Talking Timber

Matt Chagnon: professor and lumberjack competitor of STIHL® TIMBERSPORTS®, Thanksgiving dinner and what it means to be a forester.

STIHL Ok, so how did Granite State Lumberjack Shows, Inc. get started?

Matt Chagnon: Well, the company's owned by myself and Don Quigley and Richard Hallett; we're the three principals, I guess, in the business. But, the business started back in the late '80s.

We all competed in lumberjack sports around the Northeast, and we started doing demonstrations, you know: You might be having an open house at a lumberyard and you might want some entertainment for the crowd, so we'd go in there and chop and saw and log-roll and just put on a show for the crowd.

Then, we got asked to also help run some competitions. So, we got involved with a contest here in New Hampshire at the Hopkinton fair, called the New England Cup Lumberjack Championships.

So, when STIHL started doing TIMBERSPORTS®, the way they did it was, instead of having their own competition, where they had complete control over everything, they would just go to an existing contest somewhere in the country. They'd come in and say, "We want this to be part of our TIMBERSPORTS® competitions." So, STIHL would come in and give them some money, and [the competitions] had to make sure that they had the six STIHL events. STIHL heard about the New England Cup, which was drawing in some big name competitors from the eastern part of the country - so they came and started doing some of their TIMBERSPORTS® stuff as part of the New England Cup, and that's how we got hooked up with them.

After a few years, they weren't happy with just walking into a contest and not knowing what they were going to get in terms of wood or how efficiently it would be run, so they asked us to run a couple more contests for them in other parts of the country. We kind of did that a couple years and finally, they said, here's where we want to run our shows this year, give us a bid for how much that would cost, and we've been doing it ever since.

STIHL Is it a pretty big operation - how many people are involved in running it?

Matt Chagnon: When we go on the road to do the shows, we have 18 people, and that includes the timers. We do the scoring, we bring the wood, so we have a truck that hauls all the wood and the stands and stuff. The stage that you see - a 40' x 60' stage - comes out of Wisconsin on a tractor trailer. And then we have two guys who set it up on site. So, it's a bunch of people.

STIHL Did you have a business model to work off of - are there other groups out there that do the same thing as you guys do?

Matt Chagnon: No, we didn't have a business model, we just kind of winged it as we went. This is a part-time thing, Don and I both teach forestry at the University of New Hampshire, Richard is a researcher for the U.S. Forest Service, so we all have real jobs. We have a very different business model from everybody else because we don't need it. Everybody else is trying to get business for their company, and we're trying to not get business, I guess. So, it's kind of funny.

STIHL What's the most interesting place you've put on a STIHL competition?

Matt Chagnon: We've been a lot of places. We did one in Alaska - we had to put our truck on a ferry boat and have it hauled from British Columbia up to Alaska - we've been through some interesting places with STIHL. I'm sure wherever they wanted to hold a competition, we'd figure out a way to do it.

STIHL Is it true that you feed your entire extended family Thanksgiving dinner from things that you grow and harvest on your own property?

Matt Chagnon: We have a garden, and we don't get everything from our property every single year, but one year, we did have a Thanksgiving where my wife had shot a turkey, one of us had shot a deer, all the vegetables had come from the garden, we made some pies using our pumpkins or we picked some berries off the property to make the pies. A good part of the dinner came from here.

STIHL So, do you consider yourself a conservationist?

Matt Chagnon: A forester is a conservationist - without conservation, you're out of work. If you don't conserve what you have, there's no more forest left to manage, so you'll be looking for a new job. There's got to be something to cut next year and the year after and 100 years from now, so it's all about conservation and sustainability.

We're pretty fortunate in a good part of this country, certainly in the Northeast, that we have forests where if you cut in the forest, it's going to start growing back immediately.

STIHL When did the sustainable harvest practices for wood that's used in competition and wood recycling start?

Matt Chagnon: I would say, probably from the beginning. Any good forestry operation is sustainable. I think anybody that we've ever worked with, it's always been sustainable forestry. The trees that are cut have always been part of a managed forest, so it's part of a management plan that it's time for those trees to be cut.

In the early days, we'd try to cut the wood around the Northeast here, but we just can't find the white pine that we need, because we need to get blocks that are 26 inches long with no knots in them. Here in the Northeast, our growing seasons are so different from year-to-year, you might get one year where a tree grows 24 inches and you've got a nice, clear piece and the next year, it only grows six inches and you've got knots six inches apart, so that's not any good. But we've found timber down in Ohio, and that stuff grows 24 to 30 inches every single year, so you really get better utilization of the tree and there's a lot less waste than you would get out of trees here in the northeast. We've probably been getting wood out of Ohio for ten years, or so.

Once they come in, they're log lengths and then we cut them to length and turn them on the lathe to get the right diameter and we wrap them in plastic to keep the moisture in - you need to have moisture in wood for it to cut well. The sawmill in Ohio is just cutting the trees and numbering the pieces because we have to match the wood so all the blocks from each pool come from the same tree.

When we turn the logs, there's shavings that come off the outside of the block and that all goes to a company called Waste Management, which I think is nationwide, which is just a big waste disposal company. They bring a 30-yard dumpster and we have to make sure that nothing goes in it but wood and then they take all of the shavings and stuff that come off the wood and they take it back to their facility and grind it up some more until it becomes mulch. That's how we recycle it.

STIHL So, I hear you can judge the health of a tree by sight. I'm sure that, in addition to a ton of experience, being able to do that requires a certain amount of love for your job. Out of all the jobs you have that are related to forestry - teaching, coaching, working in the field, putting on competitions - which one is your favorite?

Matt Chagnon: That's a tough question - I would really say all of it. I love teaching; this is my 31st or 32nd year here at the Thompson School (at the University of New Hampshire), something like that, and it's great teaching young people. They're full of energy. They want to learn, so that's exciting.

I'm seeing people now - actually I just saw a kid walk by, this is his second year at the school. He had a job last summer working for a timber harvesting company; the owner was in the very first class I taught here, and he now has a very successful timber harvesting company here in New Hampshire. He also has hired a forester, full-time on his staff, who works with clients to help manage their land and make sure everything is done sustainably. That forester that he hired is another graduate of mine from maybe 15 years ago and now the next generation is going to work for them, too.

It's very rewarding to see people who have come through your program and they've gone out and they've got good jobs, good careers and families and they're just doing great and having a good time, really enjoying what they do based on what they've learned here. So that, for me, is very rewarding.

You have to get old to do that, unfortunately, but it's still fun to see.

I would have to say that when I get up in the morning and I look in the mirror when I'm brushing my teeth, I see that I'm 55 and I'm getting gray, but once I stop looking in the mirror, I really don't feel much older than the 20 year olds, so that's a pretty good feeling.