© Mark Siemens, RFT
By Christine Gelowitz, RPF, CEO, Forest Professionals BC
These are both difficult and exciting times to be a forest professional in British Columbia.
Societal expectations for B.C.’s forests are changing. How and where timber is harvested is being widely questioned and a large segment of the population wants to halt logging of all old, large trees. The role of Indigenous Peoples in forest management and ownership is rightly expanding. Forests are increasingly used for recreation, while wildfires, bugs, drought, and flooding impact forest health, the environment, and public safety.
This weighs heavily on forest professionals. By law, their job is to provide advice for using the forest in a safe, responsible, and sustainable manner.
It is also an exciting time for forest professionals because they care about forests; this is their passion, what their education, experience, and training prepared them for. Forest professionals have university degrees or college diplomas; they have completed a two-year articling process, passed a series of licensure examinations, and follow professional standards and codes. They are part of a regulated profession like accounting, medicine, or engineering. Forest professionals are accountable and willingly subject themselves to investigation and discipline overseen by the regulator, Forest Professionals BC.
It is important to realize that forest professionals are not loggers and professional forestry is not logging. However, forest professionals do develop harvesting and other plans to ensure logging is done responsibly and meets the environmental and forestry laws the government has set.
Equally important is the fact that most of B.C.’s forests are publicly owned. This means the government, not forest professionals, decides how a forested area is to be used—for a park, wildlife habitat, harvested for timber and wood products, water management, or often, for multiple of these uses. Currently, about 15 per cent of B.C. forests have been set aside and protected, and each year about one per cent of B.C.’s forests are harvested and then replanted.
Forest professionals see and recognize how climate change affects our forests, understanding active forest management is a form of climate action. They also understand the way wildfire was dealt with in the past no longer works in a changing climate.
Regardless of their personal views, forest professionals are required to follow the law, and keep public interest paramount when making recommendations on forest management decisions. As professionals responsible for caring for and managing B.C.’s forests, they are constantly working to find an acceptable balance between legal (government-required) and non-legal (locally desired) priorities that often conflict with each other.
Forest professionals by themselves cannot make all the changes desired by segments of the public for how forests are used. Nor are they responsible for past practices some now disagree with. But their informed voices remain vital in helping all parties understand the ecological consequences of whatever policies and choices are introduced to meet the changing public desires around B.C.’s forests. Forest professionals are part of the solution to ensure B.C.’s forests are here for generations to come.
Protecting the public interest by ensuring BC has educated, competent and accountable forest professionals.