When I started my practicum at Ecotrust Canada seven weeks ago, I did not comprehend the absolute vastness of Canada’s forests or understand the inner workings of this country’s forest industry. I come from the Netherlands, and I am a recent MSc graduate in Business Administration specialized in Management Consulting.

Two short months later I believe I can now say that I have had time and opportunity to peek behind the curtain and start to understand the basics.

From my perspective, forestry in BC looks something like this: the current forest industry is getting weaker, not stronger. And the forests and surrounding ecosystems are more fragile than we would like to admit.

Much of the information I now have on the BC forestry industry has been gathered from articles by and interviews with people who are much more knowledgeable than me about the Canadian forestry industry. Issues like the pine beetle epidemic and how forestry organizations dealt with it, as well as the alleged faults in the certifications systems, among others, naturally stand out.

What stands out the most though, are the examples we see with our own eyes.

There were two examples that really opened my eyes to the fragility of the forest ecosystem. The first was while I was on a trip through the Canadian Rockies in BC and Alberta. While were driving, our guide pointed out large swathes of the burned remains of forests, demonstrating how susceptible these forests are to forest fires. Government cutbacks have strongly diminished the size and skill of the workforce monitoring Canada’s forests, which leads to these forests not being managed properly. The most shocking fact for me was that there had been a forest fire raging through that area a number of years before, which covered an area more than twice the size of my home country, which is a very scary thought.

The second example was while traveling on Vancouver Island, from Nanaimo to Tofino. Here our guide showed how a lot of the hillsides had a patchwork appearance; harvested old growth had not yet been replaced by new growth. My mind immediately went back to the geography classes from high school and I started thinking about what erosion might do to the local ecosystem and the implications it might have on the ability of forest stands to regrow in that area. Our guide pointed out something else: when there is old growth and trees are allowed to grow for longer periods of time, other flora starts growing in their shadow and more fauna can live within these small ecosystems. Removing these old growth areas has a very heavy impact on these smaller ecosystems, perhaps even damaging them beyond repair.

At Ecotrust Canada we agree that moving towards longer cutting cycles would be better for carbon storage and for wood quality, and we are looking for ways to move this management practice forward.

In our regular planning meetings, we have coined the phrase ‘Slow Forests.’ For the next three months, I will keep providing the visitor’s perspective, always asking questions to challenge approaches that might otherwise be taken for granted.

Sebastiaan Zeeman hails from the Netherlands. He has been an intern with our Ecosystem Services and Forestry programs since April.