FARMINGTON – Chad Bamford found out something Monday that many have discovered before him: Logging is “a lot harder than it looks,” even, or perhaps especially, with high-tech equipment.
“There are so many buttons on it,” Chad said. “ But the technology they have nowadays is probably doubling production out there. It was good to get some hands-on experience. ”
Fortunately, Chad, a senior at Foster Technology Center in Farmington, didn’t have to get his first experience on equipment that cost $500,000. Thanks to Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Franklin, ReEnergy and Nortrax, students from Foster Tech, Mt. Blue High, Spruce Mountain, Rangeley and Mt. Abram had a chance to operate simulators that allowed them to get a feel for a forwarder and processor.
“I think it’s absolutely fantastic because this has given the kids and opportunity that we couldn’t give them without help,” said Dean Merrill, Foster Tech teacher.
It all started, Sen. Saviello said, when he and Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, were working on a bill on bonded labor last year.
“I began to realize that we weren’t doing a good job educating our young people to get them out there on the new equipment,” Saviello said. “We do a great job when you’re talking about skidders and chainsaws, but the next level of equipment – the sophistication of computers and everything else – they aren’t really getting to see.”
Nortrax, the area’s John Deere Construction and Forestry dealer, made the simulators available from Monday through Wednesday to area professionals as well as students. The simulators are portable and can be programmed to simulate several pieces of equipment, including other kinds of machines, such as excavators, said Bud Iverson of Nortrax. The large simulator costs about $150,000 and the smaller one $90,000. An operator would probably need from 100 to 150 hours of training on a simulator before moving on to actual logging equipment.
Sen. Jackson, who is a logger, said the simulators are “absolutely helpful. They let people understand what it’s like to do mechanical harvesting nowadays. It also shows people whether they’ll have an aptitude for it, because you never know really until people actually start operating whether they’re going to make good loggers or not.”
The event was planned with the school by Sen. Saviello and ReEnergy Holdings, a renewable energy company that owns four biomass-to-energy facilities in Maine.
Without ReEnergy, Saviello said, “this wouldn’t have happened. They were phenomenal. They stepped up when I told them about my dream and here we are with two simulators in there running and the students just having a ball. “
For ReEnergy, the event was an investment in the future.
“ReEnergy relies on folks who work in the forests to supply 1 million tons annually of forest-derived biomass – more than 33,300 truckloads – just here in Maine,” said Eric Dumond, ReEnergy’s Wood Procurement Manager for Maine. “The simulator is a mechanism to help attract young people to our industry and let them know that working in the woods is not what it used to be. In many ways, today’s high-tech forest harvesting equipment taps into the same kinds of skills that students use to operate popular game devices.”
There was much discussion this week about how to make simulators available to students at Maine’s four remaining CTE (Career and Technical Education) forestry programs in Houlton, Farmington, Norway and Mexico. Sen. Jackson thought a bond issue might be possible. Others hoped Maine’s community colleges and the forest products industry would get involved.
“The need is there, but it’s difficult for contractors to create an environment to train people,” said Pat Sirois, SFI director. “The equipment is just too complicated. The real issue in terms of training is being able to afford to put people in a seat to get a sense of how this equipment works. We need to find a way to do this.”