For the forest industry on Vancouver Island to bank on the future it needs to draw new talent into its ranks and embrace new technologies.
TimberWest, with about 100 employees, is a relatively small company, but has the big task of managing more than 325,000 hectares of private forest land on Vancouver Island. It also owns renewable harvest rights to 700,000 cubic metres of timber per year.
To achieve forest management goals, the company relies on technologies and a wide range of specialties and its ability to draw new young talent to apply them.
This year TimberWest brought eight students into its summer internship program who received hands-on experience working in TimberWest’s Nanaimo and Campbell River operations.
Marino Somerville, 23, an engineering student entering his fourth year of courses at the University of British Columbia, spent the summer performing a range of tasks that included bridge inspections and assessments.
Somerville’s family history in forestry goes back generations to the time relatives immigrated from Italy to Youbou. His father joined the forest industry after he earned a degree in forest management from UBC and has worked for Western Forest Products on the Island for 30 years.
He hopes to achieve his certification and registration with the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals that every professional forester must have and maintain annually.
At a site 20 kilometres west of Ladysmith, Somerville explained why the company replaced a bridge in early August. The new bridge is positioned higher above the stream bed and is longer to give more clearance on either side of the stream banks.
“The old structure that was there was not only not doing its part by providing a safe crossing for road users, but also it was not safe in regards to the environmental habitat going into it,” Somerville said. “There’s obviously fish in the stream that we saw just from being there so there’s certainly an element of ecosystem management going into that kind of project.”
Meghan Hilborn, 23, has a forest resources technology diploma from Vancouver Island University and is attending Acadia University in September to earn an environmental sciences degree.
Her aunt and uncle were both foresters in the B.C. Interior and her parents were soil scientists.
Hilborn earned an applied business technology certificate, which gave her the skills to work in an office environment, but she soon realized she really wanted to work outdoors.
“The tag line at VIU ‘get some mud on your boots’ was literally probably what pretty much brought me into forestry. I said, yes, that’s what I need, mud on my boots and it was kind of a shock, but I did the two-year … program and I got my silver ring and I’m in a totally different place than I was and I couldn’t be happier about it,” she said.
Hilborn spent the summer with TimberWest’s environmental resource integration crew and with Molly Hudson, TimberWest’s senior biologist and manager of stewardship and engagement.
“We’re surveying to see what kind of activity there is on TimberWest lands of the northern goshawk species,” Hilborn said. “They are, I believe, a red-listed endangered species in North America.”
One of the survey team’s tasks is to play recorded northern goshawk calls. If a bird responds a response, they track down the birds’ nests to determine if they have young and find out other information. The data gathered provides information about what areas to reserve for goshawk habitat.
“I would like to stay affiliated with forestry in the future. I think it’s a really great industry to be in, but right now I’m taking a little side detour into environmental sciences because I want to get some exposure into different areas of natural resources.”
Hilborn said she plans to get her registered professional forester and registered professional biologist designations.
Kevin Brown, TimberWest field engineer with 30 years in forestry, said the program exposes students to the range of careers in science and technology available in today’s forest industry and he still runs across students who have come back into the industry after they’ve finished their schooling.
“It’s a big industry, but it’s a small industry too. Everybody kind of knows everybody,” Brown said. “It’s a great opportunity, too, for the companies to get to know the new students coming in and potential employees in the future.”
Monica Bailey, TimberWest communications director, said the internship program matches well with the company’s high school and university scholarship programs and recruitment and retention strategies.
“We have had summer students in years past, but not in the numbers that we’ve had this year,” Bailey said. “But this is something that we’re definitely continuing so next summer we’ll be hiring another eight students and, hopefully, some of the kids that we have this year will come back and we’re just going to continue growing the program as much as we possibly can.”