For The Morning Star
There are 867 active woodlot licenses in B.C., and they provide much more than timber.
Many play host to students of all ages, from elementary school to university, exploring environmental sciences, with topics ranging from a very general introduction to the forest, to specifics such as silviculture and natural resource management.
With the average age of B.C.’s forestry workers creeping into the 60s, and an expected boom in the sector that will see the creation of 15,000 new jobs in the next decade, it’s vital that steps are taken to engage the next generation of forest stewards.
At a woodlot in Lumby, students are given a completely unique, hands-on education in a 600-hectare classroom, and acquire skills they can use immediately, in forestry, heavy industry, or as a path to further education.
Arguably one of the most picturesque forests in B.C., Woodlot #1908 on Trinity Valley Road – just a brief drive out of town – is a working venture run by the staff and students of Charles Bloom Secondary School. Faculty at the high school has teamed up with a professional forester and career logger to deliver an innovative and practical learning experience.
The CBSS forestry and trades program has been running since the 1970s, using small-cut licences year-to-year until getting permanent roots in 2002 with the acquisition of Crown woodlot #1908. Grade 11 and 12 students from five high schools in the Vernon School District vie for 16 spots in the trades program, which runs from September to January every year.
Students spend three days a week in the woodlot, learning worksite safety procedures, chainsaw and heavy-duty equipment operation and maintenance, and team skills. And by learning, I mean doing. Students have opportunities to get behind the wheel of skidders and cats, fall and buck trees, conduct site cleanup – basically every function required for a working logger.
The remaining two days are spent in the school’s well-equipped shop learning WCB safety procedures, furniture-building skills, techniques and design. The expansive workspace houses some creative projects, including an oversized picnic table made of beams bigger than railroad ties, and a little log cabin that could be a charming playhouse for some very happy child.
With a high premium on safety, all students are taught St. John First Aid before heading into the bush. This training, coupled with their real-life experience handling chainsaws, cats and skidders, means their resumes pack a punch when they graduate. And the students know it.
Making a good impression on the dedicated teachers and industry professionals who run the program results in rock-solid references that give these young people an edge in a competitive workforce. Applying for an apprenticeship, or a spot in a post-secondary trades or university program is that much easier when applicants can prove they have already built a strong foundation in the forest.
In fact, several of the students graduating in 2013 already have an apprenticeship or employment plan set for the summer and beyond. When questioned about their future, they speak about plan A and plan B, sometimes even a plan C, and they’re all viable plans: the program has opened multiple doors to employers in other sectors of the natural resource and manufacturing industry.
One 15-year-old predicts she’ll be the first female loader driver in the Okanagan when she takes over that job at her father’s logging operation this summer.
Typical of most woodlots in B.C., this one enjoys a strong relationship with community stakeholders. The local Stihl dealer makes regular contributions, and heavy equipment is either donated or sold at bargain-basement prices to keep the program equipped. The students sell firewood to locals, using the funds to pay for their gear – in a classic case of input and output, the more firewood the individual students buck and sell, the more money they have to finance their kit. Initiative pays. Literally.
Community involvement is vital to the success of the program, and to the health of the forest. As Charles Bloom principal Ken Gatzke, a graduate of the trades program himself, says, they try to keep the woodlot as accessible as possible.
Students built a beautiful timber-framed gazebo one year, situated in an area that affords a sweeping view of Trinity Valley. The gazebo is open for use by the public as a spot for meetings, retreats, picnics and reunions. A local hang-gliding company uses the woodlot as a launch site, as well, and a local rancher uses the forest as range land for his cattle.
At the school level, the senior students aren’t the only ones who have an opportunity to participate in the operation. The Grade 7 students are brought to the woodlot to plant trees, getting an opportunity over the following years to watch the progress of the forest and see the fruits of their labour over their years at the high school.
Gatzke bursts with pride when talking about the program.
“This woodlot classroom is an innovative use of a Crown resource, giving kids real-life skills today that they can use far into the future,” he said.