As part of the West Virginia Consulting Forestry Forum Series, Pocahontas County High School hosted local forester John Wayne last week, who led a conversation on consulting forestry in the Birthplace of Rivers.
The only high school to participate in the series, PCHS, along with West Virginia University extension specialist Dr. Dave McGill, welcomed Wayne to the forestry department and participated in a rousing conversation about the past, present and future of forestry in West Virginia.
Wayne began by explaining his entryway into becoming a consulting forester.
“I went to Glenville [State College], primarily for the forestry program, but at the end of the forestry program, I realized that you could get a surveying technician degree as well in just one more year, so I thought I might as well go and do it,” he said. “I did well in the surveying part of the forestry class, so I did that.”
After eight months, post-graduation, at a surveying firm in Lewisburg, Wayne moved on to work at Mower Lumber Company which was based in Durbin at the time.
“I was hired primarily as a surveyor to help do their lands,” he explained. “They had fifty thousand acres of timberland. As time went on, I got more into the forestry part, and I was helping them mark timber and that sort of stuff. I worked there for ten years.”
Mower Lumber Company was sold to the U.S. Forest Service and at that time, Wayne decided to start his own business.
“I was just lucky,” he said. “I got a couple good references and got in with a family run company based out of Elkins. They have six thousand acres and thirty tracts. It’s scattered over Upshur and Randolph counties. I did a sale for them and that was back in the days when cherry was really hot – it was fifteen, sixteen years ago – and they had two hundred acres at one time. We sold over a million dollars worth of timber. It was really, really good cherry and it was never going to be at a higher price than it was that day. It was just crazy.”
Over the years, Wayne managed to pick up more clients with large tracts of land and built a client-base for himself. Along with the large clients, he picked up odd jobs here and there, although in the past few years, he has stuck to working with the larger clients.
As a small business owner which mainly consists of him and a few employees during the summer or for large jobs, Wayne said it was beneficial to him that he was both a forester and surveyor. He told the students that it would have been hard for him to just be one or the other.
“When the stock market went down in 2008, I knew a lot of surveyors that couldn’t get work,” he said. “I went down to Lowe’s in Lewisburg once and here this guy comes and said, ‘well I know you.’ And I said, ‘what are you doing working here?’ He said, ‘couldn’t make it, couldn’t get enough work.’ I was able to keep working because I’m doing both. You don’t want to get stuck with the mindset that ‘I’m only going to do timber sales, and I’m going to make twelve percent commission on every sale I do and that’s all I’m going to do.’ Well, you might get hungry in between jobs.
“You’ve just got to be willing to do whatever it takes,” he continued. “I feel lucky I have both those licenses that I can do the forestry and surveying. I have a business where I do both.”
As someone who has been in the business for several decades, Wayne said he has seen a lot of changes in the industry and he shared his insight with the students on how to grow with the changes.
For starters, you’re constantly learning.
“You’re constantly training whoever is working with you because every job is different,” he said. “Even if you have an experienced consulting forester with you, every client you pick up has different goals. Somebody might be really into wildlife. Well then, they want to leave all the hickory trees or if they think the pheasants need the grapevines, then we won’t cut so many grapevines. You can’t have too many set rules when you’re marking timber, especially depending on what the client wants.”
Next, tracts of land are getting smaller. Before, clients owned 300 or 400 acres of land, or more. Now, tracts of land are getting divided into parcels as small as five acres.
“It’s so expensive to move the equipment and get setup, you can’t make money,” Wayne said of logging a smaller tract. “So that’s one thing I would encourage if someone wants to get into the logging part of forestry instead of being a forester. There’s going to be a demand for small loggers with smaller equipment who can do five, ten, twenty acres and make money at it.
“I would encourage anybody – maybe not so much to go into horse logging – but just figure on a small dozer and a small skidder and you can work,” he continued.
Also, technology has changed everything.
“The skills have changed because of technology,” Wayne said. “You had to learn computer because inventory now is done – you’ve still got to get the data – but the data is put on a handheld and that’s either downloaded or printed right off that handheld. That’s the biggest change I’ve seen over the years since coming out of college. When I came out of college, we were still doing everything with paper and a small calculator. It might take you half a day to work up a timber marking book where now, if you do it in the handheld, push a couple buttons and it’s instantly available.”
Wayne admitted that if he knew then what he knows now, he would have taken more computer classes and accounting in college to prepare him for the business side of his work.
“I would have taken classes in accounting because when you run your own business, you’ve got to keep up with payroll and taxes,” he said. “State and Federal are always coming at you with quarterly forms and all that stuff has got to be done by somebody. I’ve historically never had a secretary, so I do all that stuff myself. I definitely would have gotten into accounting and computers.”
Wayne continued to answer questions asked by McGill and the students in the classroom and on-site in the forest near PCHS where the students practice for class.
McGill said the forum, along with other forums held at West Virginia University, Glenville State College and Alleghany College will be transcribed and included in a consulting forester book compiled by WVU.