Making decisions today that will impact those living two generations from now is a responsibility Lane Gelhorn takes seriously.
“Forestry as a profession can be very rewarding. It allows me to work on something bigger than just my self-interest,” said Gelhorn, who is a professional forester serving as the president of the Association of Saskatchewan Forestry Professionals (ASFP).
Gelhorn works for the provincial government. Other foresters and forest technologists work for private companies in Saskatchewan’s forestry industry or provide consulting services. Some work in parks, others are in academia while there are those who specialize in public outreach.
“Working as foresters provides us an opportunity to leave the right kind of legacy for the next generation and the generation to follow them.”
The gravity of that responsibility is one of the reasons his profession is regulated.
Before explaining the value of being regulated, Gelhorn describes the forests in Saskatchewan and how those in his profession work with the public to factor in their values and interests along with the expertise they have to make decisions.
Managing Saskatchewan’s forests
The northern half of Saskatchewan is covered in boreal forest. Almost all of that is provincial Crown forests, which are on publicly owned land, meaning they are owned by the people of Saskatchewan.
Forests change over time, Gelhorn explains. Trees are alive so, like us, they mature and eventually die. When old trees are disturbed by wildfires and harvesting, new trees can grow in their place. The old being replaced by the new keeps the forests young and healthy so they are sustainable.
“Boreal forests are characterized by generally slow growth and high fire return intervals,” said Gelhorn.
“So that means the forests in Saskatchewan are a lot younger than the temperate rain forests that we hear about in B.C. or the redwood forests of California.”
The age of the forests as well as the size and frequency of disturbances are just a few of the many pieces of knowledge used by those practising professional forestry to make decisions. They share their knowledge and gain some from those interested in the future of Saskatchewan’s forests.
Working with the public
Many people are very interested in Saskatchewan’s forests – because that is where they live, enjoy the outdoors or earn their income. Others admire these forests from a distance and are mindful of their relevance and feel protective of their future.
While those living decades from now will still see the impact of his work, Gelhorn also recognizes the importance of working with those living today. They can contribute knowledge he could factor in when making decisions.
“Socially we have a responsibility to be responsive to our constituents — to the people who live in the communities where we work, the communities whose traditional land we work within and the people whose livelihood depend on the work we do,” said Gelhorn.
For example, he will hear from people concerned about trees surrounding their favourite recreation spot.
“We may know something academically about the area, but that lived experience is important to refine a plan,” said Gelhorn.
“Typically, there is a path forward by making adjustments.”
“We work on a large area and people’s concerns are generally more focused on smaller areas,” said Gelhorn. In a situation like that, foresters will factor in the area’s high value for recreation while also looking at the age of the trees in question.
While losing large, older trees may not be ideal to those who value them for their size, it can be in the best interest of the area for it to regenerate with smaller, younger trees. Humans can only delay what is inevitable for so long.
“It’s our responsibility to have the discussion that trees will not last in that place forever unless something happens. So, we have a few choices for how to renew that forest. Usually, we can we find a path forward with that and develop something that works for everyone” said Gelhorn.
“I think the science in the profession of forestry is about understanding how to make those decisions in the best way for that triple bottom line: social, economic and environmental. The art of our profession is to try to balance these things.”
Protecting Saskatchewan’s forests
Gelhorn explains how one becomes a forester, but first he makes it clear the safeguards that are in place to protect Saskatchewan’s forested land and why they matter.
Legislation exists to protect Saskatchewan’s forests. There is provincial legislation known as the Forest Resources Management Act “to promote the sustainable use of forest land for the benefit of current and future generations by balancing the need for economic, social and cultural opportunities with the need to maintain and enhance the health of forest land.”
But Gelhorn explains additional legislation was needed.
“I think across the nation you see a recognition that the general public really cares about forest and they want to know that they’re forest are managed well,” said Gelhorn
“As foresters, we want to ensure that people know that we do manage the forests well and that we’re trained professionals.”
Practicing forestry means providing services related to developing, managing, conserving and sustaining forests. It requires knowing about more than just the trees in the forest and extends to understanding they are part of an ecosystem.
The professional practice of forestry is defined and governed by The Forestry Professions Act. It is among approximately 40 statutes in Saskatchewan that define and govern various professions, including engineers, geologists, agrologists, accountants and even music teachers and beekeepers.
“Our legislation has two components. When the ASFP began, it was a right to title organization. So that means that we have a protected designation,” said Gelhorn.
“Then we evolved to a right to practice organization, which says that anyone who practices forestry within the Crown forest, with a few exceptions, has to be registered by the association so that the rules governing our profession can be applied to them.”
Practising professional forestry
Those in the professions can be planning, classifying, mapping, measuring, certifying, appraising and evaluating forests. They could be developing, implementing, examining or auditing programs for harvesting or renewing forests. Their work can be around conserving, reclaiming, improving or protecting forests for forestry purposes. Finally, their responsibilities can be for administering, inspecting or monitoring forests.
“We see increasing specialization in our profession,” said Gelhorn.
“A requirement that we as members all take very seriously is to only practice where we are competent and to do a self-assessment about those areas that we were confident in practicing.”
In Saskatchewan, there are 143 such professionals who were members of the Association of Saskatchewan Forestry Professionals. It is the organization responsible for regulating the practice of professional forestry and the forestry profession. The ASFP ensures its members are qualified, competent, and practice in an ethical manner. Its members have the following titles:
- Registered Professional Foresters (RPF), and
- Registered Professional Forest Technologists (RPFT), who together represent most of the practicing professionals;
- Restricted Members (REST), who have time or practice limits established based on their individual situation;
- and two categories of members in training, who have met the academic requirements and are gaining experience in the profession:
- Foresters in Training (FIT); and
- Forest Technologists in Training (FTIT)
Value of education in forestry
Those paying close attention to Saskatchewan’s forests value their connection to them and Gelhorn appreciates their interest. That is why he values the requirement for those in the profession to develop and maintain competency to practise forestry.
“Somebody without the requisite knowledge and the formal training and experience can create a plan or a condition on the landscape that leads to a bad outcome 50 years from now,” said Gelhorn.
“I think that really puts our job into context and the importance of ensuring that we are doing things to the best of our abilities within our scope of practice.”
The knowledge and training to become a registered professional can be acquired through one of 14 accredited forestry degree programs at Canadian universities, or through a number of diploma programs at technical schools across the country.
Others who were trained outside of Canada or who graduated from a university or polytechnic program in Canada not accredited by the Canadian Forestry Accreditation Board (CFAB) wanting to be registered with the ASFP can have their education, training, and experience assessed to determine if they have the required competencies to become a member.
A registration exam on forest policy and ASFP governance must be successfully completed by anyone wanting to become a member. But the learning doesn’t stop once school ends.
Having current knowledge of forestry practices matters, so members are required to continue their education and report on their education credits through the ASFP Continuing Competency program to maintain their membership.
“We’re all learning and we continue to learn so that we can continue to stay relevant,” said Gelhorn.