May’s Student Voice by Matthew Penrose

Written by Matthew Penrose, student member at Michigan Technilogical University

Matt’s background and introduction to the community

Growing up I had a lot of great opportunities in the natural resources field. I officially started working at my family’s logging company in Upper Michigan when I was twelve. I took care of the basic jobs around the wood yard. I would mow the grass, fill-up bar and chain oil jugs, sweep around the shop, just the simple stuff like that. Soon enough I started working with a retired piece cutter. I started off cutting, splitting, and piling firewood for the shop with him. We spent a lot of time together brushing logging roads out in the woods among the many other odd jobs. I enjoyed listing to all of his stories he had to tell about the time he spent working in the industry.

Around the time when high school started, I began running machinery in the wood yard setting up and sorting log sales. It was around this time when I started to think about what I wanted to do after high school. I knew that I did not want to work an office job. I enjoyed my time working in the industry so far, so forestry made the most sense. It was not a hard decision. My family has a long history of logging. Before emigrating from Finland, they were farmers in the summer and loggers in the winter. My grandpa’s grandpa came over from Finland in the early 1900s and started logging here. My grandpa worked in the logging camps with him. My grandfather got his forestry degree from Michigan Tech in the 60s and ended up buying a pulp broker’s business. That is now the family business. My dad got his forestry degree from Michigan Tech in the 1900s.

Towards the end of high school, I began cruising timber, running lines, mapping jobs, and doing other forestry work. I have enjoyed my time as an operator in the woods as well. I just finished my third year at tech. It’s been interesting learning new things at school, then applying them in the real world. I look forward to my future working in the natural resources field.

Looking forward
I’m mostly concerned with our low-value products. It seems like every year another pulp mill shuts down, and pulp prices are nowhere near what they used to be. Will carbon/biomass be enough to make up the slowing pulp industry? Another possibility would be mass-timber building. Will it take off in the U.S. like it has in Vancouver? Lastly is the public perception of the timber industry. It seems like almost every day I see an ad or an article pushing hemp or bamboo as a better alternative to wood. There is currently hemp wood being manufactured, but it’s still more costly than conventional wood. I’m sure it’s only going to be a matter of time before the cost is reduced though. What can be done about this? It’s a really broad question but it’s something in the back of my mind.

Here is a link to a hemp board website. They talk about forests being “destroyed”, while sustainable forestry is mentioned nowhere. I get that a company selling hemp is not going to talk about sustainable foresty, but I’ve been surprised recently with the lack of public knowledge of how timberland is managed. I look forward to hearing other thoughts and perspectives on these topics.