West Boundary Community Forests; knowledge and connectedness is key

Minister of Forests, Katrine Conroy, takes a close-up look at a student’s find. Photo: Chris HammettMinister of Forests, Katrine Conroy, takes a close-up look at a student’s find. Photo: Chris Hammett
Students from HD Hutton’s grade 6/7 class examine their finds under microscopes. Photo: Chris HammettStudents from HD Hutton’s grade 6/7 class examine their finds under microscopes. Photo: Chris Hammett
Elly Mcmaster, WBCF education coordinator, explains some of the educational samples on display at the Education Centre to Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests and Edena Brown, assistant to Conroy. Photo: Chris HammettElly Mcmaster, WBCF education coordinator, explains some of the educational samples on display at the Education Centre to Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests and Edena Brown, assistant to Conroy. Photo: Chris Hammett

Forestry Education: A Forest Professional’s Approach

Submitted: West Boundary Community Forests

Registered Professional Foresters (RPF) and Registered Forest Technologists (RFT) must “…promote public knowledge of forestry with truthful and accurate statements on forestry matters,” as outlined in the Association of BC Forest Professional’s Code of Ethicaland ProfessionalConduct.

Foresters take pride in understanding the facts and details regarding forests and how they are managed, and work hard to derive information from scientific research and the collection of field data when making decisions on the land base.

RPFs and RFTs create forest stewardship plans, landscape level plans, site plans, and more to ensure the work falls within the legal framework of proper forest management and meets all regulations outlined in the ForestandRange PracticesAct.

One of the main challenges for forest professionals is how to promote public knowledge of forestry; to connect with local communities so they are well informed about land management, and educate and inspire young people about career opportunities in the sector.

For Dan Macmaster, Community Forest Manager of the West Boundary Community Forest (WBCF), it comes down to forestry education – both in the classroom and the community.

“When I speak to local school-age kids and ask them what forestry means to them, the most common responses I hear are “cutting down big trees” and “deforestation,” noted Macmaster. “When I ask them about what possible careers in forestry they may consider pursuing, they think “being a lumberjack” is the main position of employment. A lack of forestry education and information limits interest in careers in forestry and this in turn hurts our sector”

In response to this forestry education gap, WBCF purchased a 60-acre parcel of private land on Wilgress Lake to establish an Outdoor Education Centre (OEC).

The objective is to bring students into the forest to learn about the diversity of the sector.

Located 10 kilometres east of Greenwood in the Boundary region, the OEC serves as a landing spot for K-12 students and educators to meet with forest professionals and learn about forestry.

The OEC is a naturally regenerated, multi-aged forest with hiking trails to explore, a pond and lakefront for studying aquatic organisms, and an open-air learning shelter (currently under construction) that functions as a gathering space where students can learn about sustainable forest management.

“Teaching students about forest management in a wilderness setting has a greater impact on kids than if we only teach in a classroom,” remarked Peter Flett, RPF, Vaagen Fibre Canada. “The students are able to work with data collection tools, learn about harvesting techniques, and see the diversity of plants and animals in our forests.”

Since opening in spring 2019, over 50 classes from the communities of Rock Creek, Midway, Greenwood, Grand Forks and Christina Lake have visited the OEC.

The OEC focuses on sustainable forest management, traditional Indigenous knowledge of the land, outdoor recreational activities, and the history of the Boundary area. There is no cost to attend the OEC, and forest professionals with Vaagen Fibre Canada volunteer their time to work with students in a variety of activities, including plant identification, aquatic studies, hiking, discussions around a campfire, and nature challenges and games to teach a holistic approach to forest management.

Jamie Stewart, Outdoor Education Coordinator for School District #51, said, “The Outdoor Education Centre is a perfect place for students and teachers to learn and teach in a beautiful and diverse natural setting. It provides learning opportunities for my students in the areas of proper forest management, aquatic ecology, and physical education. …students from across the district have the opportunity to spend more time outside, surrounded by nature.”

Forestry education can take place in the classroom, in a forest stand, in an office, and even in a coffee shop.

It’s essential that the forestry sector and forest professionals also reach out to community members at large.

“I like the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, but a visit to the forest, and in particular our Outdoor Education Centre, is worth a thousand pictures,” said Macmaster. “We need to be diligent and determined with our efforts for educational outreach to promote public knowledge of forestry and receive greater community understanding and support of forestry planning and operations,” he adds.

“We should be inspired by author James N. Watkins who rightly said, A river cuts through rock not because of its power, but its persistence.”

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