FVCC program brings back traditional logging skills

May 3, 2019

The Natural Resources Conservation and Management program, though it has gone by many names over the years, was one of the original programs Flathead Valley Community College started with in 1967.

Back then it was the forestry program, and though the field has seen many advancements in the last 50-plus years, demand by local employers has inspired new classes with old-school roots.

This semester marked the beginning of a new cross-cut and chain-saw class, teaching students some of the basic techniques in operating and maintaining the equipment used to manage the region’s forest.

According to Christina Relyea, FVCC’s associate professor of the Natural Resources Conservation and Management program, sawyer skills largely left the program as more advanced technology emerged and took precedence over traditional skill sets.

GPS mapping, photogrammetry and remote sensing found their way into the curriculum as educators worked to provide their students with the latest knowledge of their desired fields.

As employers began seeking out FVCC graduates to fill positions, Relyea said she began getting requests for more versatile employees who could fly a drone and sharpen a cross-cut saw.

The chain-saw and cross-cut operation and maintenance class, taught by Paul Euken and Fred Flint, joins two others aimed at broadening the skills of students interested in pursuing an outdoor-focused career.

The stock packing skills course and the backcountry medicine course, both new this semester, offer instruction in both modern and traditional practices and regulations to ensure the safety and success of students as they enter their chosen professions.

Stock packing, taught by Abbie Hutton, a U.S. Forest Service stock packer for the Spotted Bear Ranger District, focuses on the fundamentals of animal behavior and care, supplies management and pack regulations for animal packing treks.

The backcountry medicine course, taught by paramedic Douglas Petch, includes basic first-aid instruction in common practices such as splinting and bleed control, but in a scenario mimicking the backcountry, many miles from civilization.

“That’s the beauty of this program, is that it’s so broad,” Relyea said.

Students of the natural resources program take courses in forest fire management, forest insects and disease, surveying, recreation management and more as part of their required curriculum. They also have the opportunity to take a wide array of additional courses that teach more specific aspects of their field, like stock packing and backcountry medicine.

“I think the appeal is that there is a certain type of student that really just wants to get out there and get dirty,” Relyea said.

According to Relyea, graduates of the natural resources program go on to enter a broad spectrum of fields, including aquatic ecology, wilderness guiding, park attending, forest fire management and more.

While many students enter the workforce straight out of FVCC, others go on to transfer to state universities.

For the last three years, Relyea said, the program has achieved 100 percent job placement for students actively applying for employment following graduation.

“I think we do have a lot of students stay locally and get jobs,” Relyea said, “and so our influence on the valley from this program is pretty big.”

For more information about FVCC’s natural resources program, visit https://www.fvcc.edu/programs/agriculture-natural-resources-forestry-brewing/natural-resources-conservation-management/.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.