Logger pride: Q&A with A.F. Timber’s operations manager Erin Fitchett
By Ellen Cools
Erin Fitchett is a passionate advocate for the logging industry. As the operations manager of Nelson, B.C.-based A.F. Timber, she supports the logging operators out in the bush, and is also in the process of assuming the role of safety officer. Erin is a director on the board of the Interior Logging Association. In 2015, she began a movement called Logger Pride, sharing her love for logging on social media in an effort to change the narrative about the industry. She also does community outreach, speaking to students in the Nelson, B.C., & area to help explain how logging is sustainable and beneficial for our future.
CFI: What was it that first led you to become involved in forestry?
To be honest, I didn’t know much about the forest industry when I got involved. I started dating my husband, Allan, back in 1997 – he grew up in a forestry family. His dad is a forest tech who worked in the Nelson area. When Allan was a teenager, he started his forestry career working in a local mill yard. He quickly caught the bug to go logging. In 1998, we started A.F. Timber Co. Ltd.
I grew up in Calgary, but when I moved to B.C. and I got a chance to see our industry, I was so intrigued by the entire operation. I was fascinated with all aspects of it and it just drew me right in. I don’t operate the heavy equipment in my day-to-day work, but when I have the opportunity to do so on the weekend, I snatch it up. The whole industry really intrigues me, from the cutting to getting the logs to the mill.
CFI: What is your role now and what do you like best about it?
I do all of the office work. In this role, I ensure that everything is taken care of, so when the guys are out working, they have the best support that they can have. When the need arises for parts to be delivered, I’m always available to help out. I have also recently taken on being our safety officer. I am presently taking the BC Forest Safety Council Auditor course online. Once I have completed it, I will be taking over our safety program. I am excited to go into the bush once a week and be face-to-face with our crew.
In 2015, when my daughter was in grade five, I chaperoned a field trip for her – Forestry Days – at our local Provincial Park. They had presentations on topics such as forest firefighting, the mill process and beetle control. They covered all aspects of forestry except for harvesting. I thought, “We’re kind of missing a major piece of the puzzle.” So, I contacted the Ministry of Forests, who put on the event, and they were thrilled because, in their words, no one in the industry tends to have the time to take off work and set up a booth to talk about harvesting. I led that project, and I’ve been doing that every year since.
I have the opportunity to speak to every grade five student in the Nelson, B.C. area. They’re very curious and they have genuinely good questions about our industry. I ask them questions like, “Why do you think we harvest timber?” It’s really interesting to hear their ideas about logging. I challenge them to count how many times they touch wood in a day, because it’s in so many of the products we use daily. Then, we talk about how it’s a renewable resource and how we harvest it.
In the year leading up to the first Forestry Day event, I really started to pay attention to the narrative around logging, and it started what I call the Logger Pride movement. I really, really enjoy getting to tell our story through social media and speaking events. I’m concerned that if we don’t tell the story, somebody else will, and they may not necessarily know what really happens in the industry. That’s one of my favourite parts of the job.
I also visit high schools to talk about our industry with students. When talking to the girls, they express interest in marketing or office administration. They’re not necessarily thinking about going into logging or forestry, but I challenge them to think outside the box. I’ll say, “So, when you’re finished with your education, where will you work?” They will say a dentist’s or a doctor’s office or something similar. I ask, “What about working for a logging company? We need people who can handle the back-end of the operation.” They usually say that they have never really thought about it, and I point out that it is a good-paying job.
I am also starting to see a switch, as there are a lot more female operators out there nowadays. I was recently talking about this to my husband, and he said, “Women are great operators, they can multi-task like nobody’s business!”
I enjoy doing the office work, and I love the crossover to be able to go into the bush as well. I am proud to talk to the community, in whatever form that takes.
CFI: Were there any particular mentors who helped you along the way?
My husband, of course! But since we started the company in 1998, I’ve been well-supported in whatever role I took on. Everybody is really supportive and helps me along the way, and I never feel like I am being spoken down to.
There is one person that stands out though, his name is Dwane Sorenson. He has had many roles in our industry, and with anything that I was working on, he always said, “You can do it!” If I ever have any questions, he’s right there to make sure that I have the necessary resources or connects me with the right people. He’s been very supportive of me and has helped me to believe I can do whatever I need to do.
CFI: As a woman in the industry, do you find there are particular challenges?
No not really. I think women should be encouraged more to get into the field of logging. They’re amazing equipment operators, and I think women can excel in any role that they want to take on if they have a passion for it.
I think the only time I could feel dismissed is with equipment salesmen. Not all of them, though. I have been at events and I’ll ask about a certain piece of equipment or technology and they’ll say that they will be in touch with my husband. But, I’ll say, “I’m sitting right here, let’s have a conversation.” I don’t like that stereotype. That is the only instance where it’s been challenging.
CFI: What advice do you have for young women who are looking at a career in logging?
I’d tell them to believe they have a place in our industry. As I mentioned before, female equipment operators do excellent work. If you have an interest in being outside and doing this type of work, it’s a well-paying job. I know our company would definitely welcome female operators.
I think the biggest message is, don’t be afraid. It was an industry historically led by men, but every time you turn around there are more and more women entering our field. They’re a huge asset to the industry, whether it be in the office, in safety, in equipment, as a foreman or a supervisor.
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.