Learning about forestry

Out here we’ve got poplars and pines,

And recently we’ve got a few mines

But who pays the fees

To cut down the trees

Where too many beetles have dined.


Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, traveled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I went back to traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

Western Canada in general, and this area of British Columbia in particular, has a lot of trees; many of them currently dead, killed by the mountain pine beetle.

In the normal course of events, those pine beetles attack the mature trees in a stand. With a decreased ability to fight the invader and the fungus it carries, those trees quickly die and fall, and make room for the new generation.

A century of fire suppression increased the proportion of old trees. Because smoke kills pine beetle larvae, the number of reproducing insects increased.  All this at a time when warmer winters led to improved insect survival, and drier summers to impair sap production, further lowering the trees’ resistance.

The dead trees still have commercial value.

So a lot of standing timber, living or dead, with a conscientious government, can mean a lot of potential revenue, which, in turn, means a lot of work for foresters. And, indeed, I’m taking care of a lot of patients in the industry.

Some work on the supply side, mostly from the side of the government. They do what they can to maintain the health of the forest.

Forestry techs are the ones who go out on foot to find the harvestable trees. I have just begun to find out what their work involves.

On the private side, a lot of contractors operate in this area. One person estimated 25 outfits logging around here, but the number would depend on how one defined “around here.”  A logging camp will have between 25 and 100 employees, living 2 to 15 hours from town.  They operate year round.

I have found out about another genre of forestry worker, the person who, interfacing with the government, negotiates the complex of regulations so that the contractor can extract the resources.

I’ve talked with some of them. Their expertise has become vital to the industry.  One said, “Forestry isn’t rocket science.  It’s way more complicated than that.”

I have yet to meet up with another group of workers, the tree planters. Vital to the continuation of the timber product industry, they only work in the summer.

I want to know more about their work; forestry is an immense, complicated industry. I’ve lived surrounded by wood and wood products all my life.  I’m just beginning to find out how they happen.




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