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SCIO — Kaitlyn Kastet was able to pull herself a good 15 feet up the trunk of the Douglas fir behind Scio High School, but then wasn't sure what to do next.

Arbor climb judge Douglas Livengood indicated the knotted rope holding the Corvallis High School sophomore and showed her where to pull to let herself down. Kastet gave the rope an experimental tug and slid gracefully to the ground, sliding off the harness for teammate McKenna Mulvey to take a turn.

The Corvallis girls were at Scio on Thursday for their first try at the high school's annual forestry competition, which drew close to 200 students from around Oregon.

Scio has been holding the competition since 1976, but Corvallis hasn't had a forestry program, at least not in recent years. Nor has Waldport or Yoncalla, who also were new to Thursday's competition.

Ten schools in all came to the competition, up from six or seven in past years, said Rex Lowther, who teaches forestry and coaches Scio's team. He gives the credit for the growth to Future Natural Resource Leaders of Oregon, a new state organization dedicated to promoting student experiences with natural resources.

Officially chartered in 2016, Future Natural Resource Leaders grew out of an earlier organization, the Oregon Association of Forestry Clubs. Lowther helped to organize it.

Like FFA or Future Business Leaders of America, the group's purpose is to support students as they explore education and career opportunities. Unlike the former forestry club association, however, the new group expands its reach to include all aspects of natural resources.

Scio senior Grant Ortiz, 18, is state president of the organization this year. Forestry is changing, and you can see it in the way Scio's annual competition works, he said. Some of the 18 events, such as ax throw and log rolling, are held mostly for fun and to get kids excited about joining in, rather than to teach specific logging skills.

"All of this is kind of nostalgia," he said, "but it gets them interested in it." 

At the same time, however, the competition gives participants practice in skills they will use on a daily basis in natural resources careers. Map reading, tool identification, fire hose lay and compass and pacing all have uses in a variety of careers.

State FNRL Executive Director Kirk Hutchinson said he believes as the organization grows, competitions like Scio's will grow with it. Eventually, he figures, they could add competitions such as wildland backpacking, wildlife identification and tracking, fire science, ecology, recycling, fisheries, national parks — anything that could have a natural resources bent.

"Maybe you're given a scenario where there’s this group of trees, or a park, in downtown Albany: What can we as natural resource specialists do to enhance, preserve, care for it, or cut it down?" Hutchinson said.

The arbor climb event, which the two Corvallis teammates tried Thursday, is among one of the newer events, and meant to reflect just such a change in focus, Hutchinson said.

Oregon cities are full of trees, and trees require arborists. Skilled arborists know how to use a rope to climb a tree, either for trimming or health assessment. That's what the event is meant to simulate.

As a new team without much of a background in Scio's events yet and none of their own equipment for practice, the Corvallis students checked out the arbor climb event because they were interested in "trying random things," Kastet explained. 

Next, said Mulvey, "I think I want to try — I don't even know what it's called."

"Hose line," Kastet supplied.

Her teammate nodded. "That. Eventually." 

That sort of experimental spirit is exactly the attitude FNRL is trying to foster, both through competitions like Scio's and through other career development events, Hutchinson said. 

All of Oregon's natural resource sectors are crying out for experienced workers, and schools are the places to supply the need, he said. 

FNRL classes and clubs, combined with competitions, provide "hands-on education that can lead kids directly to workforce jobs or further education at a community college or four-year university," he said. "It’s what we need in schools, to help kids actually see what the real world of the workforce is like out there."

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