Advancing the industry: Q&A with West Fraser forester Julie Dinsdale
By Maria Church
Julie Dinsdale found a fit in forestry knowing she didn’t want an average desk job. She is now a registered professional forester with West Fraser responsible for B.C. forestry and Indigenous relations. In her work she has found a new passion for helping reshape the forest industry though measurable action on economic reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous communities as well as sustainable forest management. In every role she’s served – planning, harvesting operations or corporate stewardship and policy – Julie says it’s the people and their passion for the forest who make the job so fulfilling.
How did you get your start in forestry?
Both my parents were outdoor enthusiasts and I have many fond memories camping, biking, canoeing and hiking in the Rocky Mountains, among the smells and sounds of nature.
My parents supported my pursuit of a Bachelor of Science from UBC. During my first year, I realized that indoor science was not for me. I met a few forestry students in residence and they explained their program to me, which sounded more like what I was looking for. I transferred into the Faculty of Forestry in second year and haven’t looked back.
What has been your career path so far?
I graduated from UBC in 1999, got my RPF in 2002, and worked for different consultants doing seasonal silviculture field work for several years, and travelling in the off-season. I then ran my own consulting firm for a few years before joining West Fraser in 2006.
When I started the planning position at West Fraser, I didn’t know what I was doing at first, but was lucky enough to be given the opportunity, based on my other work experience, to join a great group of professionals, learn the ropes and find my way.
I worked in planning for 10 years, involving managing for different values on the landbase, designing roads, cutblocks and trucking routes, Indigenous community consultation, public and stakeholder consultation. Moving into Indigenous community consultation was a highlight for me.
Then I worked in harvest operations, working with logging, road building and trucking contractors. That was another career highlight. The people were a big part of that. Working together, building relationships based on respect, learning about machine capabilities, and the importance of skilled machine operators to get the job done well. We worked through challenges together as a team – that job needed flexibility, creativity and the ability to think on your feet.
Most of the owners and operators I worked with were between 50 and 80-years-old and brought a wealth of knowledge and were happy to share that knowledge with me so that I could do my job even better – and I will always carry that with me.
There have been many impressive technological advancements in machine technology over the last few years to build efficiencies into the processes.
Three and a half years ago I switched into a corporate stewardship and policy role, supporting and monitoring B.C. and Alberta divisions in their implementation and maintenance of certification programs as well as delving into the changing forest policy landscape in B.C. In this role, I was operating at a much broader scale, with an opportunity to learn about how forests are managed in different jurisdictions and sharing good practices between divisions – another highlight for me.
The role I am transitioning into now is focused on Indigenous relations in B.C. In this role, I’m working on different projects, partnerships and agreements with communities. I work with a team – our chief forester, woodlands managers and community engagement staff from the divisions. It is very grassroots, and different for every community. Depending on community interests and values, we work together on agreements that may include economic investment opportunities, or direct employment opportunities, or it may be more indirect business development or procurement from Indigenous-led business. I’m really excited about what the future holds in this area.
What do I enjoy about forestry?
The people. I find so many people in the forest industry are down to earth – in all levels up to senior leadership, they are very approachable and are really solutions-driven.
When people are strongly connected to the land, understand plants, wildlife, ecosystems and watercourses – there’s something more there. It’s a unique group in forestry.
The passion that forest professionals bring to their jobs is something really incredible. People are really driven to learn from past experiences and do better everyday, sustainably managing forests for future generations.
I also really enjoy the current and future opportunities for the forest industry to contribute to economic reconciliation with Indigenous communities. There is a strong drive to engage respectfully and continue to build out those opportunities, walking forward together. As companies and employees, we need to recognize and learn the truth about Canadian history and take measurable action towards agreements and partnerships that contribute to economic reconciliation and being on the land together.
Sustainable forest management is a crucial part of the global climate-smart future, as we move as a society towards net zero and the just transition. The growing use of renewable building materials and packaging is a key part of supporting the UN sustainable development goals.
Do you find there are certain challenges or hurdles for women to enter, stay or advance in the industry?
This one is kind of hard to answer. I’ve never experienced forestry as another gender, so I have nothing to compare it to. I would like to flip this one somewhat and emphasize that different challenges or hurdles could apply to any gender, or underrepresented minority. There could be different hurdles for different people depending on the structure of their family or their circumstances. Some of our most important work as leaders, as companies, and as employees, is to check our biases, assumptions and perceptions at the door.
Leaders need to take time to get to know people as an individual, learn what they are interested in pursuing, and what their potential is. And stand behind them. Be an ally. Identify those areas where there could be flexibility in the way we operate if needed.
And as employees we need to take the time to identify what some of our strengths and weaknesses are, figure out what it is you need to work on to improve. If there is an opportunity, learn about it, ask questions, consider putting your hand up if the time is right to spread your wings. Don’t limit yourself or assume it isn’t for you without giving it some solid thought.
What advice do you have for those considering a career the forest industry?
Find a company with values and culture that you love. There are a staggering number of different opportunities within each company. And get as much varied experience as you can as your foundation.
Be patient – there is so much complexity to learn about in forestry as you go. And be clear to your supervisors and managers about your future vision and ambition.
I would encourage anyone interested to pursue a career in forestry, there are so many options to find a rewarding career.
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, #IWD2022 and #BreaktheBias.
Remember to join us for the Women in Forestry Virtual Summit on Mar. 8 at 11 am ET/8 am PT! It’s FREE to register. Sign up now!