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“Most people that get into forestry love the outdoors,” says Angela French of Salmo, British Columbia. 

Angela moved to the area from Abbotsford in 2013 for Selkirk College’s Forestry Program. Afterwards, she worked for a forestry consultant then at a local family-run mill for five years.

“The first time I drove into a cutblock that I had developed I was deeply saddened and moved to tears. It’s a difficult situation for people who get into forestry as a career because they love forests and have a special connection to them. Yet soon learn that being successful in field development means being good at designing areas that can be cut down and replanted as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Angela has been working for a decade in the forest industry and loves her job. She also wants to keep B.C. forests healthy. (All photos courtesy of Angela French)

Seeing the Forester for the Trees

Angela believes there should be a better balance between keeping our forests resilient and good jobs. One of the reasons she got into this field was to try to change the legislation that guides the forestry industry.

“I am frustrated with how slow change is. There are still moon-scape clearcuts happening, and in my opinion, though legal in the current policy, this shows a lack of care, a resistance to learning new skills and underlying all of it, derived from economical choices.”

She is worried that the industry and governments are not focusing seriously enough on the immense challenges facing forests today, like increasing drought, wildfires, and damaging insects.

“The long-term sustainable health and well-being of our forests are so connected and intertwined with humanity’s well-being, it is difficult to start to unravel them as separate, as we are not separate, but one part of a whole. This is the big picture, and and we as industry professionals need to be emboldened to advocate for improvements from the inside, embracing the challenge of being positive change makers in our industry.”

In a way, Angela speaks as a forester and a conservationist. 

“I am coming from two, sometimes competing worlds. An industry like forestry is very focused on the bottom dollar, yet has a major and lasting impact on First Nations, watersheds, ecosystems, wildlife, fire risk, forest health, soil health, carbon cycling, greenhouse gases, and global markets.”

Angela is pretty sure her fellow forestry workers also struggle with mixed feelings.

“I’m not alone in this feeling. I would argue most operational forest professionals feel the same struggle. We are in the forests, building relationships with everything we can relate to with our senses, in nature, yet need to manage the competing values every step we take as that is our mandate.”

Angela’s love of the outdoors is one of the main reasons she got into forestry. It’s also why she cares so much about how her industry manages the resources she, and her dogs, enjoy.

Making Change From Within

It was harder than Angela thought to make changes from within the industry, although she worked for a supportive, community-centred mill.

“The mill was open to changes within the bounds of how the industry is legislated. That’s where the changes need to come down and filter through to keep sustainable forest management accountable,” says Angela. “I worked really hard to try to stay within my morals and values. It got a little bit tiring being one of the only voices with a different perspective.”

Angela thinks the forest industry brings many good things to her province.

“B.C. needs lumber, and timber to provide for numerous expectations that our society is accustomed to. The way that large industry functions is like a machine with lots of moving parts, that create jobs, support a healthy economy, and create contributing citizens.”

It’s a big job with a lot of responsibility and doing it well is no easy task, says Angela. 

“Forest professionals are tasked to interpret the legislation into tangible outputs on the landscape, and this can be a painstaking process, mentally, physically and emotionally. Being in the forest day after day, it was difficult knowing that when I started reconnaissance in a new drainage the outcome would most likely be a clearcut with reserves.” 

She has tried to hold this complexity with care. 

“I knew forestry was going to happen with or without me and I knew the turmoil that was a forestry worker’s responsibility. I couldn’t turn away and had to try to influence for the better, one ribbon at a time.”

“We as industry professionals need to be emboldened to advocate for improvements from the inside, embracing the challenge of being positive change makers in our industry,” Angela says

Bringing Community Values to the Forestry Industry

In August, Angela was hired by the Creston Community Forest as a supervisor. 

“I love community forestry. It’s how all forestry should be conducted across the province and globally. It’s based on community-centric values. The main point is that a chunk of land is managed based on what a community needs and wants,” says Angela.

In community forestry, social and ecological perspectives are valued as much as economic ones and funds garnered from logging stay in the community. It involves engaging community, keeping forests healthy, protecting watersheds, and reducing climate change impacts. 

But working in community forestry, only 3% of the Provincial annual harvest in B.C., gives Angela mixed feelings. 

“Here I likely cannot change legislation, nor influence a licensee from the inside. I feel like I’ve intentionally buffered myself from the negative emotions of the daily moral struggle of hating the fact that I love what I do. With community forestry, I can morally love what I do, as it is for the community and entrenched in ecological, social and cultural benefit.”

There’s a proposal the Provincial government is considering currently to make a new law for B.C. that would make biodiversity and ecosystem health the top priority for the way forests are managed. Angela supports this law.

“It is a long time coming that I don’t think would negatively impact jobs. There would probably be a period of adapting or transitioning and there needs to be an understanding of how to implement and learn these changes to make sure things are done well and followed through properly. We need to be kind to the industry workers who are still learning and trying to keep up with the changes coming from higher up.”

Angela will keep pushing for change in the industry, to move beyond timber value to more integrated timber management plans that prioritize long-term forest sustainability.

Angela and her partner Mel operate a busy farm, Clutch Farm, in Salmo B.C