THE GLORY OF THE WOODS

“We are sitting on a gold mine,” he says quietly. “Not just a recreation paradise, but lands that have tremendous tree growing potential. You get up into the high country as I do most days and there are trees as far as you can see in every direction.”

Jeff Berend, Forester
Idaho Forest Group
Chilco and Laclede Idaho

Jeff Berend thinks he might be one of the luckiest guys on earth. He spends most of his workdays driving the back roads of northern Idaho looking at forests. Tough duty.

Berend is a forester with the Idaho Forest Group. It is a job title that comes with a lot of windshield time. If he isn’t looking for timber to buy for the company’s Chilco or Laclede mills, he is overseeing logging contracts on state or private sales he bought.

“I probably spend three-fourths my time in my pickup,” Berend says. “Now and then I think to myself, ‘I get paid for doing this!’ It’s pretty amazing.”

It is especially amazing given the fact that northern Idaho’s conifer forests are among the most beautiful and productive in the entire Intermountain West. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to spend their workdays amid such splendor?

“It’s mainly boots on the ground stuff,” he says of the multiple forester’s hats he wears. “One day I might be looking at a timber sale the State Department of Lands is offering. Another day I might be looking at a private tract I’ve spotted, or working with a logger who will be harvesting timber we’ve purchased from the state or a private landowner.”

Berend’s window seat on northern Idaho’s lush forests have given him a great appreciation for their potential.

“We are sitting on a gold mine,” he says quietly. “Not just a recreation paradise, but lands that have tremendous tree growing potential. You get up into the high country as I do most days and there are trees as far as you can see in every direction.”

Berend comes by his appreciation for forests naturally. The Seabeck, Washington native worked for an arborist when he was in high school, trimming and removing trees from residential yards in the old lumber community on the Hood Canal.

“I liked the work so much that I decided to make forestry my profession,” he explained.

After Berend graduated from high school in 2000, he headed for the University of Idaho, which houses one of the nation’s most respected forestry schools in the nation. He graduated in 2006.

“I interned in the log yard in Lewiston in the summer of 2005,” he recalls. “Then after I graduated, I was fortunate enough to be hired to manage the Lewiston log yard. I moved up here to Chilco after the Bennett-Riley Creek merger was completed in 2008. Been here since then. Love it. I know I sound like a commercial, but this is the greatest company.  We have a lot of freedom in our work, but of course it comes with lots of responsibility. I like that.”

Indeed, IFG seems to have embraced a time-honored suggestion about work and those who do it; Give a man [or woman] sharp tools and get the hell out of his [or her] way. Berend’s arsenal includes a software program that identifies thousands of northern Idaho timber tracts by size [100 acres or larger], digitized terrain maps in exquisite detail, and satellite imagery capable of telling Berend most of what he needs to know about tree species and their distribution.

“It’s not like the old days,” Berend says of the dazzling array of computer firepower at his fingertips. “But there is still no substitute for walking the ground. It gives you a feel for the land that no computer image can provide. That’s when I remind myself just how lucky I am.”

Small wonder then that Berend sees a very bright future for young men and women who are considering their career options, and would like to know more about their forestry-related options, both academic and vocational.

“Don’t believe all that nonsense you hear in school about how forestry, logging and lumber manufacturing are dying industries,” he says with a wry smile. “IFG is only eight years old and we’re already the ninth largest lumber manufacturer in North America. That should tell you something about how much wood consumers are using – and increasing wood use is a good thing because no other raw material on earth is so environmentally friendly.”

Berend’s Idaho degree in Forest Products has equipped him well to discuss the environmental advantages of wood use, and the largely benign processes associated with transforming logs into wood products: less energy consumed in manufacture and use than steel, concrete or aluminum; and virtually no impact on air or water quality during manufacturing. But it is the miracle of tree growth that has captured Berend’s fancy.

“Think about this for a moment,” he says. “Wood is formed through photosynthesis, a process driven by the free, non-polluting energy of the sun. The sun’s energy converts complex sugars into cellulose, the building blocks from which wood is formed. As long as our planet continues to orbit the sun, we will have wood. With good management, we’ll never run out.”

Berend’s time in North Idaho’s forests has given him a great appreciation for the manner in which the State of Idaho manages its forests. Likewise, Indian tribes that are his customers.

“They both do a terrific job,” he says. “And I’d be remiss if I did not say that we’re seeing some improvement in the way the Forest Service cares for its timber. Their mission is different from that of the State or tribes, but no matter who you are, you still need to care for your timber or you will lose it to insects, diseases and wildfire. We have environmental problems in our northern Idaho national forests that must be addressed quickly, before it’s too late.”

Long-term, federal wood fiber is vital to IFG’s five sawmills, which explains why the company is so heavily invested in forest collaboratives that are bringing diverse groups of stakeholders to the table to help the Forest Service design and implement forest restoration projects aimed at reducing the risk of wildfire in Idaho’s diseased national forests. Such projects will yield an ample supply of the smaller diameter trees that are staples at IFG state-of-the-art mills.

“I haven’t had much involvement in the forest collaboratives yet, but we really need them to help the Forest Service sort through some of its more contentious issues” Berend says. “So I look at this situation a little differently than most people. When you drive our back country as much as I do, you see how blessed we are to have such beautiful and productive forests, and you develop a deep appreciation for their potential. You don’t have to know much of anything about forestry to quickly grasp what we are risking when, for one reason or another, we fail to take good care of our forests.”

Given his obvious love of forests and forestry, it should come as no surprise that Berend also volunteers for woods tours and Bonner County agriculture and timber groups that work with students and their teachers.

“I hope some of the kids we visit will consider careers in forestry,” Berend says. “But at the very least, our volunteers hope to instill in students and teachers a sense of meaning and purpose where forestry and renewable resource management are concerned.”

In his “spare” time, Berend plays golf, hunts and “horses around” with his three young sons: Karl, 7, Porter, 5, and Mack, 2. He and his wife, Toshia, understandably a stay at home mom, have been married for 10 years.