By Scott Hammers

The Bulletin

Central Oregon Community College was abuzz with activity Saturday, with forestry students from eight Oregon high schools scaling trees with spiked boots, throwing axes, slicing slabs off the end of a log with a chainsaw and more.

Event organizer and Scio High School forestry instructor Rex Cowther said competitive high school forestry programs have been on the decline in Oregon, though they’re still found in many communities where logging remains a big part of the economy.

Along with the log rolling, crosscut sawing, tree climbing and other physical competitions, students also give speeches to a panel, identify types of trees, sit for mock job interviews and calculate the volume of timber in a stand of trees, Cowther said. The timber industry is becoming more sophisticated, he said, and while physical ability is still important, students serious about working in the field need to develop additional skills.

“If you can work hard, there’s still some opportunities,” Cowther said.

Camped in the shade minutes after posting the best mark of the day in the “Jill and Jill” — all female — crosscut saw competition, Clatskanie High School students Kimi Crape, Olivia Warrner, and ArLee Nosack celebrated their success.

Kimi said keeping the long, two-handled saw moving through the wood is harder than it might look. In practice, she uses a saw with a six-foot blade, then switches to a five-foot model for competition. Practicing with the longer, wobblier blade makes it less likely their saw will bind in competition.

Sydney Nichol said she’d done well in nearly every event she competed in, but she was even happier for the members of her Sweet Home High School team.

“I think everyone left everything out there, they gave it their all, and that’s all you can ask,” said Sydney, 16. “I’m really proud of them, no matter how they did.”

Still panting heavily, Justin Perdew of Knappa and Nik Dishaw of Sweet Home congratulated each other after going head-to-head in the choker-setting race. After scrambling over two waist-high stacks of logs, the competitors wrap a choker cable around a slightly elevated log and secure it, then sprint back to the starting line 30 yards away.

Nik and Justin, both 16, said they’re hoping to find work in forestry after they graduate high school.

Justin said he’s aiming to find a job fighting forest fires, while Nik said he’s open to almost anything in the forestry field.

“Something that gets me out in the woods, even if I’m just out there picking weeds,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387,