HOW DID I COME TO APPLY TO CANFOR? WHY? WAS IT A GOOD DECISION?
After graduating high school, I was on my way to nursing school – because that’s responsible and practical thing to do, I had a mild panic attack / quarter life crisis… whatever you want to call it. I didn’t want to be a nurse! Ew! (no offence nurses) I hated people and hospitals and the idea of spending my life working in a smelly hospital and trapped indoors… Yuck. I reflected on what I wanted to be as a kid. It sure as hell wasn’t a nurse. I remember wanting to be a Ranger. I wanted to drive around in a big truck and be outdoors. I reflected on my years at summer camp (shout out BLC), where I really started to appreciate and respect the outdoors as more than just a playground. There are so many different ecosystems and flora and fauna species and things to do outside that I used to teach kids… and I wanted to keep doing this. Help others appreciate the outdoors and protect it for future generations. Protect those ecosystems and species that have been around much longer than me. So I dropped out of TRU last minute, took a year off to ski and then went back to school, for Recreation Fish and Wildlife, a technical diploma at Selkirk College.
The Recreation Fish and Wildlife program was only one part of the School of Environment and Geomatics at Selkirk College. There was also an Integrated Environmental Planning program, a GIS program, and a Forestry program. Forestry… Nope. I thought… the exact opposite of what I wanted to do. Cut down trees? I wanted to work in those trees, live in those trees and protect those trees. Other than passing the Carhart wearing Forestry students in the hall, I did not put much thought into Forestry, especially as a career option. I knew I had more of a protection of the landscapes vibe going. After graduating I went straight into parks for several years. I worked as a Park Ranger and as a Park and Trail Maintenance Worker mostly, but in the shoulder seasons I would work with invasive weed species and birds of prey. THEN, in the winter months I managed a cat ski lodge in the Selkirk mountains of BC. Life was sweet. Then… the pandemic happened.
With the lodge shutting down, and the new world rolling in hot I had to reflect on what I wanted / could do as someone with a comprised immune system (woot woot Lyme Disease!) Can I return to park work and travel around the province? Will the lodge open again? Do I even want to return to a lodge full of tourists? How can I stay in the environmental field while working from home and away from people? *A lightbulb goes off* GIS! And back to Selkirk College I go. This time, seven years later, learning mostly remotely, and this time for my Bachelors in GIS.
For the second time around, I find myself at Selkirk College with a bunch of forestry nerds. All thinking the same thing I was. It’s time for year-round work, and It’s time for a career change. We were all getting a little too old for the long days of chainsaw carrying, trail building and nights on a cabin floor in the woods. As the school year went on, I had to think how I was going to apply these news skills and new schooling in the new world in a new career (lots of new, yes). And how do I stay in the world of protecting my landscapes? Should I work for a non-prof? Should I apply into government - Maybe the Ministry of Environment? I could help plan parks, do invasive species hot spot analysis, or map caribou data... Lots of ideas but so very little time to decide. The 8 months of school flew by and it was time to pick a co-op (The co-op is a mandatory 16-week work position in my new GIS field). One of the forestry nerds who sat behind me had his co-op all sorted from the start of September! He had worked with them before, had nothing but good things to say, and was stoked on his new career… working at Canfor.
*Googles Canfor* The words Green Energy, 100% Utilization, Sustainability, and Good Neighbours are some of the first to come up. Now let me preface this next part by saying I am NOT anti-forestry or logging by any means. I know if managed correctly it can restore health to a forest. It is a renewable resource that can improve plant growth and with the removal of litter, it can reduce severe forest fires. And obviously it’s necessary! We need wood and we need jobs! But the thing is… It hasn’t always been managed correctly. And this is what I saw with my years in parks. I saw a lot of damaged ecosystems and habitat loss. I witnessed misplaced birds, saw damaged stream banks, increased flooding, and erosion due to logging as well as the introduction of invasive species into the backcountry. And with us as a species facing climate change worse than ever, we are truly starting to see the years of mismanaged forestry practices come to light with increased fires in secondary forests, decreases in animal species and the loss of some of our old growth forests and carbon sinks. Again, I am not anti-logging or forestry, however I am anti-outdated logging practices and anti-biodiversity loss which has been a direct result from logging and forestry in the past. I have spent the last seven years working to protect my landscapes and it will not end now with this new position. What a better time to get into the forestry industry as a young person seeking a sustainable and green future.
I took this co-op position at Canfor as a WIM Summer Student to better understand the forestry industry and to learn from people who have not only been doing GIS much longer than I have, but work with people all across the forestry field. I have worked in almost every other environmental sector except forestry, and if I want a sustainable and green future, then I need to be a part of it. WIM stands for Woodlands Information Management. Our job as “WIM’ERS” is to manage all spatial and tabular data, make that data more useful to our woodland’s users and to manage products and software. We are basically a service provider. Myself, I work out of the Fort St John office remotely but there are 16 other people on the team, managing Canfor’s data throughout BC and AB. And what an amazing, knowledgeable, and supportive group of people they are. I couldn’t have picked better people myself to help me transition into not only a new job, but a new field entirely. My team has helped me set up meetings with Canfor’s planners, biologists, indigenous relations, and silviculture staff, to paint me a picture of what forestry means. I started at the beginning, learning how we apply for permits, and plan blocks (that’s where my data loading butt comes in), all the way to replanting blocks, and community engagement. And I am only in month 2. I have learned so much already, and still have 6 months of my contract left to go. I learnt that we donate firewood to indigenous communities our tenures effect, learnt all about the spruce and pine beetle, and what we are doing track, monitor and mitigate the spread, and I spoke with someone who taught me all about our tree nursery, and how a block is replanted and returned to an original state. And what is cool is that I have a part in that. I map all that data out and make it more useful to those in the field. That is the responsibility of the WIM team. And the WIM team is seriously so awesome. Everyone is patient and encouraging on my personal development plan to learn more about forestry, and they support my future career growth goals by helping my plan and pick projects that suite my skills and interests, like creating visuals such as online dashboards, maps and reports. I feel encouraged and that my educational growth is a priority. Who would have thought these forestry nerds would’ve been so nice?
The more I work with my team, whether that be the WIM team or the Fort St John team, and the more I learn about Canfor’s practices and policies, not only grows my interest in this field, but grows my confidence that we are on the right track to protect our planet. When Canfor references the world sustainability, they are referring to the planet and the life of our forests, not profits, and that means something to me. And that makes me proud to be a part of forestry for our future, and be a part of the WIM Team, at Canfor.
This is only month 2, I look forward to learning more about what we are doing at Canfor to be global leaders in sustainable forestry, and I look forward to sharing more of my experiences as a Green Dream Intern with the Forest Products Association of Canada. Follow me along over the next couple weeks as I share my experiences as a young worker in the forestry field.