11 Years As Dean: A Look Back

John Innes
John Innes

This will be the last “Dean’s Message” that you’ll see from me. In a couple of months, I will be handing over the reins to Dr Rob Kozak, and I’ll be moving back into my role as FRBC Chair of Forest Management, following a period of administrative leave. The last 11 years have been eventful, and we have seen many positive changes. I’ve taken the opportunity later in this edition to review some of the changes in the Faculty during this period; the Faculty has diversified and grown significantly. It has developed its international connections and is increasingly recognized as one of the leading faculties of forestry worldwide. So could we be considered the leading Faculty? Perhaps so, but that honour may be more appropriate for a certain European university, which I won’t give the satisfaction of naming. We have more professors and a lot more students, and we probably exceed them in terms of overall research publications (although they win in terms of strictly forestry publications). Where they beat us hands down is in the area of government and industry research funding, and in the extent to which they are supported by the government. Annually, they receive more than four times as much research funding as we do, and their basic government support is almost 10 times greater than ours.

Trees in a forest

While we have made great strides in some areas over the past 11 years, our inability to engage with government and industry has created some significant setbacks. It is not through lack of trying. Industry has, for the large part, consistently directed its research funding to non-university partners that have minimal interest in tertiary level training. This has had an interesting consequence: the lack of industry funding coming to us and other forestry faculties in Canada has resulted in a lack of training of Master’s and PhD students in areas most relevant to industry, and it almost resulted in the termination of our Forest Operations program, perhaps the most industry-relevant of all our undergraduate programs. Now, there is a shortage of highly skilled workers in silviculture (at a time when there are
calls for a paradigm shift in forest management), forest engineering, and other important areas.

The Faculty has done increasingly well with federal tri-council funding but provincial research funding, with a few exceptions (such as genomics), has remained almost non-existent. The provincially-funded Forest Sciences Program was terminated before I started as Dean, and has not been replaced. This continues to astound me, given that the Province is ultimately responsible for the management of the BC forest estate. In this case, it is not a matter of the funding being directed elsewhere, as the Province’s own research capacity has also been hard hit. The lack of investment in research, inventory, and monitoring is now becoming evident, as shown by the inability of the province to give an accurate figure for the area of the Timber Harvesting Land Base, let alone more subtle numbers, such as the areas of different types of old-growth forest remaining.

There are numerous areas where our Faculty could help with pressing forest-related and other environmental problems within British Columbia. While traditionally we have been associated only with forestry, our expertise now spans many different habitats and deals with areas such as carbon sequestration and storage, conservation prioritization, application of remote sensing technologies, and many other topical areas. In addition, our Wood Sciences department contains expertise in the new products associated with the bioeconomy, mass timber, and other areas related to the utilization of forest products.

Mountainside community landscape

Given the challenges facing the forest sector in British Columbia and Canada along with the ability and capacity of the Faculty to contribute to solutions, my hope is that the coming years will see much greater cooperation between our Faculty, government, and those involved in the management of forests and other lands in the province.

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