20 Jul Mother, Wife, Trailblazer, Forester: Meet Seronica Renfree
Two days ago, with their two-year old daughter Kinsley, as well as family and friends looking on, Seronica Renfree, a Crane Mills forester, married Michael Biggs, a Crane Mills masticator operator. You might say a new forestry family tree was formed, but for Seronica it was merely a new – albeit life-changing – branch that was added to a family tree with deep roots in the forestry sector. Seronica’s connection to the forestry sector dates to a great grandfather who worked in the woods and a log trucker grandfather and grand uncle. Get the picture? Before you answer, there’s more. Both of her parents and her uncle also worked as log truckers. While most people seek an escape to the forest, Seronica grew up in it, of course physically, but perhaps more importantly, she grew up listening to her family tell stories of their experiences and the people they encountered in the forestry sector. Those tales stayed with her as she set out on what some might call an unconventional path to becoming a forester.
Seronica earned two associate’s degrees in Natural Resources and Forest Science and Technology, as well as a GIS certificate, all from Shasta College, with eyes on a career as a forester. Although she considered other higher education options, she was not eligible for financial aid grants and was adamant about not graduating with the burden of student debt. After stints working for the Lassen National Forest as a timber marker and for PG&E as a utility line contractor, Seronica decided to roll the dice in the hope of landing a more stable position in the industry she always desired to work. She applied for several forester positions with different companies, but nothing materialized. At this point, in May of 2018, Seronica, caring for her newborn, happened upon a job posting on the website of the California Licensed Foresters Association’s website for a forester position with Crane Mills. The demands of being a new mom kept her from applying until a couple months later, but as Seronica, recalls, “My maternity leave was up and I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere in my current position.” That motivation led her to take the plunge and she reached out to Frank Barron, chief forester at Crane Mills. Seronica interviewed, then the waiting began, but a few months later, Frank offered the position to Seronica, who felt that she was “finally getting her shot.” She would kick off her career as a forester in early 2019.
From the moment she started working for Crane Mills, Seronica quickly realized that the formal education she lacked would cease to be a factor in her career advancement given the unique approach Crane Mills takes to its operations. According to Seronica, that difference is due to Crane Mills foresters “doing everything, from start to finish, when it comes to a timber harvest plan.” Typically, Crane Mills does not hire seasonal employees or contractors to produce the various elements of a timber harvest plan, leaving that complex work to its in-house foresters. Consequently, Seronica has spent the last year and a half receiving a unique “trial by fire” education that quite possibly is not attainable in a classroom setting. While the going is good for Seronica, she also expressed her frustration at the narrow requirements needed to attain her Registered Professional Forester License – she has two additional? years of work experience to complete – given that she did bring a diversity of forestry-related experience to the table. As she puts it, the lack of education “could have been why I was passed up in my previous attempts, even thought I tried to convey my experience in these interviews, but I was never going to let that be an obstacle.” She was right, but Seronica is humble enough to acknowledge that she could not have done it without the support of her parents, who as she says, “have been the most influential people in my life. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been interested in this role.”
The support of her parents and other family members were instrumental in Seronica pursuing a career in this male-dominated forestry. So, what advice does Seronica have for women considering a similar pathway? “I think probably the best advice is looking to further your education, but that’s not enough. You have to be tough and have a thick skin. But that shouldn’t scare women away from this sector. The industry is looking for women to get more involved in forestry, because they realize that a female can work just hard as a male and do just as much.” She also punctuated this advice by explaining that, from day one, she was accepted with open arms by Crane Mills.
Seronica, who did high school rodeo – including barrel racing and goat tying – owns three horses and even does work for local ranchers. From gathering to branding to shipping cattle, she does it all. She is not typical. She has blazed her own trail. At 29 years old, she has many years left in this industry and she is the standard bearer for a new kind of forester.