Alyssa Skaalid – Living her Dream Career in BC’s forests
Alyssa Skaalid is living her dream. As a recent graduate of the Forestry Technology program at Selkirk College in the West Kootenay area of British Columbia, Skaalid spends most of her days in one of her favourite elements – outside in the open air.
“I love the outdoors and all it has to offer,” enthuses Skaalid. “Working as a Forest Technologist allows me to do all the things I love outdoors such as hiking, ATVing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. The majority of my work days are outside in the field, with my dog by my side. I also wanted to be a part of the forest management practices in BC to help encourage and practice sustainable and economic forestry.”
Forestry technologists are one part of a large group of forestry professionals who work to manage, conserve and harvest one of Canada’s most valuable natural resources. Forestry technologists play an important part in forestry management by taking samples and measurements, assisting with reforestation, assessing areas in need of assistance as well as locations of new growth and monitor forests to make sure companies are complying with forestry operation regulations, among other duties.
Skaalid explains, “It is very hands on, active work. It is rewarding to be able to physically get out into a forest stand and see what and why things need to be done. You become very familiar with an area you work in, which therefore makes it rewarding to see you have made the best management calls.”
To prepare herself for the Forestry Technology course, Skaalid focused a lot of her high school education on the sciences; however there wasn’t an opportunity for her to learn specifically about forestry.
“I took a lot of sciences and math courses which helped give me a good foundation in order to learn applied biology, ecology and statistics in college, Skaalid says. “I’d like to see natural resource courses available or an opportunity for an introduction into the natural resource science in high schools in order for students to experience aspects of the field and therefore be able to make educational decisions accordingly.”
“I went to University and studied two years of general sciences before I found what I liked and disliked and then decided what I wanted to do as a career. I didn’t know I wanted to study forestry in high school and was therefore encouraged to study general sciences and perhaps get my bachelor of science. This University education helped me tremendously through my college forest technology program even though it was not necessary,” she explains.
Having discovered her calling, Skaalid enrolled in the Forestry Technology diploma program at Selkirk College in Castlegar, BC. The two-year program provides students with a solid and practical foundation in such aspects as forest health and ecology, harvesting techniques, wildlife habitat identification and management, surveying, digital mapping, wildfire management and a host of other skills and knowledge required for their future career.
“They were applied courses which makes them very relevant to what you would be doing for work,” says Skaalid. “They were also very practical and hands on which best prepares you for work after you graduate.”
Entry level forestry technicians can expect to earn between $30,000-$40,000 per year which increases with experience and education to upwards of $70,000 per year.
You will find forestry technicians employed by government agencies, consulting firms, land service companies, logging companies, conservation authorities, and other natural resource companies.
Forestry technicians must be prepared to sometimes work in remote locations with very few physical comforts and in all weather conditions. They may be required to fly in small planes and helicopters, and there is always the potential for dangerous interactions with wildlife.
Skaalid adds, “nature is nice and all but sometimes the mosquitoes, blackflies, and the very prickly plant called Devil’s club get to you. “
Skaalid is currently a Trainee Forest Technologist. “I am enrolled in the BC Timber Sales Forest Technologist Entry Level Program (FTELP) which is a 2 year program in Mackenzie, BC for newly graduated forest technologists. It aims to give on-the-job training in an operational environment. This allows us to gain valuable experience in all aspects of forestry. It also supports us getting our professional designation as a Registered Forest Technologist (RFT) or a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) through the Association of BC Forest Professionals (ABCFP). Some aspects of forestry is reconnaissance (scoping out potential harvest areas), development (layout of block boundary roads), and addressing management constraints such as streams, wildlife, ecological concern and archaeological impact. It also includes timber cruising (assessing the value of the stand) and silviculture (site prep prescriptions/planning, what trees to plant, assessing the stocking/survival of the planted trees),” she shares.
The many varied activities involved in the job will appeal to people who like to stay busy with different projects. Skaalid says, “There are both office and field work needed which breaks up the type of work required and therefore keeps things interesting. There are heavy planning days in the office as well as very physically demanding days in the field. No two projects are the same because every forest stand is different and requires unique planning and management.”
By Jackie Fritz