Getting outdoors: Q&A with EACOM chief forester Jennifer Tallman
By Maria Church
Jennifer Tallman is the chief forester for EACOM in Ontario. Raised in southern Ontario, Jennifer’s interest in the great outdoors led her to become a registered professional forester. Twenty-seven years later, she in now in charge of EACOM’s forest management planning activities, sustainability, and certification in the province.
CFI: What was your career path to become a chief forester?
I worked the majority of my career in the forest industry. I think it was just the upbringing I had. We were always outdoors camping, exposed to nature. I had that interest for sure.
Then, the summer I was 17, I joined the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources junior ranger program. I was sent to Lake Superior Provincial Park and spent the summer there. We worked in different aspects of natural resources, so we had exposure to parks, fish and wildlife and forestry. After that summer I knew I definitely wanted to pursue some kind of career or studies in natural resources.
I graduated in ’92 from Lakehead University in forestry, then spent about a year and a half with the Ministry of Natural Resources in Cochrane in their forester in training program.
I then spent 21 years with Resolute Forest Products [formerly Abitibi-Price]. Most of my career there was working on the operations side. I worked out in the bush. I started out there working with our employees on a harvesting technique that we were adopting in northeastern Ontario. We have a lot of black spruce lowland sites so we were working on harvesting with regeneration protection. I worked with the feller buncher operators and the skidder operators on how to put that technique in place.
Just as forest management certification was coming on line, I worked to put the first system in place for our operation. I also spent five years as the operations superintendent, so I had the responsibility for the whole forest operation. We were a unionized operation and at that time it was a 120-man operation.
I started with EACOM in 2015 as the co-ordinator for forest planning. I became the chief forester in the fall of 2017. Our group is responsible for two direct-managed forest licenses here in Ontario. We look after writing the forest management plans for those tenures. We do all of the day-to-day forest management documentation, working with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, making sure all the permits are in place and monitor implementation of the plan. Our group also looks after the forest management certifications we hold on the two licenses as well as the chain of custody certifications for each of our sawmills. We are also responsible for the scaling that measures and tracks all the wood that comes in to our mills, and we look after the environmental programs for our sawmills.
I spend time working with government making sure we’re contributing to policy and legislation and different initiatives and maintaining an overview of what’s happening provincially.
CFI: What is it about forestry that you enjoy?
It’s the outdoors aspect, and the fact that it’s a renewable resource. The forests overall are able to provide so many different benefits. Whether it’s actual forest products, the outdoors for recreation, or other ways of making a living through remote tourism or trapping. I like the opportunity to contribute to the management of something that’s such a big piece of our country, and that is renewable.
CFI: When you were working in harvesting operations, you must have been one of just a few women. What was that like?
For sure on the operations; and in a leadership position, definitely. At that point in time we still had bush camps so there were a few other women working. One woman was a delimber operator, and then a few other women worked in the kitchen. There were a few of us around but it was rare, especially out in the operations.
For me, you go into the field knowing you are going to be in the minority, but I never had difficulties. When I started, it was an older workforce so many of the men were close to retirement and they were just fascinated that I even wanted to be out there. It was a novelty to have this girl marching up to them to see them in their feller bunchers, who was interested to learn what it was they did and to work with them.
There are always some people who are going to challenge you, and you just learn to work your way through it and develop a backbone.
I think one of the great advantages of having women in with any kind of profession is that they have a slightly different manner about them. With management, we can often approach it a different way, more collaborative.
CFI: What has changed over the span of your career for women in the industry?
It’s really encouraging now to see the number of women that are in the field. Especially over the last few years, there is an abundance of young women who have graduated from forestry or the masters of forest conservation program out of the University of Toronto who are coming out of it and have this great enthusiasm. It’s great to see that the numbers are swelling and that they have an interest in it. Clearly the message is getting through that you go wherever you want. It’s much more open and it’s nice to see that.
Women in Wood, the group for women in forestry: that is wonderful! It gives a venue for young women to ask questions that they might not think they could in a workplace with mostly men. These are all women somehow involved in forestry or natural resources and you’ve got this nice, safe forum to ask questions, get direction and bounce ideas off people. That’s great.
CFI: What advice do you have for women starting out in the industry?
I would say just go for it. Don’t let anything hold you back.
If you have any trepidation, make sure to take the opportunity to explore all the options. There is a ton of different facets to natural resources or forest management. If you have the interest to be on the ground and out in the bush, those options are there, but there are so many other facets to explore as well, maybe trade related or GIS or on the science side. Explore and find out what your options are.
And don’t be afraid to reach out to women in the field. I don’t think you’ll find someone who isn’t willing to share their experience and give you ideas.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.