Michael Fisher, the department chair and director for the forestry program defines the curriculum, the students and the future of the program of study.
Love the outdoors? Think working in the woods sounds like fun? Then the Forestry Program at Central Oregon Community College is decidedly not for you. If, on the other hand, you can envision yourself working dawn to dusk in bone-soaking rain, excruciating heat, amid swarms of yellow jackets, then being up and ready to do it all again the next morning at six a.m., then Forestry may be right for you after all.
Ponderosa Hall is the academic home to six programs under the heading of Natural Industrial Resources, including Aviation and Automotive studies in addition to Forest Resources Technology. Michael Fisher is both Department Chair and the Director for the Forestry Program. Fisher holds four degrees from Oregon State University, including a PhD, but got his start in the very program he now directs. His goal wasn’t education for its own sake, said Fisher, but a progression into his own passion for the field.
Regarding who may be suited to the demands of forestry, Fisher said, “There is very little correlation between [a person who loves the outdoors] and a good employee outdoors.”
Loggers make up a significant minority of the dedicated community within the Forestry program. They have a “passion for working in the woods,” said Fisher.
Fisher remarked, “I am amazed at folks [who enter the program] from true-blue collar logging backgrounds. Their work ethic is through the roof.”
“Their experience is their foundation,” said Fisher. “We polish it up with education.”
Many students are dislocated mill workers seeking to expand their skills. At COCC, students may earn an Associate of Applied Science degree, and/or transfer to a four year university. A degree in Forest Technology can mean moving from solely physical work to involvement in forest layout, planning and management. Certificates are offered for specific studies within the program, but Fisher sees these as checkpoints within the program rather than as ends in themselves. They are also very good for resume building.
“Everything matters,” said Fisher, especially as many forestry-related jobs remain dependent on unsteady federal funding.
Forestry student, Jeff Tice, feels confident that there will be a place for him in the work force when he finishes with the program.
“I think it’s going to be picking up with the rebuilding of Japan,” said Tice, in regards to the future of the forestry industry.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Obama on February 7, 2009, was designed in great part to create jobs, improve infrastructure and foster greater energy independence. According to the United States Forest Service website, it is the largest series of projects planned since WWII. Its budget includes 500 million dollars for Wildland Fire Management, 50 million of which is earmarked for wood-to-energy grants. Here in Central Oregon, $1,553,600 is slated for the Central Oregon Hazardous Fuels Project, which aims to transfer fuel from thousands of acres of land for conversion in a Biomass Utilization facility. Whether or not projects such as these mean more job opportunities for forestry students is unclear, but Fisher believes there is greater interconnectedness between conservationists, foresters, and industry than ever before. Fisher recalled being on both sides of the spotted owl debate back in the 1980’s. He was working as a forester during the day, and calling out spotted owls at night, often having to undo his own work.
Of that experience, Fisher said, “Looking back, it was a catalyst to incredible discussion. It seems clear that the future of forestry will be woven into the big picture of sustainability and economic well-being. COCC’s Forestry Program is up to the challenge.”
Irene Cooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org