Environment | National Forest Week: A Time to Share Stories

By Natalie A. Swift –

It is often the unremarkable experiences, those encountered in the pursuit of day-to-day activities, that contribute to the charming nature of the central interior region. Like the sound of an American red squirrel sternly admonishing those who wander into one of the areas it has designated for storing its summer harvest. Or listening to the banter of log-truck drivers over the CB radio and the delightful moment when one expresses that customary and congenial code of the Cariboo-Chilcotin: “Ohh yea, yew betcha” as one affirms to the other while they transport their loads of Lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, or hybrid white Engelmann spruce into town.

The author showing affection for a Douglas-fir seedling. Photo: Janet Breen.

The author showing affection for a Douglas-fir seedling. Photo: Janet Breen.

And it is the forests from which these logs are sourced that act as examples of the degree to which the local population will extend itself to provide for those who need it. Sciurid and Hominid alike are presented a cornucopia of goods and services from which they eagerly indulge, while their sylvan hosts repeatedly restock to support themselves and others—countless and demanding others. Mountain pine beetle, spruce budworm, Western gall rust, and wildfire are but a few of the entities that demonstrate a tendency to proliferate across the region when their hosts are particularly accommodating.

The ability to withstand and recover from the challenges presented by esurient occupants is a quality familiar to those who call this place home. Stories of resilience are passed down from generation to generation in the oral histories of Indigenous and settler communities, chronicled in countless books penned by local authors, and illustrated in the verdant seas of seedlings splashing at the feet of slumping timber. The indomitable nature of the region is made visible to audiences further afield via media reports that highlight the tireless efforts of local people to protect what is dear to them: from the evolving fight to save Teztan Biny to the implementation of an ambitious reforestation program in the wake of the Mountain pine beetle epidemic and the tremendous effort to respond to this year’s record-setting wildfire season.

Although I find many of the everyday experiences I encounter in the region charming, it’s the generosity and tenacity exhibited by those who live here that I find remarkable and inspiring. And, to be honest, I need the inspiration these days.

“Burning Bush” – an image created by the author to thank a friend for their generosity. Image: Natalie A. Swift

“Burning Bush” – an image created by the author to thank a friend for their generosity. Image: Natalie A. Swift

It has been absolutely heart-wrenching to watch this year’s fire season unfold. Hearing stories of flames closing in on communities large and small, learning of friends losing their homes, and reflecting on the many years of work that have now gone up in smoke has, at times, paralyzed me with anxiety and grief.

During these difficult times, I have found myself reflecting on the various stories I tell about this place—stories like those I have mentioned in this article. I find these stories comforting, as they remind me that, in the months and years ahead, many of our day-to-day activities will carry on – and, if not, we will adapt – trees will grow back, and local people will continue to work diligently to protect what is close to their hearts. In fact, I’m counting on all of this, as it is what is necessary to create a rewarding future for those who call this place home. These stories are, for me, an inspiration to work toward that future.

“Canada’s Forests: Our Stories, Our Future” is a befitting theme for this year’s National Forest Week—well, at least the “Our Stories, Our Future” part. Unfortunately, the main title, “Canada’s Forests,” does not reflect the reality that there are many Indigenous nations responsible for the well-being of the forests that extend across this country. Notwithstanding this detail, I am excited about the potential of this year’s theme.

According to the BC National Forest Week Coalition, the purpose of National Forest Week is to “… to rally the troops, wave the flag, and showcase the high level of professionalism used in managing the forest resources of BC”. However, I believe this year’s theme and the events of the past summer implore “the troops” to consider an alternative approach. Instead of being a platform for forestry practitioners, professionals, and academics to tell stories about their work, National Forest Week should be an opportunity for the public to tell their stories—and for “the troops” to listen. Not only is listening to the public’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences a compassionate response in the wake of crisis, but it is also a necessary step in working together to chart the way forward.

This year’s National Forest Week festivities are scheduled for September 24 to 30 and I encourage the citizens of the many nations that share this land to get involved. Organize a local event where you tell your stories about the forest and send invitations to the institutions that employ forestry practitioners, professionals, and academics. Or, perhaps, expresses yourself via a letter, song, sketch, short story, poem, play, or painting and submit your work to the local media or BC’s National Forest Week Facebook page. The stories you tell about this place – no matter whether they are simple or extravagant – hold great power to influence others and transform the future. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

For more information regarding National Forest Week in British Columbia, visit: bcnfw.ca.

Natalie A. Swift is a specialist in ecosystem management interested in Canadian identity and forest governance, planning, and management. She is currently a Masters of Science student in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia and a Forester in Training with the Association of BC Forest Professionals.

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