Silver Butte Timber Co. forester Whitney Henneman jokes she’s got pitch in her veins.
She’s a third generation forester whose mother and father were both foresters, too. Even so, as a kid Henneman didn’t expect it to become her profession.
“I always grew up saying I would never become a forester,” she said.
But that changed, and today Henneman is one of a growing number of women who are filling roles in the timber industry once reserved largely for men. She not only works in the industry, but actively works to promote it as part of the organization Women in Timber. Women in Timber supports timber educational efforts, from teaching kids about tree planting to sharing information about forest management and laws governing the timber industry.
Henneman said the group’s goal is to share accurate information about the timber industry and its importance for the whole community.
“In Douglas County you drive around, and everyone has antennas and muddy trucks. This is a timber town. Our economy thrives on timber,” she said.
Henneman grew up on a Christmas tree farm in Nevada City, California. But since her mom and dad both worked in the woods all day, the last thing they wanted to do at the end of the work day was take care of Christmas trees at home. So that labor fell to Henneman and her brother.
She was 12, and small, and her brother would strap a pack on her so they could go out and spray the trees. It wasn’t work she enjoyed at the time.
Nevertheless, she wound up surprising herself by attending Humboldt State and studying forestry. She went on to work for Sierra Pacific Industries, the largest private landowner in California, and then for Roseburg Forest Products as a reforestation forester for its 175,000-acre tree farm in California.
Today, she’s been working for Silver Butte, a small, family-owned timber company in Riddle, for six years. She designs roads, administers road buildings and runs harvesting and reforestation operations.
“I love it. I mean I couldn’t imagine doing anything different. I spend every day in the woods with my dog,” she said.
Henneman said when she first started at Silver Butte she shared a big office with two other foresters. One day a big logger walked in and said, “Oh my gosh, you guys got a secretary,” she said. “He ate his words and now we work really well together, but it was just funny the assumptions that people still have sometimes with women in our industry.”
But she said she hasn’t had it too bad. It’s not like it was when her mom started as a forester in the 1970s, who definitely had some rough days in the woods. Both society and the timber industry have come a long way since then, Henneman said.
Sara Phipps was born and raised in Nebraska. A career in forestry just wasn’t on her radar at first, either. She thought she’d like to be an English teacher. But after moving to San Diego at 22, she watched a BBC documentary on the redwoods and was “kind of blown away” by it.
After that, she signed up to study at the Community College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California. At the time, she just wanted to save the redwoods, but as she learned more about Pacific Northwest history and logging she became interested in a forestry career.
A couple years after finishing her two-year program she went back to school at Humboldt State University next to the Arcata Community Forest. She earned a bachelor’s degree in science and forestry with a minor in geographic information systems, or GIS — the method foresters use to map and connect data with timber stands.
Today, making those maps is a big part of the job she’s held for the past three years as a forester for Roseburg Resources.
She still hears the surprise sometimes in a male voice coming over the CB, she said, “but I think everyone’s very accepting of women being in the workforce where it was traditionally men.”
She said the bigger challenge is the isolation.
“Sometimes I can drive 2.5 hours one way and work, muddy roads, snow, not having cell service,” she said.
Anne Marie Parkhurst is a fifth generation rancher and fourth generation logger whose ancestors had donation land claims at Dixonville and Deer Creek.
She said she and her husband, Ryan Parkhurst, just “kind of ended up falling into the business.” They started Ryan Parkhurst Trucking in Glide with a few log trucks and a shop they bought from relatives, and then added excavation and building forest roads.
Anne Marie Parkhurst works in the office, dispatching the log trucks and doing accounting and management.
Dispatching log trucks used to be a male dominated field, she said, so once in a while she’s had a “listen here honey” type response. Mostly, though, people have been great, she said.
“For the most part it’s more of like, I could say I’m a novelty to some of the loggers, because they just love to talk to a lady. So I’m their best buddy,” she said.
Today, Parkhurst may well be raising a member of the next generation of women in timber. Her daughter Evelyn Parkhurst, 13, said she’s planning on a career in either agriculture or forestry.