B.A. Blackwell & Associates (British Columbia)

Cultivating land stewardship: Forest management and wildfire resiliency planning

Agnieszka conducting fieldwork.

Science Horizons intern, Agnieszka Duszynska, conducting fieldwork in British Columbia. Photo credit: Agnieszka Duszynska.

Now a full-time Forester-in-Training with B.A. Blackwell & Associates, Agnieszka Duszynska loves outdoor sports and nature. These are qualities the Vancouver-based forestry consultancy values in new employees because much of its work requires physical fitness and tolerance to spending time outside – often in challenging conditions.

Duszynska joined the company as an intern in May 2019, after graduating from the University of British Columbia (UBC) with a Bachelor of Science in Forest Resource Management. Her internship was arranged by the United Nations Association in Canada, with funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Science Horizons Youth Internship program.

Bruce Blackwell, the company’s president, is a fire ecologist who has spent most of his career finding ways to protect communities from wildfires. Founded in 1988 in the scientist’s basement, the firm specializes in professional forestry and environmental management services. This includes mapping of forests, urban forest management plans, forest-health surveys, ecosystem restoration and environmental assessments.

Agnieszka conducting fieldwork.

Science Horizons intern, Agnieszka Duszynska, conducting fieldwork in British Columbia. Photo credit: Agnieszka Duszynska.

With 30 employees in British Columbia, B.A. Blackwell provides services to governments, the private sector, not-for-profit organizations and First Nations in northern and western Canada, Ontario, and Alaska.

The consultancy is starting work on a province-wide fire-risk assessment for the British Columbia (BC) government and, in 2020, completed a risk assessment for BC Hydro which has lost valuable infrastructure to fire in recent years.

Climate change research suggests the extent of areas burned and severity of fires will increase, says Blackwell, who is also an occasional lecturer at UBC and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. “It has been a constant trend over the last 20 years.”

When a student, Duszynska worked at tree-planting camps in northern BC and timber development projects in the province’s southern interior. She first became intrigued by plants when she studied mosses and their life cycles at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University and parlayed that interest into forest management.

Her work at B.A. Blackwell includes fieldwork for wildfire resiliency planning, coastal forest health aerial overview surveys and silviculture surveys to assess the restocking of previously harvested areas.

Agnieszka is in a plane during fieldwork, with the backdrop of snowy mountain views.

Science Horizons intern, Agnieszka Duszynska, in a plane during fieldwork, with the backdrop of snowy mountain views of British Columbia. Photo credit: Agnieszka Duszynska.

“I feel really fortunate working for Blackwell because it offers a diverse range of work and expertise in very specific fields,” says Duszynska, who comes from a long line of engineers. “It provides me the opportunity to move around and try many things.” She particularly enjoyed flying over the BC coast learning how to identify trees from the sky when she worked on a forest health aerial overview survey earlier this year.

Blackwell, whose company has hired several interns in the past, says internships give companies time to teach recent graduates practicalities they don’t learn in school. In December 2021 he was planning to apply for Science Horizons internship funding to hire three more employees.

The company encourages its younger employees to secure professional accreditations so they can be paid as professionals. “If we don’t upgrade their skills significantly,” Blackwell says, “we can’t afford to keep people because they need to be paid at a level that allows them to live here.” Vancouver has a high cost of living.

Duszynska is studying to become a Registered Professional Forester. The Association of British Columbia Forest Professionals’ intensive two-year program includes the study of ethics and regulations, professional reliance, forest legislation and policy and working with Indigenous communities.

“Being out in the field, collecting and analyzing data and using that information to make recommendations to benefit our forest and the people who live and work there is an important part of land stewardship,” Duszynska says. “The decisions we make today will affect future generations and the status of the forest in the future.  A great responsibility comes with those decisions.”

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