It’s my first Alberta Forest Week as president of the AFPA. Somehow, I sense this year isn’t quite like any other.
I know we usually celebrate this week together. Enjoying the first few weeks of spring with a visit to one of our beautiful demonstration forests, a tree planting event, or a talk from one of our province’s many experts on forest ecology. That’s not going to happen this year. Even though the COVID situation seems to be improving, these kinds of communal exercises simply aren’t possible.
There’s something about the solitude of this year’s Forest Week that lends itself to reflection. The thing I’m reflecting on this year is what it really is that makes Alberta’s forests so unique.
There is of course, the spaces themselves. From the majestic eastern slopes of the Rockies to the remote wilds of the northern boreal, there’s really nothing like Alberta’s forests. They are places of peaceful tranquility and quiet enjoyment. Of soaring beauty, vibrant colour, and firsthand displays of nature’s awesome power.
It’s not just the ecology and tranquility that make Alberta’s forests so unique, though. What really makes Alberta’s forests special is the Albertans who work so hard to sustain them. I’m talking about the firefighter who puts in long, often dangerous days on the fire line to keep fire from ravaging too much of our forests, or threatening one of our 70 forest communities. Or the forester who spends a 40-year career in the bush making sure that our forests are sustainably managed. And the tree planter who slogs through the muskeg to plant the next generation of seedlings. This isn’t always glamourous work, but it’s done with care by people who truly love Alberta’s forests.
The dedication to our forests doesn’t end in the wilderness, though. It also carries through to people who work in the mills, making forest products that the world so desperately needs.
We’ve gotten an education in all the things that are made of forest products lately. Three months ago, I don’t think any of us really thought much about what was in an N95 mask, or that you also need pulp to make lab filters and surgical drapes. Toilet paper seems like such a trivial thing, until it’s in short supply. And trips to the grocery store have suddenly become very precious. They are, of course, made possible by wood-based packaging like pallets, egg cartons, and milk containers.
The people who work in our mills are also part of what makes Alberta’s forest unique. They work hard every day to make sure not only that the world gets the products it needs, but also that they are produced in the most sustainable way possible. People around the world can buy Alberta-made forests product with confidence, knowing that for every tree harvested to make it, at least two have been planted. They can also be assured that Alberta’s mills are among the most modern and energy efficient in the world.
I think that the unsung heroes of mill operations are our health and safety professionals. They have managed to keep these essential operations running – and the people who work in them healthy and safe. This isn’t easy in an industrial setting. It requires meticulous planning and vigilance, but they’ve done the job with aplomb.
As we celebrate Alberta’s forest week, I encourage you to think about what makes our forests unique. If you can do it safely, by all means, get out and enjoy our natural spaces. And if you can’t get out there, maybe take the time to thank a forestry worker in your community – at an appropriate social distance, of course. Their work ensures sustainable forests for future generations of Albertans and helps deliver products the world needs.
Jason Krips is President and CEO of the Alberta Forest Products Association. AFPA’s award-winning Love Alberta Forests campaign highlights the care that forestry professionals put into taking care of Alberta’s forests.