Stewardship, leadership, partnership and traditional ecological knowledge: those are the curriculum elements of the Junior Forest Rangers (JFR) program. A ten-member group is in the area working on a variety of projects. They returned recently from training in Hinton.
Since 1965, JFR has offered young people from across the provinces the opportunity to get started in a career related to natural resource management and forestry.
All JFR crews live on wildfire bases or in JFR camps for the duration of the seven week program. Crew members and leaders stay with their crew 24 hours a day, seven days a week and complete a wide variety of work and educational projects based on natural resources.
Crews have eight members each, from 16 to 18 years old, and two crew leaders.
On July 11, at 12-Foot Davis Park, the local group met with a few people who work in related fields and shared their experiences.
About the JFR program, Erin Cook, priority issues coordinator, said, “It’s like an educational opportunity and a work opportunity for high school-age students.” The program is for both young women and men; they work separately. “They have to write a resume to get a job interview. We hire them, they do work for us.”
Cook told the group she got a forestry degree at the University of Alberta and noted, “You can get lots of experience in the summer. “I came here as a forest officer, doing mountain pine beetle (work).”
About her chosen profession, Cook said, “It’s a great lifestyle: you’re outdoors, you make a lot of money. I learned about the intricacies of the government, communicating with …companies on their…plans.”
Robin Barnes, a Geography Information Systems (G.I.S.) technologist based in Peace River, told the JFR that her job is to make maps for Environments and Parks, and Forestry and Agriculture. She started her studies at the University of Calgary, in English and history, then Wildlife and Rangeland Conservation.
The program, she said, will, “give the girls the opportunity to see what career opportunities there are in Environment and Parks and Forestry and Agriculture, from a female perspective. There’s lots of different pathways.”
Alysia Book, area range management specialist with Alberta Environment and Parks, said, “I study the effects of livestock grazing on the plant community, and build tools for the agrologists to use – plant community health assessment – basically ecological management tools.”
Natalka Melnycky, a senior wildlife biologist with, Alberta Environment and Parks, and based in Peace River, encouraged the group to do an internship in their educational quests. One of her first tasks was digging up earthworms. “They’re an important part of the system,” she assured the group. Melnycky specialized in environmental sciences. She emphasized, “Finding a mentor is important,” and encouraged the JFRs to “move around, get new experiences, apply for grants.”
Andrea Coote, wildfire technologist, Peace River, said, “My passion was for fire; I took training in Ontario, starting working in the Peace Region.” She has a forestry diploma, and also took an Environmental Landscape Management Program. As a wildfire technologist, Coote handles prescribed burn programs and more. “I went to college when I was 26 years old; I did plumbing for 16 years. I decided that…I needed to be outside.”
Crystal Burrows, information officer, told the group, “I grew up poring over the pages of National Geographic magazine; travel, wildlife, learning about people. I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer.” Burrows took forestry classes in high school for two years. She started working in Peace River seasonally. She attended a two-year program at N.A.I.T. and was hired as a forest officer. As the years went by, Burrows’ lifestyle changed with two children. As an information officer, she said, “What I like about forestry is you’re never doing anything two days in a row.”
Bonnie Hood, a GIS technologist, has worked in various capacities in the government for 30 years. She came out of high school with a diploma, with a higher level math and science. “I was a JFR before college, and that helped me get my foot in the door with the government,” she said. “The key thing is learning on the job; having a keen interest in the job.”
Lindsay Sprado, who lives in Karuizawa, Nag, Japan, was visiting her family in Peace River. She works at Augustana College, and advised group members to, “make sure you research requirements” of post secondary institutions. As well, Sprado told the JFRs, “Get grants to go abroad; there’s more possibilities there in your own country. Networks are really important
Later, Cook pointed out, “only 25% are women in the forestry division who do forestry (not including administrative positions)”. She told the JFRs to “jump in with both feet; don’t wait for help”.
Book pointed out, “I’ve learned my best lessons after I made the same mistake five times.”
Burrows told them, “This is a chance to make a good impression. Make yourself be known as a go-getter; be respectful; share the workload; help each other grow; don’t be scared to ask for help.”