Forestry as a career was not immediately obvious to Elijah Stempien, but he is very happy he found a profession that so closely matches his passion.
Now working in his fourth field position as he completes his Bachelor of Science in Forestry (BScF) at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), Stempien could not be more certain he made a good choice with his post-secondary education.
“I think especially being from southern Saskatchewan, there isn’t a lot of talk about forestry,” said Stempien, who went to high school at Bedford Road Collegiate in Saskatoon.
“Up until I applied, I didn’t actually know that was a degree you could do.”
Eager to understand the forest
Spending his days outdoors learning about living organisms was at the top of Stempien’s list for planning his future after high school.
“When I was in high school, I did a program called International Baccalaureate and we had a really passionate biology teacher and he had us do some field work,” Stempien explained.
“I just loved being outside and it immediately clicked that’s where I want to be.
“We had to do a self-directed final assignment, so, I did mine on relationships between lichen and moss up near La Ronge.
“Again, it just solidified that what I want to do is be outside, spending my time in nature and being able to look at my environment to understand it.”
Finding an accredited program for forestry education
Doing some research into his options for his post-secondary studies, he came across the Forestry and Environmental Management programs at UNB. The school describes these programs as being about trees, plants, water and wildlife, soil, landscapes, and the atmosphere as well as people and their beliefs, values and needs.
UNB explains that Forestry and Environmental Management students learn how to manage all of these things in sustainable ways, solving complex problems for the benefit of current and future generations. They will learn how they can help find solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental issues.
That was very appealing to Stempien, who explained what he appreciated about his forestry studies and how what he is learning is distinct from students in other programs. He knows of an engineering student who transferred to forestry because she could more directly apply what she was learning to her desired job responsibilities.
He described how his education benefitted him at work compared to a fellow student he worked with during one of his field work positions.
“She was an environmental biology student. We had this really interesting dynamic where when we were doing lab work, she was able to teach me a lot of things,” said Stempien.
“But then when we were actually in the woods, I was able to help her with plant identification and explain what certain plant said about the site and stuff like that.”
He first got a glimpse of what was involved in studying forestry from a UNB counsellor, who explained all the courses he’d be taking. UNB explains on their website that courses for the Bachelor of Science in Forestry (BScF) are in forest and wildlife ecology, soil chemistry, forest economics sociology and statistics, hydrology, management and more. Students learn to collect and analyze information about forests using technology such as Geographic Information System (GIS), Global Positioning System (GPS), growth and yield models as well as forest estate models.
“(The courses) all just got my soul going,” said Stempien, who early on had some hesitations about the program and profession, but he recognizes the opposite is true of what he initially thought.
“The one thing I was a little nervous about was kind of forcing myself to be working in one field,” said Stempien.
“Like forestry is a specific industry, but as we talked and as my degree went on, I realized that that’s not by any means the case.
“Forestry opens a lot of doors and it’s just a good education … I just realized that no matter what I’m doing, the practical nature of a forestry education is really valuable.”
“It’s one of the more practical degrees you can get out there, in terms of being in the field, and I know a lot of my peers really appreciate that.”
Conscious of the environment and people
Another misconception he believes some hold is that the forestry industry is not environmentally conscious.
“We realize there’s a way to sustainably harvest and take care of our environment at the same time and we get to be the person who gets to make these decisions and balance those values,” said Stempien, whose studies have helped him develop a greater appreciation for the intricacies involved in making decisions about a forest.
He explains that as a forestry student, he learned more about measurements and plants than those in environmental management studies, who focus more on planning policies and how they impact people.
With his forestry studies complete and just a few more classes to complete his anthropology minor to round out his studies, Stempien is looking ahead at what type of employment would fit well with his interests.
“I’m most interested in the conservation or the silviculture, planting and recovery side of things, because I think that there’s a lot of value in that,” said Stempien. Silviculture is a branch of forestry that focuses on the growth and management of trees as part of a healthy forest available for wildlife, timber production as well as recreation.
“I am passionate about making sure the forest is still usable for everybody and you know also just the intrinsic value of keeping a forest intact.”
Finding an employer as a forester
As for a future employer, he recognizes there are opportunities with different organizations.
“You don’t need to be working in industry. You don’t need to be working in government,” said Stempien.
“There’s NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and community associations. There are all these different ways that you can apply your knowledge.
“There are some fantastic job opportunities, especially here in Saskatchewan that really kind of told me that I can go where I want if I’m willing to put the effort in.”
Becoming a registered professional
Only members of the Association of Saskatchewan Forestry Professionals (ASFP) can legally practice forestry in Saskatchewan. There are student memberships available.
Becoming a Registered Professional Forester in Saskatchewan means completing forestry-based studies at a university accredited by the Canadian Forestry Accreditation Board (CFAB). UNB is one of those accredited universities.
Those who complete a forestry-based college or technology program, such as Integrated Resource Management at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, can be eligible to become a Registered Professional Forest Technologist. The Association of Saskatchewan Forestry Professionals provides a list of accredited schools and programs. All candidates seeking to join the Association of Saskatchewan Forestry Professionals (ASFP) must also successfully complete a registration exam on forest policy and ASFP governance.