As a child growing up in Southern and Central California, Todd Bates always saw the forest through the trees — even when the landscape looked a lot different from the evergreen vista he now enjoys from his office on Fuller Hill at the Satsop Business Park.
Fully transplanted as the Grays Harbor College forestry instructor and the manager of Satsop’s sustainable forest plan for the past five years, Bates has what he considers to be a two-hat dream job uniquely suited for a life spent in the forests of the West.
Bates, 44, calls himself a “Forest Service brat,” because his father, Jim, worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 35 years, mostly in California and Idaho. He was born in Bakersfield, then moved near Magic Mountain in Newhall, Calif., where his father oversaw the National Forest surrounding the Los Angeles basin.
“It was more management of chaparral, but it is still considered National Forest land,” he said.
Jim Bates also was stationed on the coast at Santa Barbara, and then moved to Clovis, Calif., outside of Fresno, working in the Sierra National Forest from Yosemite to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.
“We bounced around about every four years and it was just enough to get your roots in the ground,” Bates said.
When he was 15, the Bates family uprooted again when his father was transferred to Idaho.
“That was a culture shock,” he said. His graduating class at Orofino, Idaho, had 60 people in it.
“When I moved to Idaho, that’s when I really got a passion for forestry. I went, ‘Wow, you could be an educated individual and have that as your office,’” he said, gesturing to the forest that fans out to the Olympic Mountains from the view out his window. “I said, ‘That’s what I want.’”
After graduating from high school in Idaho, Bates returned to California to attend college — not because of his love for the woods but because of his skill playing water polo, a sport not played collegiately virtually anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.
“I said, ‘I only get to go to college once, so I’m going to do it right,’” Bates explained.
He attended Cuesta College, a community college in San Luis Obispo, where he played water polo and was on the swimming team. Then he transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, the same college his father attended, which he said has one of the top forestry programs in the country. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in forest management and took a temporary job working for the Potlach Corp. in Idaho.
He was a timber cruiser and operations specialist. Most of it was inventory work, counting trees to give the company a calculated estimate of how much timber was on its lands.
“I used to bring my dog out and be gone all day in the forest and come back at the end of the day,” Bates recalled wistfully.
After two summers working for Potlach, Bates landed a job with the state of Idaho, where he was a field forester, which is basically an entry-level position.
“And it was the best job you could have as a beginning forester,” he said. “In Idaho, public lands are endowment lands, so I had a block of land and it was mine. I had 25,000 acres where I was primarily responsible for all the timber sale set-up, all the contract administration, all the timber planting, all the surveys, the road layout. I did it all, and I treated it like it was my own 25,000 acres.”
Bates kept that position for 10 years, and the section of land was close enough that he could continue to live in Orofino and commute into the forest. Then he took a promotion to become a forest practices forester, which is basically a woods cop. The job was to enforce the Forest Practices Act of Idaho. He also was a stewardship forester, helping dispense advice and cost-share grant funds to people who would make improvements on their property.
“If someone had some trees dying, I would go over there and take a look at them. Maybe they would be too thick or they had the wrong species, so I would tell them about the rules and the programs they could get into, and we would work out a management plan,” Bates said.
Even with all that experience and time in the forest, Bates, however, wasn’t fully satisfied, and decided to go get a master’s degree “while I didn’t have any strings tied,” he explained. So in the mid-1990s, it was back to Berkeley, followed by another two years before graduation and a return to Idaho. Bates then landed a job as an interim instructor at Reedley College, a community college outside of Fresno, Calif., that teaches forestry. In the process, he married his wife, Brenda, and began raising a family of his own.
In the fall of 2004, after spending a few months unemployed when he didn’t get the full-time instructor position, Bates was hired by the Washington Department of Natural Resources to be a forest practices officer and was stationed in White Salmon in Klickitat County, and then in Ellensburg as a small forest landowner forester, working with landowners doing educational activities and helping to obtain grants for land improvements.
He tosses down a massive binder that is the Washington State Forest Practices rule book. It is about 100 times bigger than the Idaho rules he had been enforcing and following.
“I was happy to get a good-paying job with a state agency,” he said. “I had done it for Idaho, so it wasn’t too far removed, and when I was there I met some great people and was able to keep up my fire-fighting skills.”
Two events combined to bring Bates to Grays Harbor. First, 1,200 acres of forest lands were returned to the Satsop Business Park for management in 2008. Then, in the spring of 2009, Grays Harbor College was to begin its first forestry program, and Bates was hired to manage the timber and property and to teach and run the forestry classes for the college. The Satsop forest was to be used as sort of a living, breathing classroom.
Bates calls it “the school forest,” but it is managed to benefit the business park, an asset that Satsop CEO Tami Garrow credits the instructor/forester with enhancing in the relatively short time he’s been managing the acreage.
“I love what Todd has done,” Garrow said. “The college has taken the forest and they have created a success for the college and for us. He has had a very positive impact.”
Bates had to be a self-starter from the outset.
“There was nothing here,” he said of the job when he was hired by the college. “Grays Harbor College had forestry back in the early 1980s, and then it went away. So there wasn’t any forestry program, only a natural resources program. It was mostly focused on fisheries and watershed restoration.”
Just prior to his hiring, the college and the Public Development Authority, which runs the business park, had entered into an agreement to run both programs — a forest technician program at the school and the manager of the Satsop forest.
“I wear the hat of a forester out here for the 1,200 acres, and I wear the hat of the forestry instructor for the college,” Bates explained.
The amount of time he spends doing either job varies with the seasons.
“There is no summer break for me. I just come to work here, and this gets me back to my roots,” he said at Satsop, where he comes to work with his two dogs ready to romp through the rich forest around Fuller Hill.
“I’m essentially the resource manager, and I set up all the procedures for the job. Before my arrival, there were no procedures for selling timber here. There was no operations manual with what we are charged with doing,” Bates said.
Some of the objectives under a master plan are to rehabilitate the lands around the abandoned cooling towers and business and development park that had replaced the former Washington Public Power Supply System project. The goal was to make the land productive for forestry again. It also was to maintain and enhance wildlife opportunities, establish clear property boundaries, and “develop a viable timber sales program to be a source of revenue for this great resource we have out here,” Bates said. He’s charged with helping develop recreational opportunities, too.
“So I have been slowly implementing all those while wearing both hats,” Bates said.
Under the currently proposed consolidation of the business park with the Port of Grays Harbor, the forest Bates manages and uses as his classroom could wind up under the control of the Port, something that Bates has considered.
“Each landowner has a purpose for managing the land. It’s the forester’s job to meet those objectives,” Bates said of one of his guiding principles.
Initial discussions with the PDA and the Port, he said, indicate there would be little change in his duties or expectations in managing the acreage as a sustainable forest.
“There is no need to change it,” Garrow said of the arrangement Satsop has with Bates and the college should the consolidation go forward.
But Bates also knows that change is something that comes with the territory in forestry. When his father started working as a forester in 1958, the job was far different than it is now.
“For the U.S. Forest Service, its mandate was the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Back in the day when my dad was working, that was the mecca of national forest harvests. And yes, they were doing thousand-acre clearcuts because a clearcut is the most efficient manner to remove trees. But it might not be the most environmentally sensitive manner.”
In the current world of forestry, not only have practices changed, but so has the required training and the public scrutiny.
“The science of forestry has evolved because we understand the interactions better,” Bates said. “The sociological aspects of forestry have to be considered now. We work literally in a glass house, particularly on public land but on private land as well, where the public sees what you are doing and has an input whether they have the right to or not. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, you didn’t question the government.”
As a professor, Bates teaches standards of the Society of American Foresters, which is a national organization to advance quality education in forestry. There are two different types of degrees approved by the society: a technician’s degree, which Grays Harbor College offers, and a bachelor’s degree from a four-year accredited school. Most of his students take at least 2-3 years to complete the program. Bates had a half-dozen students his first year, the next year he had 15 students, 25 the third year.
“These are field-oriented classes. It’s hard to handle more than 20 people out in the field and give them a quality education,” he said, thankfully his current group is down to about 15 students. “That’s what I pride myself on. They are going to get a quality education, not like cattle driven through the stockyard. Most people who go into this field have a passion.”
As the hot afternoon winds down, two of his students emerge from a day working in the forest. Both are older than Bates and are going back to college to learn forestry after other careers. One, Steven Lower, is a displaced logger, and the other, Phillip Giorgio, was a former Grays Harbor Paper worker.
“This has been a life-changing experience for me,” said Lower.
Giorgio, who has been twice laid off as a carpenter and then at the paper mill, has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Washington and said he hopes to stay in the area by gaining the technical knowledge he needs in the forestry program at the college.
“The demographics look good because a lot of the older people in the forestry business are going to retire, so that’s why we’re doing it,” Giorgio said.
Bates’ father is now 78 and retired in the San Joaquin Valley in California, tending to his orchard and always taking an active interest in his son’s work.
“In the grand scheme of things, I’ve never worked for the federal government and he spent his whole career with the federal government,” Bates said when asked to compare the two careers in forestry. “He’s lived vicariously through me on a lot of things. We can have active discussions on contemporary issues of forest management that a normal father and son wouldn’t.”
“Forestry is about conservation,” Bates says with determined conviction in his voice. “And conservation is not a bad word. It just means wise use of the resources.”
Angelo Bruscas, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3916, or by email: email@example.com.