While Ontario’s population is increasingly urban – 86% of the population now lives in cities – the importance of our forests to the social and economic wellbeing of our communities has not diminished. Ontario’s forests, which span 70 million hectares, support more than 180,000 jobs across the province and forest products generate more than $10 billion every year for the provincial economy.
Behind these impressive numbers is an incredible range of professionals who are charged with managing our forests, a complex process that balances economic growth, social needs, preserving natural heritage, and the health of our ecosystem. As a result of that shift to a more urban population, however, youth are increasingly disconnected from our forests, which in turn means that less are considering future careers in the field. If Ontario’s forestry sector is to continue benefitting our communities in the way it does now, engaging students and inspiring future professionals is an important first step.
Since 2010, Forestry Connects has worked to bridge the gap between urban youth and forests. This program gives high school students the opportunity to visit forestry dependent communities for a “behind the scenes” look at Ontario’s forestry industry. This year, we were fortunate to highlight forestry in two communities, Algonquin Park and Renfrew County.
In 2015, the program kicked off on September 23rd in Renfrew County, where 35 students spent three days learning first-hand about the manufacturing of forest products. A second phase of the program took place in Algonquin Park in October. At both locations, students participated in tours, workshops, demonstrations, and discussions with biologists, forest managers, conservation professionals, mill managers, policy makers and manufacturers. Students gained insight into how these different fields work together to ensure that the integrity of our forests is protected throughout the process of creating the products we use every day.
Many participants and teachers describe the Forestry Connects experience as “eye opening” and one that radically changes their perceptions of forestry. According to one student, “…the program meant a 360 spin on my opinion of Ontario’s logging and forestry industry. It also meant a beautiful escape into nature.” A program sponsor also reiterated the need for connecting youth to forests, stating, “With the urban and rural disconnect growing every year, youth need a way to learn about the forest industry and its importance to not only local economies, but Ontario as a whole. This program allows for youth to experience the industry and the perseverance and passion people working in it have for forest sustainability.”
Ontario’s forestry sector and industry are around us every day. It’s in the clean air we breathe and water we drink and in the countless local wood products we use every day. Just as we rely on our forests, our forests have rely on us. Inspiring and engaging the next generation of forestry professionals, especially in an increasingly urban population, is crucial to ensuring that our communities continue to benefit from this important resource. Forests Ontario looks forward to continuing to bridge the gap by delivering and expanding programs like Forestry Connects.
Submitted by Jessica Kaknevicius, Education Programs Manager, Forests Ontario