The saws and woodchipper were buzzing during the first week of class at Selkirk College with second-year students in the Forest Technology Program lending many hands to wildfire mitigation efforts at Castlegar’s Zuckerberg Island.

A partnership between the City of Castlegar and the School of Environment & Geomatics since 2018, students working towards careers in the forest industry have been helping clear brush and rid forest floors of dangerous natural fuel build-up in several different locations around the community. In the first week of September, the current cohort of learners turned their attention the historic park along the banks of the Columbia River. “The idea is to remove as many of the fuels as possible so if a fire does come through this area, it won’t have as much fuel to spread and clear this entire area out,” said student Jesse Lyons. “So, we are removing the ladder fuels at the lower levels. The canopy can remain green, but clearing the forest floor is like removing the wick for dynamite. Our work this week is all about taking away that fuse.”

One of the college’s longest running offerings, the two-year Forest Technology Program has been providing skilled graduates to the sector for more than 50 years. From forest ecology and surveying to digital mapping and wildfire management, students are immersed in learning that prepares them for rewarding and vital careers.

With more than half of the program’s time spent in the field, the Zuckerberg Island wildfire mitigation work is just one example of real-world learning. “Getting out into the field is very important for learning because this is what we are going to see in the industry,” Lyons said. “This program is not all about theory. When we graduate from this program you won’t have a bunch of theorists, we will be practitioners who have gone out and tried the work.”

Though the toil at Zuckerberg Island produced plenty of sweat and scratches, the intent of the first field exercise was not to teach students how to trim low hanging branches and tidy the forest floor. “They are not being trained to do this kind of work, they are being trained to write the prescription and then oversee a contractor doing this kind of work,” said industry veteran and instructor Pete Schroder. “Actually being out here doing the work is intended to give them the link and show them how hard it is.”

Further reward for the student’s two-day learning experience in the beautiful setting was gratitude from Castlegar Fire Chief & Director of Protective Services Sam Lattanzio. “On behalf of the City of Castlegar Fire Department, we are so fortunate to have this partnership in place since 2018,” said Lattanzio. “The city benefits from Fire Smarting public property and the program benefits from the ability to practice their skills that they gain while being students at the college. We want to continue to develop the program and continue to look at future locations within the city they can practice.”

Learn more about the Selkirk College Forest Technology Program at:

Selkirk College