Selkirk College Forest Technology Student Explores the Edge
Is it possible to balance the principles of climate change action with responsible resource extraction in our province's forests? That question was posed to second-year Forest Technology Program students in the form of a challenge from instructor Jesper Nielsen and inspired creative answers filled with hope for the future of the industry.
It started with an instructor’s challenge to look at climate change on a personal level and ended with a creative outburst by students that breaks down walls to better understanding the future of the forest industry.
In November, Forest Technology Program instructor Jesper Nielsen spurred his second-year students with a contest focused on thinking about their future in the industry. “It Starts With Me” set very few parameters on the final product other than wanting learners to think about the marketplace differently than how it is generally perceived.
As the Winter Semester came to an end in April, Nielsen was blown away by a 50-page book put together by student Kelsi Littler. A collection of art and words from her classmates in the School of Environment & Geomatics, The Edge Effect explores climate change through the minds of those graduating into resource industry careers.
“I hope it shows that all these people who are going to be working in the industry really care about the environment,” says Littler, who also has poetry featured in the book. “The only way to change how things are done is if you genuinely care and want to do what’s right. I hope this sparks something in people.”
Packed with poetry, paintings, photography and drawings, The Edge Effect won the contest and now Littler is having the book self-published as a fundraiser for the non-profit magazine The Narwhal. The book includes pieces from 10 different students who are in the Forest Technology Program, Integrated Environmental Planning Program, and Recreation, Fish & Wildlife Program.
“We have so many people in the School of Environment & Geomatics that are extremely artistic and creative… and they care a lot about the environment,” says Littler. “There are a lot of people in the industry that have this romantic experience with nature just by spending time working outdoors. I wanted a way to display that somehow and the end result makes me hopeful for the future.”
Every Little Bit Helps
Before Nielsen introduced the contest to his Forest Health Management class, he started a discussion on what has been described as the “existential threat to our generation.” Wanting to address the topic of climate change in a meaningful way, the class engaged in a spirited debate where there was considerable blame foist upon others.
“I expected the blame-shifting because we are human and that’s what we generally do,” says Nielsen, who has been an instructor on the Castlegar Campus since 2012. “I don't mean to diminish the conversation that took place that day because I was impressed by their thoughtfulness and their enthusiasm. But our innate desire to want to point the finger at someone else was very apparent, especially early in the discussion. I wanted them to become aware of this and of how unproductive a method it usually is in facilitating change.”
Nielsen moved to Nakusp when he was 10-years-old and after high school headed off to the University of British Columbia to complete a degree in International Relations. Fond of small-town life, he moved back to his logging roots and worked as a landing bucker, shake blocker, tree planter and juvenile spacer before formalizing his forestry education back at UBC. He then spent 20 years as a forestry manager in Nakusp prior to shifting to the classrooms of Selkirk College.
With a belief that the forest industry is in transition, Nielsen pushes students to find solutions to questions that were not even asked when he was younger. Based on the idea that every small positive change towards the environment helps for both those inside and outside the forest industry, Nielsen introduced the contest to his students.
“Elected leaders are generally responding to what they think people want,” he says. “I don't think those leaders will actually believe that we are willing to make changes that require substantial self-sacrifice until they see us doing those sorts of things voluntarily. Sure, if only one person ends up doing it, then it is effectively meaningless. But it has to start somewhere.”
Building on Passion at Selkirk College
Littler’s relationship with the outdoors was fortified while a Geography major at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. To help navigate financially through her degree, Littler spent summers tree planting in Northern British Columbia. After graduation, she moved permanently west and chose the West Kootenay as a base.
While pondering her future, Littler was considering an after-degree at UBC’s West Kootenay Teacher Education Program when she discovered the program offerings in Selkirk College’s School of Environment & Geomatics. She began the two-year Forest Technology Program in September 2018 and graduated last month.
“It is honestly the best education I have ever had, I loved it,” says the 28-year-old. “It was interesting coming from university where you are in the huge classes and you never get to know your professors. It was an incredible learning experience at Selkirk College, all the teachers are so passionate about what they are teaching and genuinely care about the students. That creates a pretty wonderful place to learn.”
Relishing the opportunity to learn with a cohort of peers who share a passion for making the outdoors a basis of their careers, Littler quickly developed bonds that culminated with The Edge Effect project. When she put the word out to classmates about a collection of words and art, she received enthusiastic buy-in from those willing to share their talents.
Though she has been writing nature-inspired poetry for several years, Littler had never shared her work. The Edge Effect features six of her poems, including “wildflowers on a cutblock” where she writes: “together they conspire to bloom and grow/despite the powers that told them no.”
“I have always enjoyed writing, but this is the first time that I have actually put it out there,” Littler says. “You feel a bit vulnerable, but seeing other friends do it helps give you the courage to do it. Being surrounded by people who are brave and following their passion helps you go there too.”
As she works on getting the self-published The Edge Effect into the hands of readers, Littler’s primary focus is on the new silviculture business she has started with a classmate. The pair have already secured tree planting contracts and will expand the operation to include surveys and GIS work in the coming months.
“I am more passionate about change in the industry after two years at Selkirk College,” Littler says. “My education has provided so much more understanding, now I can find where my place within the industry is.”
As Nielsen looks back at the Class of 2020 with pride, taking students to the edge of their thinking was a highlight of the academic year.
“I'm completely convinced that forest management and forest harvesting can be entirely compatible with environmental and social objectives,” he says. “I think it’s possible for every forestry student’s story to have a happy ending, meaning that they can balance those three overarching objectives and be legitimately proud of the work they do. But it requires vigilance and a constant awareness of one’s own perspective. That’s part of what this project was trying to instill.”