Ulf T. Runesson
Faculty of Natural
955 Oliver Road,
Thunder Bay, Ontario,
Canada P7B 5E1
Forestry: A career that makes a difference
by Nancy Lukai
Assistant Professor, Forest Ecology,
Faculty of Forestry and the Forest Environment, Lakehead University
Would you like to use your heart, head and hands to ensure the future of our forest resources? If so, then you should consider completing either a degree or a diploma in forestry. Wait a minute. Isn't forestry just about cutting down trees? Not now, not ever was forestry 'just' about cutting trees. Let's take a closer look at this important and challenging profession.
David L. Smith, Professor Emeritus of Silvics at Yale University, begins his definition of Forestry with this sentence. "Forestry applies many natural and social sciences to the management of forests for the perpetual benefit of human society." He clearly links the two main areas of expertise that are brought together under one title.
Forestry is about people and it's about science and technology. In our busy lives, these two arenas often appear to be in conflict.
How did an activity that contributed so much to the development of this nation become so distant and misunderstood, even maligned? Many people used to work in the 'bush' or a mill, or knew people that did. Harvesting and processing were labour intensive jobs that demanded, and received, respect for their dangerous and difficult nature. That has changed. Much of the population now knows little of the actual daily operations associated with forestry because these activities are less common in populated areas of the province. Much more of the work goes on in offices (or in front of computers) and technical advancements mean that fewer people are directly employed in either the bush or the mill. The close connection between the people who use the products and the people who are responsible for ensuring their continued presence in our lives has been greatly diminished. How many of us actually make the direct but complicated connection between toilet paper and good forest management? Furthermore, many people primarily experience forests as recreational venues or as ecological monuments rather than as working systems capable of providing environmentally sound employment. The negative impacts of disturbances such as logging, fire or infestation (seen either from the car window or the television screen) seem overwhelming and unavoidable. The result can be (and often is) conflict over the appropriate use of the resource.
So how are you supposed to productively and positively enter this fray? First, learn all you can about forest systems (their biology, physics, chemistry, ecology, economics, culture and dynamics). Second, put your knowledge into practice through career related work experiences. The place to do both (study and find employment) is at either a community college or university that offers accredited forestry programming. In Ontario, you have the choice of Algonquin, Sault or Sir Sandford Fleming Colleges or Lakehead University. Entrance requirements do vary, but Mathematics and Science (Biology and/or Chemistry) along with English are normally required. The colleges offer a variety of programs ranging from the traditional Forest Technician and Technology to options such as Wildlife and Water Conservation. Lakehead University has a professional forestry program (the Honours Bachelor of Science in Forestry) and an Honours Bachelor of Environmental Studies with a concentration in Forest Conservation (remember that conservation means "wise use"). The programs are all academically challenging and include courses such as computer applications, forest science, silviculture (the art of growing trees!), problem solving, and GIS/remote sensing. Ironically, the activity forestry is best known for(harvesting)often occupies only one or two slots in the full course list. This is because there is so much more to forestry than harvesting! It is also important to note that opportunities exist for graduates of college programs to move into university programs with advanced standing. Depending on your academic record and specific diploma, you may receive credit for up to one year's worth of university study. College grads can (try out) the field first, earn some income and gather some experience before deciding to return for more schooling.
Foresters and forest technician/technologists are responsible for all the activities that affect forest resources. For example, forest management requires an accurate inventory of the resource. This includes trees, land forms and soils, watercourses, wildlife, cultural sites and other human values. This information must be stored in such a way that it can easily retrieved and used (i.e. GIS and spreadsheet databases). Then the information, in combination with public consultation, is used to develop plans to ensure that whatever activity happens in the area is ecologically, socially and economically sound. When the plan has been approved, then foresters and forest techs are responsible for supervising the actual work. For instance, roads must be located and built, harvest and non-harvest areas must be delineated on the ground, special wildlife considerations (nests or dens) must be located and protected, regeneration established, young stands tended, burned areas salvaged and so on. All of these things are usually accomplished under the supervision of a person with post-secondary training in forestry.
Students in forestry programs are in demand as employees. Most forestry students work in career related positions during their years at school. Quite often these jobs involve a lot of responsibility and variety: supervising a tree plant one week, helping to plan a company "open house" the next. The pay is usually very good especially as academic and practical experience is gained. While students are working they are developing a network of contacts as well as a range of skills. The employment rate upon graduation is second only to medicine, nation-wide. Starting salaries are very competitive but the actual range depends upon the geographic location and the individual's particular abilities and qualifications.
I've described the past and present. What about the future and why would you want to become involved in forestry as a vocation? On a global scale, it is projected that as populations increase, so too will the demand for forest products. By products we mean both those that are consumable, such as wood fibre or wild game, and those that are non-consumable, such as recreation or habitat. Even 'non-consumable' activities have an impact on the forest. Canoeists and hikers may not remove material from the forest, but they do put a strain on the system. Decreased water quality, increased soil erosion/compaction and inappropriate interaction with wildlife (i.e. disrupting nesting sites or feeding the bears) are all potential side effects of these 'benign' activities.
Forests are a truly renewable resource that can meet many human needs-often simultaneously. For example, growing plantations can stabilize soil, improve water quality, provide firewood, serve as recreational areas and wildlife refuges, sequester atmospheric carbon (i.e. offset CO2 emissions) and, eventually, be harvested for building or other materials. The demand for good forest resource management is increasing as the value of our natural assets, both locally and globally, is realized. Key players in this important process are the forestry professionals trained in post-secondary institutions throughout Canada.
At the beginning of this article I indicated that your "heart, head and hands" were all part of working in Forestry. Hands-because the work is often physical, Head-because our forest resources are complex systems requiring careful thought and Heart-because we need commitment to both the forests and the people who use them in order to make wise choices. Forestry is a career and a profession with a long history, a commitment to improving our quality of life and a bright future. Why not join us?
Reprints courtesy of Megwekob First Nations - Lake Superior First Nations Trust
National Aboriginal Forestry Association
First Nation Forestry Program
Northern Ontario Native Tourism Association
Assembly of First Nations