2020 Junior Forest Rangers program wraps up

Submitted Photo
Junior Forest Rangers Jordon Mcrury, Julia Armon, Liam Grier, Celani Mhlanga, Julianne Baleja, Ryan Auger, Zackary Dakin, Joshua Harper and Natalie Forsyth have a little fun atop a mountain near Mystery Lake. The crew was busy helping with a number of projects in the Hinton area this summer. Read more on Page 9.

Masha Scheele

The Hinton Junior Forest Ranger (JFR) Crew planted, chopped, chainsawed, toured, and worked their way through the summer in the hills surrounding Hinton.

Eight members returned for their second year on the Hinton JFR Crew this year, with two leaders to guide them through their daily work and activities.

“We were really impressed by the youths spirit and attitude despite the additional procedures and restrictions due to COVID,” said Caroline Charbonneau, Hinton’s JFR area coordinator and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF) area information coordinator.

The crew came together to find innovative ways to make things work, she added.

Despite many local companies, organizations, and stakeholders not being able to participate this year due to COVID-19, the program leaders were thankful to those that were able to participate with the JFRs, giving them meaningful and educational work despite having to work within the guidelines of COVID-19. 

Many adjustments were made in order to run a successful program under the impacts of COVID-19, according to Trevor Nichols, program specialist at JFR.

“We closely followed the chief medical officer of health’s guidance. We were entrusted by parents and guardians across the province to make sure their son/daughter was looked after, and we took that very seriously,” stated Nichols.

JFR program staff worked closely with other Wildfire staff to come up with a plan they believed kept the crew leaders and members safe, while still being able to take part in a wide range of work projects.

Due to the pandemic, application numbers were lower than typical years and leaders were not able to plan a larger number of projects with partners that have worked with the program every previous summer.

“Our leaders needed to dig deeper in order to find local companies and organizations that were willing to work with us in such a difficult year,” Nichols said.

Crews were not able to do everything they would normally do, but made the most of what was available. For seven weeks the crew was busy with numerous projects from which they learned about the outdoors and created a better recreation experience for others.

They planted trees in the Cache Percotte Forest, cleared trails and took a horseback trip in Willmore Wilderness Park, toured the West Fraser Mill, airtanker base, and other wildfire facilities, removed invasive plants in Hinton’s Interpretive Park, removed posts and barbed wire for the healthy growth of the elk population in the Athabasca Public Land Use Zone, maintained trails at the Kinky Lake in Wildhorse Lake Provincial Recreation Area and Rock Lake Provincial Park, helped with fire prevention by laying gravel around 18 fire pits at two random camping areas in the Brule and Athabasca Public Land Use Zone, and spent an afternoon learning about indigenous culture with the Hinton Friendship Centre.

The JFR program is for youth ages 16 to 18 and they can only participate in the program for two years.

Hinton’s entire crew was made up of 2nd year members.

“It is hard to fully appreciate the impact the JFR program can have on both our crew members and leaders without going through the program yourself,” Nichols said.

Crew members are dropped off at a location that may be completely new to them, with a group of people they have never met, ready to spend the next seven weeks with them.

“Most arrive like a deer in headlights, but it doesn’t take them long to become a family,” Nichols added.

Crew members are taught how to cook in the bush, do laundry, experience a sense of freedom, learn to look after their own money, and develop social skills in a completely new environment.

On top of that, they learn many skills through the various work projects, like bushcraft and survival skills, hand and power tool training, chainsaw certification, ATV certification, leadership skills, radio certification, and pump and hose practice with wildfire crews.

Through meeting professionals, they get a peek at many different career opportunities in forestry, wildlife, ecology, and other areas of natural resource management.

Submitted photo. Julianne Baleja, of Edson, was the only Junior Forest Warden crew member from the Yellowhead Region in 2020.

“These youth are away from home, from friends and family, for almost the entire summer. It is not an easy thing to do but the growth you see from start to finish is incredible,” Nichols said.

The crew also participates in their fair share of fun activities like an indigenous culture camp where they do a sweat, make moose callers, catch and smoke fish, elder knowledge sharing, and craft making. They learn about pilots while riding in a helicopter, and experience a mock wildfire to see how wildfire crews operate.

“The truth is, every student takes away something different. Some are drawn to different aspects of the program and find a career they will love. Some gain incredible leadership skills and others improve on their social skills. This program is inspiring, challenging, and incredibly impactful on everyone involved during the summer,” Nichols said.

The program is designed to give youth valuable skills and is therefore based on four curriculum elements, including stewardship, leadership, partnership, and traditional ecological knowledge.

The training they receive is meant to give them experience and confidence in their future employment.

Charbonneau added that since Hinton’s crew are all second year members, an important focus was to introduce them to various industries and government departments.

“They’re here because they showed an interest in forestry, natural resources, or ecology and we want to make sure they are aware of the many career avenues that are possible. Whether that’s being a forest officer with Agriculture and Forestry, a forester with forest industry or a biologist consultant with oil and gas. We hope that at the end of the season, it helps them make better post secondary and career choices,” Charbonneau said.

Provincially, there were seven crews in Rocky Mountain House, Calgary, Peace River, Fort McMurray, Lac La Biche, Fox Creek, and Hinton.

Applications for youth to join the JFR crew will be accepted between February 1 and April 1 in 2021, according to their website.

Youth can earn up to ten high school credits through the JFR program and get paid for the work they do.

There is no cost associated with applying to be a member or living on the base as this is a summer job. Youth are able to leave the base on the August long weekend during their seven week program.

The crew will need the appropriate gear, and an equipment list is available to the website.

For more information, head to alis.alberta.ca/junior-forest-rangers/