Why a Grizzly Encounter Confirmed My Green Career Path

June 29, 2020

By Brennan Gow

Brennan Gow, a Field Operations Assistant for Canfor, and his dog Prince hiking in Jasper National Park.

One of the things I appreciate about working in the forest is the chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat. In May 2019 alone, I saw 20 black bears and 11 grizzlies while working as a Field Operations Assistant for Canfor, an SFI-certified organization, in Fort St. John, in northeastern B.C.

But on a day off from work last spring, things got a little more real than I could have imagined. I was hiking along a riverbank when I heard a branch snap, then another. A grizzly sow hit the trail. Then I saw her cub up ahead of me. I went to grab for my bear spray, but it was too late.

My experience and bear training from Canfor kicked in, and I hit the ground—even though running in a panic might have seemed like a better option. Lying face down on the trail, I could feel the grizzly’s hot breath on me as she pawed me and pushed at my backpack.

She pushed me back and forth a bit, but then I guess she decided I wasn’t a threat. She left me to join her cub. I waited 30 seconds, then went back down the trail. Fortunately, I was left with just scratches on my face from the grizzly pushing on me against the ground.

Challenging myself to stay on my career path

It wasn’t a predatory attack. After all, the grizzly was just doing what comes naturally. But on a personal level, I still faced the challenge of getting my head around going back into the forests that I love or letting the fright of that encounter change my life. I chose the forest.

This year, Canfor has told me my job is probably on hold until August because of COVID-19. Getting out into the woods while I’m waiting for work to start up is keeping me grounded and hopeful about the future. I also know that my job is the right choice for me. I had considered becoming a teacher, which would’ve been a great career, but the deal breaker was having to work inside.

Sustainability drives everything I do

At Canfor, I’m involved in tasks like wildlife sweeps through cut blocks before harvesting can occur. A wildlife sweep is a walkthrough of the proposed harvest area and surrounding site to identify important wildlife features—things like nests, dens, and hibernacula (winter hideouts for animals)—that must be avoided during timber harvesting.

There’s a lot of pride at Canfor when it comes to our approach to sustainability. I learned early on that discovering a Goshawk or a pair of Trumpeter Swans in a wildlife sweep is enough to shut down a cut block.

Technology and forestry go hand in hand

While my work is mainly outdoors, I do spend some time inside working on mapping with our GIS specialist (read more about becoming a GIS technician). This tech aspect is another great thing about forestry careers. There are opportunities to put a wide set of skills to work in the sector. One day I hope to open a consulting firm and sell my services back to Canfor and other forestry companies.

My path to working in the forest was driven by my love of the outdoors. But it takes more than that. I learned invaluable skills while pursuing my diploma in Forest Technology from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Choose your own path into the forest

If you have a passion for the environment, enjoy being outdoors, have a strong work ethic, are in good physical shape, and are comfortable working with computers, studying forest technology could be an excellent fit for you (read more about becoming a forestry technician).

Meanwhile, as I wait for my job to start up again, I’ll be in the forest and sometimes thinking of that fateful encounter with a grizzly that ended up showing me where my future lies.

PLT Canada’s Green Jobs program is supported in large part by our employer networks at the Canadian Parks Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Check out the PLT Canada Mentorship Program for Youth in Forestry and Conservation and PLT Canada’s Green Jobs E-Summits. PLT Canada is an initiative of SFI.


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