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BC Forest Service - 2 Parts of an Organization

Some ramblings of an old man about the B.C. Forest Service based on 36 years of work experience and 60 years of observation.

From its beginning in 1912 the Forest Service has been a wonderful organization. The dedication of the people who have worked for it is almost legendary. However, even from the earliest times there have been two parts to the Forest Service. One of these parts has been centered in Victoria, and its primary purpose has been forest policy development. The other part was the field organization initially made up of the Forest Districts and the Ranger Districts (now the Regions and the Forest Districts) whose primary purpose was selling timber, collecting Crown revenue and fighting fires.

Victoria and Policy Development

The development of Provincial forest policy has been extremely important in British Columbia. One of the main reasons for it being so important has been the political decision to keep our forests under public ownership. With our forests under public ownership, it was a primary responsibility of the Forest Service to develop long term forest management policies to preserve and protect the interests of the public. This involved the establishment of a forest inventory program, determining the rate and parameters of harvest, establishing a system of sound forest tenures, establishing a system for determining and collecting forest revenues, creating a silviculture policy framework, establishing policies for dealing with fires, insects and disease, establishing a research base, establishing a policy for the enforcement of forest regulations and providing a legislative and policy framework on a Provincial basis to guide field operations. The Forest Service has been blessed with a lot of exceptional people in Victoria over the years to guide Provincial forest policy development.

Field Operations

For many years the Forest Districts and the Ranger Districts formed the backbone of the field organization. In simple terms their role has been to sell timber, collect Crown revenues and fight fire. It was the Ranger Staff that were the public face of the Forest Service right across the Province. The basic Ranger District structure remained in place from 1912 to 1979 – 67 years. The job of the Forest Districts and the Ranger Districts was to implement the forest policy determined by Victoria. In 1979 the decision was made to change the field organization by amalgamating many of the Ranger Districts into larger Forest Districts and change the name of the old Forest Districts into Forest Regions. While many changes and advances had been made over the years with respect to forest values and approaches to timber harvesting that more adequately considered watershed management, fish and wildlife, recreation and other values selling timber and generating revenue remained fairly constant. Reforestation and silvicultural practices also came more to the forefront. Firefighting became more sophisticated and more environmentally sensitive. A key element of the field organization was staff training and development. The Ranger School, established in 1946, was a key factor in keeping the application of forest policy uniform across the Province. The School also had a major influence in developing the esprit de corps that existed among the field staff. With the reorganization of 1979 the Ranger School was disbanded and the Provincial cohesion of field operations declined. Starting in the 1990’s many more organizational changes have taken place and while the basic functions of the field organization still take place in various ways the public face of the Forest Service has largely disappeared.

Another part of the operational side of the Forest Service that no longer exists is the Forest Service Marine Station. At one time the Forest Service had the largest fleet of boats in the Province. Most of these boats were on the coast and at one time the Marine Station was located in Thurston Bay. Quite early on this was moved to a location on the Fraser River in Richmond and boats from all around the Province were serviced there. In addition to servicing the fleet of boats they also carried out the periodic maintenance of all fire pumps. Another important service was the development and manufacture of many pieces of specialized equipment such as lookout fire finders, hose winders, specialized light weight pumps and a host of other items. The innovations developed by the people working in this part of the Forest Service organization were truly remarkable.

The work of the Forest Inventory Division also deserves special mention. While this was a Victoria organization their work was in the field and was mainly done quite independently of regular field operations. Their work provided the foundation on which a large part of Provincial forest policy was based. The quality of work and the hardships endured by the workers in the Inventory Division is a story all of its own. There are a lot of stories that have come out about this part of the organization but one deserves telling. Mickey Pogue was Director at the time, and a new inventory staff member asked Mickey what he should do if he became lost way back in the woods. Mickey’s answer was “keep on tallying”.

Another major factor that influenced the development of the Forest Service was the division between Professional Foresters and Technicians. Victoria was staffed mainly with Professional Foresters while the Ranger staff were almost exclusively Technicians. The reason the organization developed this way is not known but again we had an organization with two parts, the professional and the technical. This lead to quite different career paths and while there did not appear to be a lot of friction between the two groups there were somewhat different attitudes and approaches. A rather harsh description that was sometimes used was that we had policy being developed by a bunch of academics in their Victoria ivory tower and leaving it up to practical people in the field to make it work. The interesting part is that it did work and for the most part worked rather well.

Here we have an organization split between Victoria and the bush and staff with a distinct split between the technical and the professional. Why did it work? The answer may be beer and bullshit. For a long period during the existence of the Forest Service it was not unusual to find the Chief Forester or Deputy Minister and a lot of other senior people out in the bush with the field staff. Evenings were spent drinking beer and talking together very openly about what was going on in the bush and the policies that were a pain in the ass. They must have listened. It is to be hoped they are still listening.


J.H. (Jack) Carradice
District Manager (Ret)
October 31, 2012

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