Q & A
Women in Forestry
Something new every day: Q&A with planning and development forester Melissa Harborne
By Ellen Cools
Melissa Harborne is a planning and development forester with Interfor, in Adams Lake, B.C. She started out working for different licensees, eventually joined Interfor on a co-op term, and recently obtained her RPF certification. In her current role, Melissa helps develop Interfor’s strategic timber inventory for the Adams Lake sawmill, reviews cut block designs, consults with stakeholders, and conducts audits. Her advice for other young women looking to join the industry? Seek out older female mentors whose experience they relate to.
CFI: How did you get your start in forestry?
I pretty much grew up in the forest with my dad, he’s an avid outdoorsman. He always suggested that I find a career where I got to work in the forest, although I was actually planning on going to med school. I did a couple of years working in the biology field but I realized this is not what I want to do – I want to be outside working in the forest. So, I transferred out to Kamloops, got my undergraduate degree, and started with a couple of licensees in the Kamloops area. Then I ended up with Interfor on a co-op term. After graduating, they hired me full-time. I have been articling for the past two years, and I just obtained my RPF, my registered professional forester.
CFI: What is it about forestry that you enjoy?
Probably just getting to spend my days working out in the forest. The thing I love about my job the most is having the opportunity to manage the forest, and being able to work on the forest at the landscape level and at the specific site level, managing it for the better for wildlife, forest health, soil and water management. I enjoy seeing how all of the designs come together, working with hydrologists, biologists – it’s always so interesting. It’s something new every day, that’s what I love about it.
CFI: What’s involved in your current role as a planning and development forester?
I help develop a certain amount of volume for our strategic timber inventory every year for the mill. So, I review all the cut blocks that our consultants design, and I’m involved in the submissions process, along with stakeholder consultation. I’m also tasked with getting hydrologists and biologists to come out and look at certain areas – pretty much the whole reviewal process. I also do timber cruising work and audits. I’m working on a plan right now for fir beetle management in the south Adams Lake area, so I’m reviewing all of the ortho photos, LiDAR and some of the government flight data. We’re going to start management this spring by setting up trap trees, working on the fir beetle salvage and trying to control some of the fir beetle in the Adams Lake area.
CFI: Did you have mentors that helped you reach this point in your career?
Yeah, definitely. One of my biggest mentors was Mike Scott, who was my sponsor. He sponsored me all through my registered professional forester certification. He pretty much took me on when I was a summer student and suggested that Interfor hire me full-time after I graduated. I’d say he’s my mentor and my role model. He’s been in the industry for about 30 years now, and his wife, Nancy Scott, also works in the industry, so it’s good talking to her about past struggles and positive experiences and relating to both of them. They are both very intelligent, down-to-earth people and I feel lucky to have them as a support system.
CFI: As a woman in the industry, do you find that you’ve faced any particular difficulties or challenges?
I think at Interfor, I definitely don’t face as many challenges as I did while working for other licensees. At Interfor, I really have experienced no discrimination. The only thing that I would say I still struggle with sometimes is being in a board room or going to a logging camp and being the only woman there. It’s sometimes very intimidating but my confidence is slowly growing. And I’m hoping we can change that and more females can come into the industry, so we’re not the minority anymore.
CFI: What was your experience like before you joined Interfor?
While working for other licensees, I’ve experienced some offhand comments. They locked me in supervising tree planting, not letting me learn about anything else, saying that women are supposed to be in silviculture. I absolutely loved silviculture because I got to see the reforestation process post-logging, although I always sought to learn about the pre-development and harvesting processes as well. I haven’t experienced any discrimination at Interfor – it’s been a totally different experience here with my boss and my team at Adams Lake. But, I definitely faced some struggles in the past that made me question what I wanted to do for a while.
CFI: I’m glad that’s not the case at Interfor and you stuck with it. Do you have any advice to share with other women interested in a career as a forester?
I’d say the best advice would be to seek out advice and experience from older females that you can relate to in the industry – that’s what has really helped me grow my career and confidence. They give me a lot of advice and act as a support system. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know, people you see at conferences. There are so many females out there that you can get connections from and they’re all open to listening. I know I was super nervous when I first started and I didn’t think I knew anything. But, females who have had 20-30 years in the industry, they’re super supportive and they want to see more successful women in the industry.
CFI: Is there anything the industry as a whole should be doing to encourage more women to get involved?
I definitely think it should start with education. As foresters, we should be going to more classrooms to educate the up-and-coming generations. I also like how in the magazines, like CFI, we have more females in there and girls are seeing that, they’re seeing that it’s an option, because I had no idea growing up. I just thought being a forester or in the logging industry, that’s a male industry. So, I think it all starts from education.
This post is part of CFI, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry series celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Find more content here and follow us on social media with the hashtags: #WomeninForestry, #IWD2021 and #ChooseToChallenge.