More than 300 Grade 4 and 5 students in the Alberni Valley participated in logging demonstrations, stream riparian and fish discussion, wildfire prevention activities and much more under the forestry umbrella at McLean Mill on Sept. 28 for National Forest Week.
The event was put on by Port Alberni’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources office in partnership with local environmental organizations and forestry companies.
Students learned everything from types of trees, to fish habitats to fighting wildfires and how First Nations use cedar to weave.
“The kids are so excited, they’re learning so much,” said Rhonda Morris, district manager, South Island natural resource district. “Hupacasath and Toquaht First Nations are both here today, some of their elders are sharing their crafts with cedar, bark stripping and making jewelry and paddles. Hupacasath is sharing their relatively new business of tapping maple syrup.”
National Forest Week originally began in the 1920s to raise awareness for fire prevention but Morris said events have evolved into so much more.
“Forests are such an integral part of our livelihood and our environment so it’s a time to reflect on the importance of forestry,” Morris said. “We’re teaching the kids about trees and how trees grow from seeds to what we have around here today.”
The event in Alberni has been focused on Grade 4-6 students for the past three years which Morris said is a good age to educate kids about forestry and the environment so they can make informed decisions about whether they want to take up a career in forestry or fir prevention.
Morris said she is optimistic about the future of the forestry sector in the Alberni Valley.
“We’re fortunate to live in such a great environment. With our climate, we can grow some magnificent trees…I don’t foresee any concerns or problems,” she said. “Forestry will always be a big part of what we do and the jobs that we have here.”
Over Morris’ 26 years working in government, she said she’s noticed a transformation in the forest industry in the Valley from it being primarily dominated by big companies in the 1980s to seeing more individuals and First Nations groups having harvesting rights today.
“When I first worked in the Valley in the late 80s, it was mostly MacMillan Bloedel—a big and important employer for the community. We still have those big important employers like Western Forest Products and Catalyst but we are also really diversifying,” she said. “We have a lot more people that have forest rights to harvest trees, a lot of First Nations, more than ever before have harvesting rights. They really benefit from that because they see that there’s jobs and revenue coming to their communities from the trees that are growing in their traditional territories.”
Regardless of the recent shut down of Alberni’s Somass Mill, Morris sees potential for the Alberni Valley’s forest industry.
“We also have a Coulson’s mill within the last year or so get purchased by San Group (out of Surrey) so that tells me that there’s still a business opportunity here if people are coming,” Morris said “San Group is interested in expanding its operations so as long as the technology is there and the investment climate is such that people want to come and invest in the community and forestry, we’ll see a long future.”