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Natural Resource Program students learn from arborists during a recent field trip

JASON CHANEY - Students from Crook County High School's forestry management class and Future Natural Resource Leaders club watch arborists from Western Skies Tree Service take down a paper birch.

High school students clad in grubby work clothes and bright orange hard hats gather in two groups at opposite ends of a corner property.

At one gathering of roughly 10 teens, personnel from Western Skies Tree Service give a rundown of the different gear that arborists depend on as they shimmy up tree trunks to gradually take the trees down. They watch lessons on harness equipment and tying knots as well as the chainsaws, and ropes and other gear used to lower branches and logs carefully to the ground.

About 50 feet away, the buzz of a chainsaw drowns out most sounds as students watch as a worker in bucket truck belonging to Lindsey Land & Tree remove limbs and gradually cut a tree down to a stump. The teens jump in every once in a while to organize the pile of wood and brush that accumulates on the side of the road.

"It is a really cool profession," says Lisa Keown, Crook County High School's forest management class instructor as she looks on with the students. "You have to know a lot about the trees and the growth and what stage they are in when you cut them."

The group of roughly two dozen students are composed of forest management students and members of the Future Natural Resource Leaders, or FNRL club, now in its second year. And though it's not their first field trip of the school year, it's the first one where they have gotten to see arborists in action.

"I think it's great," says senior Nathan Rivers, FNRL club president. He has been to some logging sites, but never an in-town tree removal. "Some of the kids who don't get to do this very much get to learn a thing or two."

Jake Hale, the club's project manager, has likewise never witnessed an arborist take down trees in front of a residential property.

"It's a good opportunity to learn more about being an arborist and logging," he remarks. "It's actually pretty cool."

Morgan Kelly, a freshman member of the forest management class, is having fun during the early portions of the field trip. As she helps organize the pile of tree branches, she grabs a larger one and jokingly treats it like an oversized walking staff.

"I find it entertaining," she says of the arborist work as she watches. "I absolutely love it. I always wanted to do something involving wildlife or animals, and this class gives me so many opportunities to be out here and have so much fun."

Keown said the field trip was the brainchild of Chuck Holliday, a retired Crook County teacher who made her aware of a residence on the corner of Northwest Eighth and Beaver streets that was in need of some tree removal.

She added that Holliday found the two arborist companies, which donated their time and expertise and arranged for the students to participate in the project.

For liability reasons, the students did not operate the chainsaws during removal of the six paper birch trees, which were dying for unknown reasons. But they did help the arborists lower the limbs and portions of tree trunks to the ground using ropes and other equipment, and they organized the wood and later loaded it up to transport back to the high school.

"We will bring the wood back to the high school, and we will mill it there. We will be making a lot of different things with it," Keown said, noting that the paper birch wood has ornamental value, with bark that is really beautiful. Some creations may include mounts for taxidermy, coffee tables and candle holders.

The forest management class is a yearlong class at the high school that Keown said is articulated with Central Oregon Community College. Students can therefore complete college-level work and earn college credit.

"But we are taking it one step further," she said. "We recently got a portable sawmill for our forest program. ... Having the mill, we are able to actually get out and learn different types of forestry and are able to actually harvest and process that wood into slabs or dimensional lumber."

FNRL, meanwhile, is intended to help students to expand upon what they learn in forest management class and other courses in the school's natural resource program while gaining valuable leadership skills. In addition, it is designed to provide career development events that are intended to reinforce and strengthen the skills and knowledge students learn in the classroom.

The club had only five members last school year, but this year it has ballooned to around 20.

The field trip comes on the heels of the forest management program receiving a grant that will fund the purchase of some arborist climbing gear that will enable students to learn how to climb trees. In addition, FNRL members will get to participate in a career development event where they harness up and race each other to the top of some trees.

"The students get to learn about the profession," Keown said, "and it can be part of a really good forestry pathway summer job or something to get them started."

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