A simulated look at a career in forestry


Angele Cano/NNSL photo Michelle Buckley, left, gets help on the controllers from instructor Bevan Davidson on a harvester processor simulator as part of a new forestry course at DJSS.

Angele Cano/NNSL photo
Michelle Buckley, left, gets help on the controllers from instructor Bevan Davidson on a harvester processor simulator as part of a new forestry course at Diamond Jenness Secondary School.

Students looking to make their living in the forestry sector now have an extra edge to prepare for that opportunity.

A new forestry program, the first of its kind in the NWT, has been introduced at Diamond Jenness Secondary School (DJSS).

It is accessible to students who are close to graduation. The dual-credit forestry class allows students to examine the forestry industry, different career options and the knowledge needed, and experience practical exercises on state-of the-art equipment.

On the morning of April 16, students of J.J. Hirst’s forestry class were doing just that. Nearly a dozen stood waiting for their turn, two at a time, to try out virtually moving trees around in a forest setting. The harvester-processer and faller-buncher simulators were brought to Hay River from Alberta as part of a program through the Woodlands Operation Learning Foundation (WOLF), which is affiliated with Alberta’s Northern Lakes College.

Only the first step in training, instructor Bevan Davidson said this year he will be travelling with the simulators to five Alberta high schools, all with an aim to attract the younger generation, especially women, to jobs in the forestry sector.

We have a hard time attracting young people to the industry,” said Davidson. “Maybe other technologies might seem more interesting and oil and gas is especially quite a lucrative sector. But forestry is climbing back up.”

The two simulators were developed in 2009 in Sweden. They cost around $240,000 for both.

The simulators at DJSS are only two of five pieces of equipment WOLF uses for training.

The program itself is not only about logging, said Davidson.

There are different careers in forestry and the course touches on them all – the economic, social, environmental and scientific aspects to forest stewardship and ecology.

It’s an opportunity for students to stay and work and live in the North,” said Hirst. “When some students thought of forestry, they thought mostly of logging, but that’s only one area. We are finding it includes such a wide range.”

Hirst is taking online modules to keep ahead of the questions, and, in the meantime, the school is reaching out to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ forestry division to further the practical component of the program. It has also received funding from the Department of Education, Culture and Employment to cover the instructor and transportation of the simulators.

As if they were truly in the forest, students Michelle Buckley and Cole Martel were sitting in industrial padded chairs, staring at a screen of virtual trees and equipment, controls at their hands and feet. Both agreed the faller-buncher was easier to work.

Martel said he took the course with a direction in mind.

When I finish school, I want to be a heavy equipment operator and I figured this was a good way to get my foot in the door,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve been able to take a program like this.”

The idea for the program came when Hay River businessperson Brad Mapes approached school administration about starting kids on a learning path that could lead them into forestry. With Mapes’ proposed wood pellet mill near Enterprise, there may be opportunities for students in the forestry sector.

There could be more opportunity here in the next few years,” said Hirst.

— Angele Cano