SAWDUST IN HER BLOOD

“This isn’t a dying industry as some suggest. The world’s consumers aren’t using less wood, nor should they. Wood is the most environmentally friendly structural building material on earth, and good forestry is key to reducing civilization’s carbon foot print. That’s my story and I intend to keep telling it.”

Erin Bradetich, Forester
Idaho Forest Group
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Erin Bradetich always knew she wanted to be a forester.

What she did not know was that she would be her father’s only son – in a manner of speaking, of course.

“Yup, she’s the woodsy one,” Doug Bradetich says of his 26 year old daughter, the only female among 11 foresters employed by the Idaho Forest Group. Among the 11: her father, Doug, who has been working in forestry since he got out of college in 1981.

Erin is the youngest of three Bradetich girls. Stacey, the oldest is Director of Finance for a San Francisco hotel company. Amy teaches fourth grade at Sandpoint’s Northside Elementary School and Erin buys state and private logs, mainly for IFG’s Laclede mill.

Woodsy? Well, the petit red-head hunts deer, handles a chain saw with precision, loves cutting firewood with her dad, and ran a monstrous 980 loader in IFG’s Chilco log yard when she was a college student.

“She has a lot of sawdust in her blood,” her father says with an admiring smile.

“Yeah, I do,” Erin concedes. “My great grandfather was a logger, my grandfather worked in our Chilco mill when it still belonged to Louisiana Pacific, Dad’s been a forester since he got out of college and I have cousins that work in the woods. Except for my sisters, we’re pretty much a timber family.”

Erin has only been with IFG for eight months, but she’s already decided this is her last career move. In time, she hopes to become the company’s resource manager, an executive level job that would put her in charge of IFG’s forestry staff, plus log procurement for all three of IFG’s northern mills: Laclede, Moyie Springs and Chilco. Her boss, Alan Harper, is currently the company’s northern resource manager, and there are others who have seniority, but at 26, Erin definitely knows what she is about and where she is headed.

Before joining IFG in January, she worked for two years in the Idaho Department of Lands timber sale layout department in Sandpoint, then managed company timberland for Stimson at their Plummer, Idaho location before she got the chance to join IFG’s forestry department.

“I love it here,” she says of her job. “Every day is a little different and I’m pretty much my own boss. I come and go as I wish, and there are lots of opportunities for public outreach. I really enjoy visiting with people about forestry and logging.”

“Enjoy” is not a word most foresters would use to describe the arduous and often thankless task of searching for logs among the thousands of landowners who own patches of timber in northern Idaho. Many are absentee owners and most have never thought much about actually managing their timber for income, much less any other purpose.

“It runs the gamut,” Erin says of the cold calls she makes on timberland owners. “I’ve been welcomed with open arms and I’ve been told to leave and never come back. Most people don’t have a land management objective. It’s just home or a place to come in the summer. There isn’t much understanding of the economic value of timber, or the need to manage trees to protect them for insects, diseases or wildfire.”

Erin’s job comes with a lot of windshield time – time spent driving to remote areas in western Montana, northern Idaho and northeast Washington in search of logs that will be transformed into a wide variety of lumber products at IFG’s Laclede, Chilco or Moyie Springs sawmills.

“We consume a lot of timber – more than any other lumber manufacturer in Idaho,” she says. “Most of it comes from state timberland or private landowners. Some from the Forest Service, but not much. I don’t buy federal wood, but I can tell you we’ve made a big investment in collaborative groups in hopes of securing more federal timber in the future.”

IFG’s foresters use a software program that locates timber tracts based on their acreage. There are thousands of private landowners across the three-state region Erin covers, so she isn’t likely to ever run out of potential customers. But few of the landowners she visits have ever given much thought to managing their timber. Occasionally, she writes management plans for landowners who own enough timberland to be long-term IFG customers.

“It’s rare to find a landowner with an actual management objective.” Erin explains. “I start by explaining that logging isn’t a bad thing; it’s a tool they can use to achieve any of many options for improving their forest: removing diseased trees, reducing density in forests that hold too many trees for the carrying capacity of the land, wildlife habitat improvement, and wildfire protection, or simply improving the view around their homes.”

Erin views the time she spends with landowners as an investment in the future. She rarely closes a log sale on her first visit. But the seeds of a possible future sale are planted, and she enjoys bantering with people who know nothing about the benefits of good forestry.

For one who now spends so much of her time preaching the gospel of good forestry, she inexplicably avoided the forestry class that was offered when she was a student at Sandpoint High School. “I don’t know why I didn’t take it. Maybe because I was spending so much time in the woods with Dad. I probably thought I already knew more than I could learn in the class.”

And now? Well, this fall she is taking her University of Idaho forestry degree and her job experience back to schools in the Sandpoint area, where she will volunteer her time with aspiring forestry students.

“I want them to know that I work in a great industry with a great future, and I want to encourage them to do some exploring of their own. We take on interns here at IFG, as do both the Forest Service and the Idaho Department of Lands, so there are opportunities to learn more about career options. This isn’t a dying industry as some suggest. The world’s consumers aren’t using less wood, nor should they. Wood is the most environmentally friendly structural building material on earth, and good forestry is key to reducing civilization’s carbon foot print. That’s my story and I intend to keep telling it.”

  • Jim Petersen, the Evergreen Foundation