Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Investing in Idaho’s forestry workforce

It’s no secret that forestry is an important part of Idaho’s economy. A 2023 University of Idaho study found that the forest products business sector contributed $2.5 billion to Idaho’s gross state product in 2022. The vast majority of the $61 million in state endowment lands money that went to public schools in 2023 came from timber harvesting proceeds. That means close to 30,000 of our friends, families and neighbors work in Idaho forests. They’re the loggers, truck drivers, mill workers, foresters, sales and accounting professionals who sustainably manage our forests to produce lumber, paper products, furniture and other wood products.

But those numbers only tell part of the story. While vital to Idaho’s economy, the forest products sector faces uncertainty due to workforce challenges. Twenty-four percent of the log truck drivers are over the age of 60 and the logging contractor owner/operators have on average 29 years of business experience.  Like many Idaho businesses, without a stable workforce, forestry’s tremendous impact on our state’s economy is at risk.

But there’s reason for optimism. Recent investments through Idaho’s new Career Ready Students program represent an infusion of both energy and capital in cultivating new pipelines of young talent into Idaho’s forest products sector. In March 2023, Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield, with the help of the Idaho Legislature, secured $45 million to create a new program that would invest in career technical education and career training around our state.

Now, just 12 months later, Critchfield and the 11-member Career Ready Students Council have awarded grants totaling more than $43 million to Idaho schools. Grants will be used to teach students new skills that prepare them for successful careers here in Idaho. The program will help address workforce demands in sectors like agriculture, forest products, mechanics, animal science, food production and more.

The investments in the forest products sector are especially significant. The council has awarded just over $5 million that will upgrade existing logging and forestry training programs or create new ones altogether. These investments – which represent more than 10 percent of awarded funds – are being made at schools in places like St. Maries, Kamiah, Kooskia, Orofino, Grangeville, Weippe, Potlatch, Priest River, and Council. In other words, in rural Idaho and in the heart of Idaho’s  forest products business sector.

Students trained in these programs will be positioned to enter the workforce immediately after high school or continue their pursuit of a forestry-related career at post-secondary institutions. Their training will provide them meaningful career opportunities close to home. Stable and reliable talent pipelines also allow the forest products sector to continue investing in Idaho’s robust economy.

Idaho’s Career Ready Students program represents a strategic investment in our young people, rural Idaho and business sectors that are essential to our state’s success. As Idaho’s forest products businesses, we’re grateful for Supt. Critchfield’s leadership and the state’s recognition of the importance of workforce investments, and we stand ready to continue our work. After all, as Idaho’s forests are responsibly managed and our forest business sector thrives, so too does our state.

The following forest products businesses in Idaho support this letter.

Associated Logging Contractors – Idaho
Idaho Forest Group
Inland Empire Paper Company
Molpus Woodlands Group
Clearwater Paper
Bennett Lumber Products, Inc.
Manulife Forest Management
Stimson Lumber Company


Shawn Keough and Forest Products businesses in Idaho

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