Bush life: Q&A with silviculture supervisor Rashelle Lala
By Maria Church
Rashelle Lala is a silviculture supervisor for Blue Ridge Lumber, a subsidiary of West Fraser in Whitecourt, Alta. New to the industry in 2015, Rashelle says it was encouragement from family and a draw to the outdoors that led her from her city roots to a career in the bush. And she hasn’t looked back.
CFI: What attracted you to the forest industry?
Growing up in Edmonton, my family and I would go camping every year and we spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s acreage doing various outdoor activities. I always knew I wanted to have a career working with the environment.
I previously got a job with government where I was making good money, but I wasn’t happy there. I thought: if I don’t go to school now my opportunities would be limited at this job. I knew I wanted to do something outside. I first wanted to go into geology, but I thought: I should try this forestry thing out. I’m so thankful I did.
I started school in 2013 at NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) in Edmonton. I had no forestry background whatsoever, I didn’t even know anybody in forestry at that point, but I thought I’d take a chance. At NAIT the program is a very hands-on experience. We went out on various field labs around Alberta. In our first year, there were 26 people in my class and we spent five weeks at Kidney Lake field school. There we learned about different aspects of forestry such as silviculture, harvesting, planning and wildland firefighting.
CFI: What do you like about your job?
I find sustainability, innovations in technology and how dynamic the industry is, very appealing. Being on the reforestation side, its very rewarding to see the process of block preparation after harvesting, the planting stage, tending, and surveying. All these factors bring back a successful stand and make sure the trees grow to rotation age.
Also, the innovation in technology is amazing. I’m going to be working with drones here in the next little bit so it’s interesting how things are evolving.
Education is important when we meet people who have the perception that we’re just cutting, we’re not re-growing the forests. In a community like Whitecourt where we coincide with oil and gas, we do everything we can to address people’s concerns. We have open houses and discussions and I always let people know they can ask me anything. We take any concern very seriously.
CFI: Have you had any mentors in your career thus far?
My family and my boyfriend have always been very supportive of me and always encouraging me to reach my goals. I’ve had teachers, supervisors and coworkers, that have mentored me and have given me so much knowledge and experience. I’m very fortunate to have an amazing support system.
CFI: Did you come across any challenges as a woman starting out in the industry?
When I started in forestry, I never felt that I was treated differently or missed out on opportunities based on my gender.
Since I’ve started I’ve been welcomed and encouraged. However, I know this does happen in our society. In general, I think companies can address these issues by being open, understanding and focusing on work ethic.
CFI: Any advice to share with others interested in joining the industry?
Definitely don’t be intimidated and work hard. It’s not something you can just get into; you have to work at it. I think that there is a perception that it’s this male-dominated industry. But there are so many women now and more are getting into it.
From the very start of my forestry path I’ve had a lot of strong and empowering women to look up to. At Blue Ridge Lumber our woodlands office is about a 50-50 split of women and men.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.