniors in obtaining paid (max 15hrs / week) internships in positions in the local community. Some students end up going to college, but others graduate from high school, get a job and go to work with real-world experience.
- The OSU Lane County Extension Forester developed a virtual training program that utilizes an Oculus platform based on the “gamification of learning.” The program engages students of all ages to ‘play’ in a work scenario and experience a taste of the work they could experience as a forest operator.
- A proposed “Timber Academy” by Baker Technical Institute which would provide simulator training, safety, soft skills, and career preparation.
AOL is also looking to develop new solutions:
- AOL has been engaged in both of the SB 762 efforts mentioned above. They have applied for a $1 million grant with the HECC and are representing the timber industry for the development of the 20-Year Strategic Plan to ensure workforce capacity is being thought about in new ways.
- Working with ODF, AOL has developed a concept for a workforce development specialist to work within the Planning Branch of ODF to advocate for sector needs to get work completed and advance new training programs for these critical careers.
- A legislative concept is also in the works that would develop a Forestry Workforce Council bringing together relevant stakeholders who are engaged in workforce development activities for the forest sector in the state. The concept would also seek funding for a study about contractor capacity, regional gaps, and possible workforce solutions.
These are but a few ways AOL is engaged in workforce development for the forest contractor in Oregon. Challenges will continue – throughout the world and within our industry. Still, the future is bright for wood products in America and the potential forest sector employee, but it can’t be assumed that the market will solve our problems. Creative solutions, new partners, and innovative techniques to engage younger generations need to be deployed.