OREGON CITY - Hundreds of metro area landowners will learn everything from safe chainsaw use to mushroom identification at the 15th annual Tree School, on Saturday, March 19.

The conference, sponsored by the Clackamas County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service, will be held at Clackamas Community College. Registration for this year's school, now topping 500 enrollees, closed on Feb. 28.

"Our annual Tree School has become the largest annual forest education event in Oregon - or the West," said Mike Bondi, forester with the OSU Extension Service. Bondi created OSU's first Tree School 15 years ago as a broader alternative to annual landowner's association meetings. The "mini-college" approach was an instant success; since 1991 attendance has grown from 125 to a record 575 participants in 2004.

During this one-day mini-college, experts offer 58 diverse short courses on everything from tool maintenance and safety to business and marketing, as well as legal landowner issues. Most of the participants are Clackamas County residents, but attendees come from all over the country. More than 50 exhibitors - including local businesses, law firms, and non-profit organizations - as well as an annual farm photo contest, add to the festive atmosphere of the Tree School.

"There is an enthusiasm or excitement at Tree School that I've not seen elsewhere," Bondi said. "Maybe it's the diversity of classes offered each year that makes Tree School so popular."

Many of the courses are geared toward landowners and managers, including "Chainsaws on the Tailgate," "Riparian Rules Changes Coming - The Science Behind the Numbers," "Hiring Employees - and Knowing the Rules" and "Back-country First-Aid."

Even if you don't own or manage rural land, other courses are of interest, including "Digital Camera Basics" and "Know Your Spring Mushrooms."

Past OSU Extension-Tree School attendees have provided feedback for future courses. Last year's "Property Rights and Wrongs" was so popular that organizers scheduled two sessions for this year.

And a course titled "Chainsaws for Women Only" is based on demand from women determined to learn how to operate a chainsaw - from someone other than their husbands. Bondi located a woman from Arizona who travels to teach the course when offered.

"We really strive to get the best instructors, professionals trained in their fields," said Bondi.

Tree School has drawn a broader range of speakers as it has grown, tapping into authorities at other agencies, such as the Oregon Department of Forestry, as well as private industry leaders like Weyerhaeuser and Longview Fibre Company.

Given the original's success, the Tree School concept is growing. Tree Schools have popped up in eastern and southern portions of Oregon as well. The next event will be in Roseburg, sponsored by the Douglas County Extension office in June.

Another OSU Extension Tree School will be launched in Florence this fall for coastal Oregon landowners. Coast-specific concerns, such as Swiss needle cast and hardwood management, will be highlighted, said Steve Bowers, OSU's Linn/Lane County Extension coordinator of the Coast Tree School.

Though the registration for the 2005 Clackamas County Tree School is past, you can learn more about the program on the web by visiting www.oregonstate.edu/extension/clackamas.

Or, to get on next year's Tree School catalog mailing list, call the Clackamas County office of the OSU Extension office at 503-655-8631.

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Mike Bondi, 503-655-8631