By Rob Keen, CEO, Forests Ontario
It’s sometimes hard to pry our youth (and even ourselves) away from our digital devices and keyboards. With well over 80 percent of young Canadians active online, it seems many tend to venture outside less, stuck in a virtual world rather than the natural one. And, while youth in rural Ontario may have more opportunity to experience nature, in urban areas life can get in the way.
As a result, awareness of key issues like forest stewardship tends to get lost.
That’s the rationale for our Forestry Connects program, which allows high school-aged kids from urban and rural regions to get out and witness the natural beauty of our forests and to learn about the economic, social, and environmental opportunities these forests provide for communities across the province.
The program is in high demand because it gets youth into nature and helps them become true stewards of our forests. Having started in 2010, Forestry Connects now operates throughout Ontario and has recently included school participation from Manitoba.
As a non-profit, educational organization focused on ensuring healthy forests for the future, we’ve partnered with a range of organizations to better educate students on forest sustainability.
One of our partners is the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a sustainability leader dedicated to the future of our forests. While SFI is often known for its forest certification standards, it has a much broader mandate which includes conservation, collaboration, and community engagement.
A key component of SFI’s community engagement is educating youth to ensure they can be effective future leaders with a strong understanding of the value of responsibly managed forests. SFI achieves this through supporting a variety of youth-based initiatives and organizations which connect youth to nature including, but not limited to, Scouts Canada, Earth Rangers, Envirothon, Project Learning Tree, and our Forestry Connects program.
By funding Forestry Connects, SFI is encouraging young people to get off their screens and into the great outdoors to learn about active forest management and the conservation benefits and jobs which this sector provides. Over 95 percent of SFI certified forests are available to the public for outdoor recreation.
As kids learn more about all aspects of forestry, from conserving biodiversity to harvesting timber while maintaining water quality, they begin to appreciate the bounty of natural resources which is their provincial inheritance.
And, they learn about how forest products derived from sustainably managed forests act as carbon sinks, locking in the carbon which would otherwise add to climate change impacts.
The latest Forestry Connects tour will take youth from three schools in Ontario and Manitoba on a two-day excursion into our forests to see how sustainable forest management gets done right.
The first day will be devoted to viewing live field operations and attending hands-on workshops covering tree inventory, wildlife features, and fire management. On the second day, students will visit the Weyerhaeuser mill in Kenora to see how timber is turned into the forest products which we use everyday.
And, we’ll spend time answering students’ questions and talking about the many professional careers opening up in Canada’s forest sector.
This career discussion is so important to the future of Canada’s forest sector. When Canadians think of forestry, they might not realize that the professions associated with it include, not only loggers and foresters, but also hydrologists, biologists, wildlife ecologists, engineers, machine-operators, communicators, supply chain specialists, researchers and innovators, and experts in global policies and consumer preferences.
With 60,000 jobs to be filled by 2020, because of retiring baby boomers and other factors, Forestry Connects serves as a recruiting tool to interest a new generation of Canadians in rewarding and exciting sustainable forest management careers.
The program is also vital as one means of bridging the growing divide between rural and urban Ontario.
As our cities grow ever larger, there’s an increasing disconnect between their citizens and rural residents, between those who work in the natural resources sector and city dwellers who are reliant on its products, but who sometimes don’t understand where the products come from or how they are made, and how these actively managed forests sustain communities.
Programs like Forestry Connects help educate urban Canadians on the important benefits to be derived from the forest sector and the enormous responsibility we have to continue managing this resource sustainably for the generations to come.
We appreciate our partnership with a number of organizations including SFI, as it takes a forest to inspire our youth and connect them with this sector.
Rob Keen is the CEO of Forests Ontario, an organization dedicated to making Ontario’s forests greener through ambitious tree planting initiatives, extensive education programs, and decades of community outreach. Visit our website. Learn more about SFI’s Conservation & Community Partnership Grants Program.