B.C.’s Forest Professionals are Balancing the Science of Forestry with Public Expectations

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Photo © Courtesy of Forest Professionals BC

By Christine Gelowitz, RPF, CEO, Forest Professionals British Columbia

Few realize that forestry is an applied science, which makes forest professionals, the people who practice professional forestry, de facto ‘working scientists.’

Forestry is protecting, conserving, and managing forests and natural resources. It combines many different areas of study: math, biology, chemistry, genetics, hydrology, and climate science. Forestry also incorporates advanced technologies like geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, and LiDAR.

Within forestry, there are specialized fields such as silviculture, the growing of trees; forest ecology, how forests grow and impact other plant and animal species; forest operations, balancing ecosystem-based management with economics; and forest conservation science, the study of how wildfire, disease, and insects affect forests.

Those who practice forestry are known as forest professionals, and most have four-year university degrees or two-year college diplomas from forest and natural resource science programs. Forestry is also a regulated profession, similar to other applied science professions such as engineering, architecture, biology, and dentistry. Forest Professionals British Columbia (FPBC) is the independent body responsible for regulating forest professionals.

© Courtesy of Forest Professionals BC
© Courtesy of Forest Professionals BC

B.C. laws require FPBC to ensure that only properly trained and qualified forest professionals work in B.C. To do this, FPBC sets education standards for entering the profession, a code of ethical conduct, professional practice and competency standards, and holds forest professionals accountable via a public complaint and discipline process.

In addition to its scientific aspects, forestry can be an art. It involves developing forest management plans to delicately balance many dynamic—and sometimes conflicting—social, environmental, and economic values, including biodiversity, wildlife habitat, wildfire management, water quality and watershed management, recreation opportunities, carbon sequestration, Indigenous values, public safety, timber production, and employment opportunities.

Forest professionals must be objective and approach forest management with scientific evidence and facts. At times, societal demands for the forest may conflict with scientific findings. In such cases, forest professionals engage with the public and landowners to identify the best available options for the forest that align with public interests and demands.

The majority of B.C.’s forested land is publicly owned, and the B.C. government, on behalf of the public, determines how it will be used. Historically, the law prioritized timber harvesting to provide jobs and economic activity for rural areas in the province. But this is evolving in both law and practice.

© Courtesy of Forest Professionals BC

With societal expectations for B.C.’s forests changing, the provincial government, in concert with First Nations and Indigenous Peoples, is setting and prioritizing other values alongside timber production. Conservation of forest lands, be it for biodiversity, wildlife habitat, parks, water management, Indigenous values, carbon sequestration, or public safety, ranks equally high on the list of government determinations for the use of forested lands.

How forests were managed in the past is not how they are managed today, and not how they will be managed in the future. Forest professionals support this ongoing change. They are following the science and adapting their practices to meet changing forest conditions for the betterment of forests and the well-being of everyone living in this province.

Learn how FPBC regulates and sets standards for the people practicing professional forestry in B.C. at fpbc.ca

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Protecting the public interest by ensuring BC has educated, competent and accountable forest professionals.

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