Laura, right corner, in Uruguay as a graduate student intern with Weyerhaeuser in 2008. She's scouting locations to define her research objectives for understanding land use change to biodiversity.
Laura Six, a forest ecologist in our environmental research group in Centralia, Washington, has a long family history in the forestry industry. Her great-grandfather was a logger. Her great-uncles and uncles worked in forest products. Her grandfather was a contractor who helped build the old Weyerhaeuser corporate headquarters in Federal Way, Washington. And her father was a production forestry researcher for Weyerhaeuser.
"Science was a regular topic around the dinner table growing up," she says. "But I didn’t really start thinking about a science career until I worked in the Weyerhaeuser company library in Centralia when I was in high school. It was a great first job, and I got tons of exposure to the scientists and research projects that were happening."
That initial introduction led her to become a summer college intern doing plant ecology research for the company. She went on to get her Ph.D. doing forest sustainability research at the University of Washington in the Uruguay timberlands Weyerhaeuser owned at the time.
"I just worked my way up the science track and am now back in Centralia, doing what I love and finding ways to use my expertise to give back to my community," Laura says.
Laura speaks to Centralia Middle School students during a 'STEM Like Me' event in 2019.
APPLIED SCIENCE, APPLIED CITIZEN
Laura says there are two main aspects of her job. One is environmental research on topics such as how forest communities contribute to pollinator abundance and health by looking at populations of bees and butterflies in forest stands of various ages. She’s also examining vegetation and riparian area recovery following the 2020 forest fires in Oregon.
She also provides operational support to manage sensitive species, a responsibility that is part of our Sustainable Forestry Initiative® certification.
"Managing for biodiversity and protecting globally imperiled species is an important part of our certification," says Laura. "I help foresters and planners when there's a question about a sensitive species on our land. For example, there’s a globally rare plant species called Chambers paintbrush growing on our Pe Ell tree farm in Washington, and we’re working to protect it from harvest operations."
Beyond her scientific role with the company, Laura also has a strong personal connection with Weyerhaeuser’s commitment to helping its operating communities thrive. She grew up in Adna, a small, rural community near her current hometown of Chehalis, and has found a number of opportunities to get involved locally.
"I appreciate how Weyerhaeuser wants to make a difference in communities like mine," she says. "That's really why I began doing outreach, to make where I live a better place."
Laura hiking the Queen's Garden trail in Bryce Canyon with her family. Pictured are Laura, right, with her husband, John, and sons, Ben and Will.
HELPING A COMMUNITY THRIVE
Laura originally started her volunteer work in the field she knows best — science — by volunteering as a science fair judge at a local high school. She then served on a steering committee for the South Sound Regional Science & Engineering Fair, which attracts and selects kids from several counties in Washington to attend the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair.
She’s also spoken at Centralia College and the University of Washington to talk about careers in forestry. And she’s a board member for Experience Chehalis, a nonprofit group designed to make her town a more prosperous and inclusive community.
"I don't think I realized how important it was to build a community until when I went away to college," Laura says. "I lived in Seattle and then the suburbs, and I missed feeling like I was part of a community. So, when we moved back to Chehalis, I knew it was a chance to get to know people and make a difference. It’s become even more important now that I have kids; I want to make this the best possible place for our family."
A family canoe trip in Oregon.
NATIONAL REACH WITH PROJECT LEARNING TREE
And just as her job has both a local and global scope, so does her volunteer work. For the past four years, Laura has served as Weyerhaeuser’s representative for Project Learning Tree, a national environmental education program designed for educators, parents and community leaders to help kids from preschool through 12th grade learn about environmental issues.
"When I was asked if I was interested in sitting on their Education Operating Committee, I enthusiastically raised my hand," Laura says. "It’s a fun way to merge all my interests, to get involved and to provide the formal connection Project Learning Tree wanted with Weyerhaeuser."
She said it was also a good fit with her personality.
"I feel like when I was young, I was the kid Project Learning Tree was trying to reach," she says. "I lived in a small community and I liked science, but I didn't know what I could do with it. Now I get to tell kids about all the different careers available."
Laura identifies plants in a riparian area for a post-fire research project earlier this year. A crew member from NCASI is in the white hardhat.
BUILDING A PROMISING FUTURE
That’s especially important to Laura considering her family history and deep community roots.
"Even if someone grew up with forestry in their family, like I did, it doesn’t mean they understand the full spectrum of what we do or know about all the different careers in our industry," she says. "I’m always wondering who's next in line, who's coming in to carry on our work, especially in rural areas like mine. We need to reach those successors, to make sure they know what we do, that we're here, that our industry has all these great opportunities."
Though it’s not an official part of her job, Laura embraces the role of serving as an ambassador and communicating what we do as a company, especially on the sustainability side.
"I think we need to let people know which rare species we’re protecting, what jobs there are, what careers are possible," she says. "Talking about it all just feels natural to me."