On his Gear Up application, Jim Wentworth-Plato explains that Clackamas Community College is two years into developing its state-education board-approved arboriculture program. The two-year program earns students an Associate of Applied Science degree. “We focus on being accessible to all students, being adaptable to changing needs, and being accountable to our industry supporters,” he says. He adds that the program is overseen by a foundation comprised of part of local tree care businesses in the greater Portland area, including Collier Arbor Care, Bartlett Tree Experts, Treecology, and General Tree Service. It’s this foundation, he says, that basically provided the funds for the program’s initial equipment purchases.

“Our students range in age from 17 to 45,” Wentworth-Plato notes. “We have both high school graduates and people looking for a new career choice. Some of them are on a long-term degree track, taking courses whenever they can. When they leave our program, other than having additional skills and experience, they should be able to pass the Certified Arborist exam and be ready to take a job in a private or municipal workplace.”

According to Wentworth-Plato, who operated a tree care business for 20 years, the school trains outside, in trees, using actual gear. “We had a couple of chain saws, but it’s hard when you have seven people standing around waiting to use them. The new equipment I ordered has improved our program considerably.”

That equipment includes three climbing saws and ground saw, two battery-powered pole saws, and some chainsaw chaps and shirts. “With the battery-powered stuff, it can sit around between semesters,” Wentworth-Plato explains. “With gas saws, the gas can go bad if you’re not using it all the time or doing regular maintenance.”

He adds that he had already scheduled the college’s workshop with the Stihl factory rep from Washington state when the coronavirus struck. “We were originally planning for fall, but that may have to change. He was going to go over some of the technical and maintenance issues, things like carburetors and cleaning. Instead, we’re going online with some course work, things like tree diagnostics and plant ID. We just can’t do the practical stuff right now.”

As the Clackamas arboriculture program grows, Wentworth-Plato hopes to introduce an indoor training facility that would allow students to work in a controlled environment while actually running equipment and moving aerially. “It would be an indoor area of trees for learning climbing, felling techniques and more. In a learning environment like ours, especially in our part of the country, being able to train indoors would be a definite advantage.”