Habitat for Humanity: Meet the Family

Brangmai Hpauyam and his wife, Merry, have been building their lives in Vancouver for five years. They are from Myanmar and were relocated through the Refugee Resettlement Program, a highly selective federal program to help individuals and families who are unable to return to their home countries because of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group.  Participants in this program are subject to intensive security checks and screening interviews before they are authorized to enter the United States.

When Brangmai and Merry arrived in the United States, they also brought their daughter, Tsin Mai, who was only three years old at the time.  No one in the family spoke English, making the transition to the U.S. challenging.  Through the Refugee Resettlement program, they were given a stipend for housing and health care for just six months.  Within that time, the family was expected to get themselves on their feet.  Despite this challenging timeline, Brang Mai was able to find a steady job and apartment for his family.
Within these first few transition years, Brangmai and Merry also experienced the births of two more daughters, Lulumai and Htoisanmai, now four years old and 10 months old. Brangmai now worries that his family is quickly outgrowing their small two-bedroom apartment, and as the sole income provider, he will not be able to keep up with the rent increases year after year. The Hpauyam family is already paying 45% of their income on housing alone.


Brangmai, Merry, and their daughters are eager to make McKibbin Commons their home. Merry loves to garden and Tsin Mai has dreams to paint her bedroom pink, and have a desk where she can do her homework. Brangmai works swing shift at Leatherman, and hopes to have a quiet and private place to rest. These small details will provide the greatest joys in their new Habitat home.
“I thought it was impossible to own a home.  When my daughters would ask why we don’t have a home, I told them it was not possible. Now I can tell them it is possible.” –Brangmai Hpaw Yam

Women in the Woods: Michelle Skjei

Michelle Skjei – Lead Electrician, Hampton Lumber

Michelle Skjei doesn’t take no for an answer. She turned a temporary job in July of 2005 to supplement her three boys’ school clothes into a permanent career that she loves.  Michelle is currently an accomplished Journey-Level Lead Electrician for Hampton Lumber, and she admits the journey hasn’t been easy.

“Coming into my apprenticeship, I was scared that I couldn’t do the job physically or mentally.  I was also afraid that the men in the field wouldn’t take me seriously.  However, I have had nothing but positive interactions with Hampton and my colleagues.  We all respect each other and get the job at hand done daily. It was a very hard journey with three kids and a husband but one that I will never regret.”

Michelle’s journey began in 2005 when she was assigned to Hampton through a temp agency. She enjoyed the job as she was being trained to work in different areas of the mill. Michelle stuck with it and was hired permanently in 2006 and found she loved the challenge. During this time, Hampton was hiring for electrical apprentices. She was nervous about applying, largely because she hadn’t been at Hampton that long and at the time, there were no women in the maintenance department.

After speaking with her supervisor who encouraged her to apply, Michelle went through a panel interview process with about 15 other employees. There were only three spots open, and unfortunately, she was not one of the three chosen.

Michelle was disappointed. She knew she could do the job, and it would be a positive change for her family – she wanted a career she could grow with, not just a job.

However, a week later one of the three people chosen backed out.  Michelle wasted no time, approached the electrical supervisor, and asked for a chance. Even with uncertainty about the number of positions and options, Michelle wasn’t deterred.  Daily she went in search of the electrical supervisor to plead her case of why she was the right person for the job.

Finally, her persistence paid off.  Michelle interviewed for the third position along with two others and all were given a chance to come in and work with the electricians. Michelle was selected in 2007 and completed the journey-level status of Plant Journeyman in 2012 after passing the state exam and finishing four years of college.

Once she began her apprenticeship, giving up was not an option. Michelle says that not only does she loves what she does, it was also important to see it through as she had three young men watching her. Succeeding, to her, was the only option. Michelle wanted to demonstrate to her boys that hard work and persistence pay off and lead toto major life accomplishments, personally and professionally.

With her unique set of accomplishments in the forest products industry, where does Michelle see opportunity for more involvement by women? She says, “I believe it is a great opportunity for any woman to get into the wood/forestry industry. There are many jobs women can do in the mill. Advanced technology has made many jobs at the mill semi-automated, making the operation more streamlined than in the “old” days.”


Michelle’s goal in leaving her legacy at Hampton, and in her community, is simple: to show women not to be afraid to go outside of their comfort zones, to always push yourself to do better than you did yesterday, and to keep trying even after being told no.  She says she’s the prime example of that philosophy that’s contagious in the forest products industry – never give up.

Dos and Don’ts in the Forest this Valentine’s Day

Ah, nature. Whether it’s slapping us in the face with cold and snow or flooding our roadsides with water, Westerners will take an opportunity to be outside – no matter what the weather.

Our federal lands – public lands – are there to enjoy year-round (of course, check your local park or forest for information). However, in our zeal to memorialize the moment, we often overstep our bounds or do things in the name of “memories” that are harmful.

In the name of love, here are a few key dos and don’ts if you and your loved one (or even just you and your dog) take to the forests this Valentine’s Day, long weekend, or any day.



  1. Obey trail systems, signs, and markings. Safety is key – no photo is worth a life.
  2. Call your park or forest to see what’s closed, or if there are areas deemed unsafe. From the snow to the rain, trails or popular areas may be closed.
  3. Minimize distractions. Enjoy the moment with yourself or your loved ones.
  4. Bring good gear (and maybe a picnic!). Make sure you’re ready for forests in the West – they can be dry, wet, or any combination.
  5. Practice responsible wildlife management. Shoot the photo, or hunt, or fish, but ensure you’re adhering to the letter of the law and have all applicable documents on you. Ensure you’re practicing your specific recreation in a safe and responsible way.
  6. Say thanks to the Forest Service, BLM or other staff if you see them. They’re out working so you can enjoy these beautiful lands. They may even recommend a good view or something unique for you to see!


  1. Go off the trail. Stepping off trail can be dangerous to native flora and fauna – not to mention there are reasons for the signage and specific trail systems. If you’re out hiking old logging roads or just wandering, make sure you set a time for a return and let people know where you’re going and your trip timeline.
  2. Carve, pick, or in any way put your “mark” on nature. Sure, carving your initials may seem cute, but it’s harmful to trees. Leave the flowers, the keepsakes, etc. and satisfy yourself with photos.
  3. Bring it in, pack it out. If using a trail system, obey pet laws and use receptacles. Otherwise, obey the principles of Leave No Trace so others can enjoy it, too.
  4. Feed animals.



On this day (and weekend) of LOVE, thanks for helping the forest products industry be responsible stewards of the forest and public lands we LOVE.

Controlling the Narrative

Controlling the Narrative


For decades in Oregon, traditional recreation and traditional, land dependent jobs have been grossly misunderstood and mischaracterized.  Methods were not commonly straightforward and direct, but the effects are clear. Rural communities are suffering from a lack of family-wage jobs and county and city services are at risk.

Anti-forest products groups use tools like misinformation campaigns including instigating fear and playing on emotion to occasionally fabricate facts and ideas. Those that want our lifestyles and livelihoods to disappear have done a devastatingly “wonderful” job of playing on public sentiment and lack of knowledge about the forest products industry.

A section of the long-term communication strategy for AFRC includes public education. In the process of analyzing and simplifying the message of AFRC, a variety of facts have come to light that can be used to tell the story of responsible land and forest management and the direct benefits to communities and the environment.

One example is on the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest in Washington. Extensive struggles to adequately manage the forest have resulted in spotted owl habitat being lost at a factor of 9:1 from wildfires versus harvest (according to USFS data). Wildfires have devastated the landscape on that forest and decimated habitat that was supposed to be protected. This is ironic and sad considering harvests to reduce fuel loads and responsible management would have helped prevent some of this loss.




This is a stellar example of public education – quick, easily digestible and scientific fact. We turned this into an infographic and posted it in our social media pages. For context, roughly 1,800 people had “liked” our Facebook page. Likes translate to people engaged with our posts and demonstrate who is interested in using our page to track forestry-related issues.

This post – and the issue it touched on – has currently reached 225,000 people. Reach is determined by shares, clicks, and people “engaging” or reacting in some way to the post on our page or someone else’s. This means with one post and no money spent, we’ve had the chance to reach and educate over 200,000 people.  With one post.  Expanding that, our page only had 1,800 likes but the post itself was shared over 3,300 times.

The next day, an environmental group posted this in response.

“Fire isn’t always as devastating as what we hear on the news. Last summer’s hot spots on the Umpqua National Forest have changed the landscape some but hiking in burned areas can be fascinating.”

This is what it looks like when you begin to change the narrative and play offense.  You see responses like this.  Catastrophic fires that impact families, homes, public health, and our state’s incredible beauty?  Who Cares?  Fires make for really “fascinating” hikes!

We hope this is a continued trend through social and traditional media, and a sign that the public has begun to join us in changing the narrative around forestry and forest management – we are certainly starting to see some change in our courts (see below)! We are committed to telling the real story of our lands and our members to continue to grow our incredible industry.


Legal Success Highlights

May 4 & June 7 – The district court denied a preliminary injunction and the Ninth Circuit denied a motion for an injunction pending appeal regarding the Pioneer North and Pioneer South projects on the Boise National Forests.  This comes after the district court denied a motion for TRO in November (AFRC News, November 2017).  These projects are essential to maintaining the management infrastructure in southern Idaho.  AFRC represents Boise County and the Boise Forest Coalition.

May 18 – The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s approval of the Frog Project only three days after hearing oral argument.  This brought an end to over a decade of litigation on a modest forest health project- the project was approved in 2000 and first contracted to Sierra Forest Products in 2001.  After a fire and the first round of litigation, the project was on hold from 2005 to 2014, and was then halted again in 2016 to collect additional tree mortality data.  AFRC represented Sierra Forest Products as an intervenor.  (AFRC News, May 2018.)

May 30 – The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Lava Project on the Modoc National Forest.  The primary purposes of the project’s 8400 acres of treatments are fuel reduction and to protect valuable electrical infrastructure.  The court rejected plaintiffs’ claims regarding effects to wolves and spotted owls, as well as claims regarding the need for an EIS and the range of alternatives.  AFRC Staff Attorney represented intervenors AFRC, Loggers Association of Northern California, and Associated California Loggers, and AFRC member Franklin Logging has purchased one of the sales.  (AFRC News, May 2018.)

June 7 – Plaintiffs challenging the Joey and Bald Mountain projects on the Sequoia and Sierra National Forests dismissed their case as a result of the decision in Frog.  AFRC represented Sierra Forest Products as an intervenor.

June 8 – The Ninth Circuit approved the Forest Service’s use of emergency authority under NEPA to build a community protection line and acknowledged that yes, fires are emergencies.  AFRC represented amicus Lake Wenatchee Fire and Rescue.

June 11 – The magistrate judge issued a positive Finding and Recommendation regarding the Lostine Project on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.  Of interest, Judge Sullivan agreed with AFRC that uses of the Farm Bill Categorical Exclusion (CE) do not require analysis of whether there are “extraordinary circumstances” under NEPA regulations.  AFRC participated as an amicus.




**WARNING: Readers with a sense of humor only.  This is a parody.  While the forest facts are true, the dialogue is fictional.  This did not air on CNN.  The below did not come from, was not approved by, or sponsored by CNN or Wolf Blitzer.  Just so we are clear. *


Wolf Blitzer (from the New York City studio): Good evening from the Situation Room.  Tonight, breaking news.  Happening now, we are learning from inside sources that wood products – including lumber to build millions of homes in this country – do not, I repeat, do not, come from Home Depot or Lowe’s.  Our correspondent, Faux Green, is on the ground in Oregon for this exclusive reporting.  Faux, what can you tell our viewers at home about this shocking new development?


Faux Green (outside of Home Depot): Wolf, we have a few major, breaking storylines developing here in Oregon.  We are learning from our sources that the wood products you see stacked behind me, here at the Home Depot Lumber Yard, and countless wood products inside Home Depot were transported from local manufacturing facilities – popularly known as “mills” – rather than being made by hand here at the store.


It’s our understanding – and we are working with our team of experts to confirm this – the process works something like this: trees from a forest are cut and removed, followed by replanting.  The cut trees are trucked to nearby mills where thousands of workers throughout the state use modern technology to convert material from forests into useable wood products like lumber, plywood, doors, and cabinets.  We are also learning that even the byproduct of the manufacturing process – think sawdust and chips – is used as well, including for energy and heat for the mill.


Wolf, I am also hearing… and, yes, this has just been confirmed in my earpiece… breaking news, that even the Amazon Prime box used to ship the book “How to Pretend to Know What You are Talking About for Dummies” I ordered online – both the box and the book come from woody material from a forest.  It’s just… it’s hard to wrap your mind around Wolf.


Wolf Blitzer: Bombshell news from Oregon tonight.  Happening now, our viewers at home are now learning that wood products – dimensional lumber, paper, cardboard boxes, I assume even toilet paper – come from forests, not corporate home improvement stores.  Faux, with 325 million Americans in this country and billions worldwide daily consuming wood products, if your reporting is indeed accurate, I assume you are seeing the massive devastation of forests in Oregon and throughout the West.  Are there any trees left?


Faux Green: Wolf, to our surprise, it’s quite the opposite.  Just yesterday, we drove over one hundred miles of forest roads and saw trees as far as the eye can see.  I estimate there are billions of trees of all ages and size out here.  In fact, unnamed public officials are telling us – behind closed doors – that there are more trees standing today in Oregon than the number of trees standing in the 19th Century.  Of course, these officials can’t and won’t acknowledge this fact publicly.  This is highly sensitive and potentially explosive information.


Wolf Blitzer: Sorry to interrupt your excellent reporting, Faux.  Why?  Help our viewers at home understand: why is this information so explosive or controversial?


Faux Green: It doesn’t fit the narrative being peddled out here, Wolf.  We are being told here on the ground there’s a sense by some, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and laws requiring replanting, that once trees are cut and removed from a forest, forests never return and can never recover.  They’re gone forever.  But just to give you a sense, Wolf, there is one public forest here in Western Oregon we visited yesterday that grows 1.2 billion board feet of wood every year.  A “board foot” is the equivalent of one square foot of wood, one inch thick.  If that amount of wood was stacked in a column, it would reach 100 million feet in the air, or 35,000 times the height of Mt. Everest.  That’s just wood growth from one – ONE! – Oregon forest every year alone – not to mention the millions of acres of other public and private Oregon forests.


We are also learning that in many cases, the federal government is actually required by law to cut and remove trees from these forests but has failed to follow its own forest plans for nearly three decades.  My government contacts are privately telling us they hope the public does not notice or that politicians will continue to avoid asking tough questions about how hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are spent to not implement the law or manage these forests.


Wolf Blitzer: If you are just joining us in the Situation Room, stunning, breaking news tonight: wood products come from forests and there are still billions of trees standing in Oregon – and presumably in the West! Remarkable reporting from our inquisitive and persistent correspondent, Faux Green.  Faux, tell our viewers what else you are learning and hearing tonight from Oregon.


Faux Green: Wolf, it is with a sober and sad heart tonight to report that we have now confirmed, through multiple eyewitness accounts and interviews with scientists, old trees do not live forever.  It’s shocking, devastating news – but it is something we can now report with confidence.


Some have tried for decades to pass laws to protect old trees from the cycle of life and inevitable death.  Unfortunately, it appears those repeated efforts have been in vain as science, nature, and according to some experts – plain common sense – have convincingly demonstrated all trees perish.  But, as reported this evening Wolf, miraculously, forests do continue to grow and thrive here in Oregon and the West.  Replanting, science-based management, and the fact that people care about the future of public forests – including people who work in the forest products industry – are helping ensure forests flourish.  Wolf, it seems responsible stewardship is really a part of Oregon’s culture and identity out here.


Wolf Blitzer: Powerful words, if you will, from Faux Green.  Groundbreaking.  Faux, as always, outstanding reporting and extraordinary investigative work.  Thank you.


Stay tuned.  Next, our panel in the studio will try to address the age-old mystery: where does food come from?  More breaking news from a cornfield in Iowa and dairy farm in Wisconsin.  You won’t want to miss new shocking revelations that are leading families and consumers to question the source of their food: Safeway, Whole Foods, or somewhere else? Exclusive on CNN. We’re live.  We’re breaking news.  You’re in the Situation Room.  Stay with us.


*This article first appeared in the April issue of TimberWest Magazine and was reprinted with the permission of the author. 

By Nick Smith

Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities (HFHC) was launched five years ago as a grassroots coalition advocating for better management of federally owned forest lands. Back then I couldn’t have foreseen the changes in Washington D.C. and within the forest products industry itself. It’s not easy to be part of an effort to turn around decades of federal mismanagement. But I know there isn’t a better time to be working alongside this industry, whose best days I’m convinced are yet to come.

Five years ago, it seemed there was little momentum for forestry issues in Congress and the White House. Few forest products companies and associations were utilizing newspapers and other media, let alone social media, to tell their stories and shape public opinion. Grassroots advocacy on timber issues had been largely abandoned since the so-called “timber wars.” Ongoing challenges — from log supply to labor — called into question the very future of the industry in the United States.Read more