Forestry is a family tradition and commitment

Check out new photo series made by a Tillamook husband and wife:

Remember Father’s Day 2019 when we shared this video celebrating Bruce Alber, a father and retired forester who took a picture every year, for 40 years of the same tree in a coastal managed forest?

Well, we discovered the next generation Bruce Alber! Meet Jake and Ellie Hilger, who were inspired by Bruce to start their own photo project documenting both their lives and the growth of a forest Jake planted. After graduating with a degree in forest management from Oregon State University, Jake has been working as a reforestation forester in Tillamook Oregon.  In his 7-year-career, he estimates that he has overseen the replanting of four million trees.

OFF: Tell us about your photo project.

Ellie: This photo series represents so much. It represents the care and passion that Jake has for forestry. He is careful and thoughtful about each site for which he has responsibility. He knows every site that he has planted, and watches with vigilance to make sure that they grow successfully. When we are out in the woods together, he always points out the sites that he has planted, and describes the successes and challenges of growing each area.

The site is North of Netarts, and is one of the first sites that Jake was in charge of planting. The first photo from 2014 shows the area after it was newly harvested, just 6 months before replanting.
This is in 2015, with new baby trees in the background as well as Jake’s new puppy, named Tate.
In 2016, you can start to see the growth of new trees in the background.
I appear in 2017, our first year of marriage (note the growth of trees in the background.)
2018 – the trees are taller than Tate now.
In 2019: as you can see, this photo series not only documents the growth of a forest, but also the growth of our family.  Our daughter Ruth was born at the start of February. We try to take her out with us to get some exercising walking the logging roads as often as we can. She usually falls asleep right away but we are already teaching her our love of the outdoors.

Jake’s plan is to continue taking photos of this forest every year until the trees are ready to be harvested, about 40 years from the year they were planted in 2015. This will be about the time that Jake plans to retire, and will be something that he will look back on with pride.  

OFF: Jake, why did you become a forester?

Jake: My father was a logger and I have happy memories as a child of him taking me to work. My fondest memory is sitting on his lap in the log loader and him letting me use the controls to pick up and swing the heavy logs. I thought it was thrilling to feel the machine shake in response to weight of the timber.

I was only 7 when my father past away. Though we didn’t have much time with him, my three siblings and I were greatly influenced by his hard work ethic and love of the woods. The loggers that he worked with, along with friends and family from our community, gave my family so much support after his passing. The loggers took the time to take me and my siblings out to the logging jobs when we were young and later allowed us to job shadow and gave us jobs in the summer when we were old enough. They established an annual fundraiser that allowed myself and my siblings to attend college. There is no doubt in my mind that my family and I would not have had the success we’ve had in life without the help of the generous men and women that our father worked with in the timber industry and the friends and family from our community.

Working in the timber industry is more than a career – it’s a lifestyle, and those who you work with quickly become a family to you. I’m proud to walk some of the same ground my father worked on, now as a forester. Ellie is pregnant with our first child and I wonder if she will someday harvest and plant trees on the same ground that her father and grandfather have.

OFF: Ellie – what’s it feel like to be part of a family with such ties to forestry?

Ellie: Our family is flourishing. We take pride in representing Jake’s company in events and organizations, such as the June Dairy Parade, Tillamook Working Lands and Waters Cooperative, Tillamook Chamber of Commerce, and the Tillamook County Fair. We feel like a connected and important part of our community. 

OFF: Jake, what does a reforestation forester do?

Jake: My responsibility is to ensure the success of the next generation of forest after harvest. I track each acre harvested for the first 15-20 years of its life. Most of the work I do is focused on the first 5 years. The most challenging yet most rewarding work I do is overseeing the planting of trees. This year I’ll see about 700,000 seedlings planted, all by hand. The forestland I help to manage around Tillamook County is on its 2nd to 3rd rotation. Several generations of foresters and loggers have worked the ground before me and how they cared for it directly affects my ability to successfully reforest it. The next generation is constantly in my mind with the work I do. Forty years from now I want the trees I grow to become a vibrant forest producing wood, creating jobs as well as providing habitat for wildlife, clean water, and recreation opportunities.

OFF: What do you want people to know about your job?

Jake: I wish more people understood that in order to meet society’s demand for wood we have to actively manage forests. Less than 0.5 percent of Americans work in forestry and we produce wood products while maintaining the environmental and social benefits forest create. Foresters and loggers are Oregonians who love to be outside and enjoy our natural resources. I hunt, fish, pick berries and mushrooms, cut fire wood, recreate, and am employed on the private timberland I help manage. Protecting the environment is very important – it allows me all these activities that are central to mine and my family’s lives.

For example, my brother works for the same logging company our father did. Several years ago Oregon had a very wet winter and there are rules about sedimentation that restrict hauling logs during wet weather. When rainfall reaches a certain amount in 24 hours or the road conditions get too soft my brother has to stop working. As a result during those winter months he averaged only four days of work a week. For someone on a tight budget, missed days of work are tough, but I never heard him complain about the rules causing him to miss work. As foresters and loggers the environment is important to us and we believe in protecting it for the next generations and we believe in the rules we follow.

We’re focused on actively and sustainably managing our forests in Oregon.

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