Forest management brings the latest in environmental science to the rescue of our planet’s forests
“The Canon Envirothon is held in a different location across North America every year, where hundreds of the best high school brains gather to duke it out. Last year, they met in West Virginia to scale hills, dig into muddy rivers, sort through animal and plant species, and sweat it through rain and shine to prove their environmental expertise.
As I scratched my head trying to answer some Envirothon questions (very tough) and evaluate an environment (also, very tough), I sought help from Carla Grant, director of the Ontario Forestry Association and asked what it takes to turn one’s love for nature into a successful career.
A career in forestry requires expertise where you’re going to help people rebuild a pond, increase the health of the forest and offset invasive species, “and a willingness to work in remote areas, since one of the main components of forestry in Canada is in the boreal forests,” says Carla. Most Canadians live around forests and are dependent on them, so preservation is key. This means someone has to look for forest decay and regeneration because of human use around it. That “someone” is a forester like Carla who thinks of long-term health care for a forest, “It’s a balanced pressure. It’s a balance of us appreciating nature and wanting nature around us. But human need is such that we are surrounded by hundreds of products that arrive from the forests, and there is no indication it is going to change. So someone has to monitor all this,” explains Carla.
Even though the numbers of colleges and universities offering environmental studies have quadrupled in the past few years, forestry has seen a significant drop in enrolment. “There are a lot of choices now for someone studying the environment. And forestry still has a stigma attached to it that it’s a clear cut job. You are going to go out and use the forest. There is [no true understanding?] of what the real job is. The schools that have opened out in the past 20 years have taken that group of interest that might want to do something for the environment and spread it really thin,” says Carla. So even though you may want to pursue more sophisticated environmental studies, if there’s no one preserving forests, there might not be an environment to work with at the end of the day.
Having a bachelor of science in forestry, Carla says forest management involves a lot of technical work. She especially enjoys working with younger people and making that personal connection between a tree and a human. “When you start seeing an individual maple tree and know its characteristics and are able to spot it amongst other trees, that’s when the connection occurs,” says Carla. And her job is a lot of fun, “People have meetings in boardrooms, but we have meetings in parks!”
As a forest manager, you are going to look at how people are using the forest. You will look at forest products, habitats inside a forest and the species of trees. A forest manger then balances these values. “You have to look at the natural function of the ecosystem — water system, animals — and you take out products we need and leave that forest to maintain its functions. As a forest manager, you have to achieve human needs and balance of the nature,” says Carla.
But more than anything, it is preventing the loss of forests that makes the job most important, “Sometimes forestry doesn’t look pretty. You go in and remove a tree, but it’s still a forest, and it will be a mature forest one day. But when a forest is cut down and turned into a housing development, it’s never a forest again.”