‘We have to play a delicate dance’
Growing up with a father who was an airline mechanic, Joe Vaughn says his family moved all over the country. But one major constant throughout his childhood was playing outside. So, a career in forestry made sense—it just took him a bit to find his path.
Vaughn graduated from high school in 2010 and the following year began spending his summers as a wildland firefighter, going out to Wyoming from May to August to battle blazes. Other months he was attending Gordon State College in Barnesville, Georgia (which, ironically, is located next door to Jordan Lumber & Supply—although it was too early in his career for Vaughn to make the connection).
Being a wildland firefighter was tough but rewarding, he says. The bonds created among his team were what kept him coming back year after year. He continued the summer job even after transferring to the University of Georgia.
“So, when I entered Warnell, I thought I was possibly going to pursue wildland firefighting as a career,” he says. “But the more I learned about forestry, I saw an opportunity present itself in Georgia.”
His last summer fighting fires was in 2015, but when Vaughn graduated the following year, his career was still taking shape. Attend grad school? Enter the workforce? Vaughn is also a photographer, so he began the paperwork to start his own limited-liability corporation.
This process helped him connect with another Warnell alumnus, Jonathan Lee. Lee worked at Interfor Corp., one of the largest lumber producers in the world, and had experience starting LLCs. “Jonathan knew I was going to be a contractor, and he knew Interfor needed a contractor to work in their scale houses, so I was in the right place at the right time.”
Almost three years later, Vaughn is now a procurement forester with Interfor, where he works with the company’s stumpage program. It’s a challenging position that requires negotiations with private landowners to purchase certain types of wood to complement what’s already coming to the mills.
While photography is relegated to a hobby at this point, Vaughn looks back now and chuckles at how he was always drawn to forestry, in a way—he just needed to clear the path. The skills he learned at Warnell made that easier.
He says he’s constantly challenged by his job, and it’s something he enjoys.
“We try to carve out a niche of wood where we understand the risk of buying it, but that it will give our wood a certain benefit,” he says. “We have to play a delicate dance, which I find very fun.”