Mediaplanet: You left a promising career in finance to earn a degree in forestry. When was it clear that this was the right choice for you?

Shayna Mason: I knew after my first year of treeplanting that I wanted to find a career where I was able to work outside of an office. Although I knew that I wanted to change my focus, I felt that it was important to complete my finance degree and get some work experience before making such a big decision. After working in finance for three years, I was offered a promotion and that was the moment I knew I needed to make a change. Even though I had this amazing opportunity, I wasn’t really excited about it and I just kept thinking of going back to work out in the bush.

MP: To what do you attribute your passion for British Columbia’s forests?

SM: I discovered that I had a passion for the forest while I was in my first season of treeplanting. My passion is driven by the feeling I get when I am standing out on a block or in a forest. Breathing the fresh air with the sun on my face is pretty wonderful.

Of course, like with any job you have bad days. Sometimes nothing seems to work, it’s cold and rainy and I’m getting eaten alive by black flies. But even on my worst day in the bush I know I can look out at where I am, take a deep breath, and still know that it is better than where I was before. Working in forestry allows you to work in some of the most beautiful parts of the country and see things that you would likely never get to see otherwise.

MP: Which industry trends or innovations excite you most?

SM: Nanocrystalline cellulose is exciting because it has potential to impact such a wide range of products from electronics to paper products. However, I am most interested in biomass energy -- the province of Ontario seems to be pioneering the biomass trend in Canada but biomass is already well established in Europe. The development of the energy sector is a vital economic driver in Canada and by investing in a form of sustainable energy I think Canada has an opportunity to capitalize on a natural resource. Ultimately, this will also reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

MP: Why is it such an important time for the industry?

SM: The industry is going through many changes at this time. There is a huge employment gap that needs to be filled. The employment opportunities for students and forestry workers in general are very exciting. Improvements in forest technology, specifically GIS, are providing forest managers with more information and  helping them improve decision making. The industry is also changing as foresters are working more with other professionals, such as biologists and engineers, to come up with innovative ways to manage forests holistically in an effort to mitigate the effects of climate change.

"My passion is driven by the feeling I get when I am standing out on a block or in a forest. Breathing the fresh air with the sun on my face is pretty wonderful." 

MP: How are companies and industry associations developing the next generation of forest professionals?

SM: One thing that sets forestry apart from many other disciplines is the sheer number the opportunities available to students. When I completed my finance degree I graduated with no related work experience and student positions were very limited if you had not yet completed your degree. In having discussions with other students in other faculties this seems to be quite common. Forestry could not be more different. Many companies and industry associations hire students every summer. Most of the forestry students have multiple job offers for summer work as early as November. This is hugely beneficial to students and the industry as forestry graduates are well-rounded, and prepared for their careers to begin.

MP: What do you think young people should know about a career in forestry?

SM: The possibilities in the industry right now seem to be endless. You have to be driven and passionate enough to make it happen for yourself. I tell people who aren’t familiar with forestry that it is more than just “cutting” or “hugging”. Yes, there are many jobs in harvesting and silviculture but there are also jobs in urban centres, computer technology, and research. Despite the wide diversity in the industry, forestry is still a small community. Networking is so easy. I had the pleasure of attending a CIF conference in Newfoundland in September and met with forestry professionals from all over the country and the world. The ability to form these types of connections is valuable as it opens so many doors for young professionals.