Loggers, Take Up Your Axes
With a six-pound axe raised above his head, Todd Blakely ’19 is waiting for the signal to begin chopping the log he is standing on.
He can hear the emcee: “Timers ready? Contestants ready? 3, 2, 1, Go!” Todd swings downward and the sharpened edge of the axe connects with the log inches from his toes.
In the spring of 2016, Todd was one of six students from Puget Sound’s Forestry Club competing in the Lumberjack Classic—a collegiate timbersport competition—at the University of Idaho. The competition consisted of seven events including the “underhand chop,” which requires participants to stand on a log set in a metal cradle and repeatedly deliver blows to the portion of the log between their feet. The contestant whose log splits first wins.
It was a different kind of competition for Todd, a 6-foot-4-inch Logger defensive end and biochemistry student who is more accustomed to tackling other players on the gridiron than swinging an axe. “It’s peaceful,” he says. “It’s just me, standing on a log. I’m not trying to fight anyone else.”
There are more than 60 collegiate woodsman teams in the country, most affiliated with universities that have schools of forestry and conservation, as well as experimental forests that teach students how to manage and develop forested areas for economic, recreational, and ecological purposes.
While logging continues to be a controversial practice, it’s no longer synonymous with clear-cutting. In the U.S., forestry is regulated by state and federal environmental laws and subject to Native American treaty rights. Washington State has some of the toughest forest management regulations in the country. Beyond regulation, responsible forestry includes the practice of thinning forests, which can help prevent forest fires and promote a healthier ecosystem, and reforestation—replanting native trees in areas that have been logged—which helps to regenerate diverse forests.
This interested Walter Fromm ’19, a politics and government student who was looking to make his mark on the university before graduating in May. He and four other students founded the Forestry Club in 2015 with the intention of educating their fellow Loggers about sustainable forestry and the history of the logging industry, particularly in the Puget Sound area. A woodsman team was a fun way to accomplish that. “I was interested in building a team and getting it running,” he says. “It was fun to create a small community.”
To generate interest, Walter organized axe-throwing in the President’s Woods on campus. “We probably had 100 people throw axes,” he recalls.Of those, about a dozen students committed to traveling for competitions each semester. Forming the club was the easy part. Finding the necessities for a team—specialized axes, saws, chainsaws, and a coach—proved more difficult. That is until an equipment search at a local hardware store led Walter to David Moses, a Puyallup Tribal member and world-renowned professional lumberjack who agreed to become the team’s coach. And because of David’s involvement, Stihl’s Chehalis-based Northwest branch donated chainsaws and axes, and sponsored the club’s competitions.
It has been hard for busy students to keep the Forestry Club running, so they’re taking a little hiatus. But with a coach, equipment, and competitions at the ready, the club is set for future lumberjacks to take the lead. As proclaimed on their Facebook page: “Loggers, take up your axes, wax your beards, and iron your flannels. The time of The Order Of Lumberjacks has returned.”
By Anneli Fogt
Photos by Sy Bean
Published Oct. 26, 2018