BREWER — Amidst the muffled roar and spraying sawdust, Michela Jamison seems quite happy.
On an overcast March morning, with the thermometer hovering in the mid-30s, Jamison wields an Oregon chainsaw while cutting maple logs spread behind Brewer High School. Clad in a logger’s helmet and ear muffs, chaps, and steel-toed boots, Jamison uses the chainsaw to measure a length of log, then carefully cuts off a stove-length bolt.
“She likes to operate the chainsaw,” comments Mark Savage, who teaches outdoor education at Brewer High.
And Jamison is content to do so. Except for a brief break taken while Savage checks the cutting chain’s sharpness, Jamison sends the sawdust flying until Savage calls “time” a while later.
All around Jamison, similarly clad BHS students shut down their chainsaws and lower their splitting mauls. For the last 25-30 minutes, these students have cut and stacked firewood as part of the Introduction to Forest Management class introduced at Brewer High last fall.
According to Savage, the purpose of the class is to introduce students to the many aspects of forestry-related employment, from cutting wood to operating heavy equipment to managing a small business and marketing wood products.
“People really aren’t aware of the career opportunities available in forestry-related businesses,” explains Savage, a Patten native who started cutting wood with his father while still a youth. “My brothers have been in logging since they started in school” and now run Patten-based Savage & Savage Logging.
“The average age of people cutting wood” in Maine “is 54, and young people aren’t coming into the industry,” Savage says. He hopes that Introduction to Forest Management (and the planned addition of Introduction to Forest Management II next year) “will show our students the many jobs to be found” in Maine’s forest-products sector.
Juniors and seniors signed up for the class last fall; sophomores can take it next year. “Mr. Savage mentioned the forestry program. I thought it would be something interesting to do,” says Jamison, who, along with Dempsey Oliver, hails from Clifton. Other students live in Brewer, Eddington, Holden, and Orrington.
Savage never intended forest management to be a textbook-only class. The Brewer School Department purchased chainsaws, helmets, chaps, and other gear used by Maine loggers; “local businesses have been good to us in giving us discounts,” Savage said. Located just down Parkway South from BHS, the R.D. Faulkner Corp. submitted the lowest bid on chainsaws.
Forest-management students quickly plunged into the curriculum last fall. Since then, and among other topics, they have learned about:
• Tree identification;
• Chainsaw safety;
• Forest-management plans;
• Setting up and running a small business, which in Maine’s forest-products sector could range from a firewood dealer to a portable sawmill operator to a sugarbush owner.
The students also spent two days at the Milton CAT franchise in Brewer, where “they saw the business end,” including parts and service, and “checked out the forest equipment,” Savage says. Some students “ran the forwarder.”
Maine’s forest-products sector starts at the stump, and in the last few weeks Savage’s students have learned how to cut and sell firewood. They studied chainsaw operation, maintenance, and safety before actually cutting wood.
In February, Madden Sustainable Forestry Inc. of Milford donated “about 11 cords of mostly maple and a little bit of beech, a stick of birch and a stick of ash here and there” to Brewer High School, Savage says. The students cut the logs with chainsaws and split the hardwood by hand — and sold the firewood to raise money for the class.
As Jamison and other students cut through their way through logs on this damp March morning, other students swing mauls and encounter splitting-related headaches. Usually the hardwood splits fairly easily; sometimes the maul’s blade bites, but does not slice all the way through the wood, and the student works the blade out by hand and takes another swing.
“They actually really enjoy the splitting,” Savage says as he watches the students at work. Those not actually cutting or splitting toss split firewood into piles; some students rotate the splitting.
According to Savage, life in Introduction to Forest Management is not all about just cutting wood. “I want the kids to learn to run a business … from the sales to accounting to the marketing,” he explains.
Many, many business (and employment) opportunities exist in the Maine woods, from logger to portable sawmill owner to sugarbush operator. Add to these trucking, maintenance, accounting, and other jobs, Savage says, and “the kids are learning about the work available” in forestry-related activities.
He acknowledges that today’s loggers usually operate highly mechanized harvesting equipment; the need in Maine for traditional hand crews has declined precipitously in the past decades. He does not know how many Brewer students may pursue forestry-related employment. “I see some of them who are going to run [heavy] equipment,” he says.
Among them could be the class’s two female students, Jamison and Noelle Dakin. “Mechanically, as for running equipment, there’s no reason women can’t do it as well as men,” Savage says.
Students taking the forest-management course are Drew Blaylock, Jonathan Bouchard, Benjamin Bowden, Samuel Burris, Mark Colley, John Collins, Noelle Dakin, Justin Davis, Trevor Gardner, Zachary Gulesian, Chris Hambrock, Michela Jamison, Michael Lucky, Michael Maybury, Zachery Nickerson, Dempsey Oliver, and Daniel Vilasuso.
On May 8-9, the Brewer forest-management students will compete in the 38th annual Career and Technical Education Loggers’ Meet, slated to be held in Farmington. Teams from Brewer, Farmington, Oxford Hills, Rumford, and Southern Aroostook Community High School in Dyer Brook will participate in the stringent competition. Categories include throwing an ax, throwing pulp wood for accuracy and distance, and operating a skidder and a loader.
, sawing a log in a two-person cross cut relay, and identifying trees and forestry tools.