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'I knew I wanted to work in nature': Meet the Community Forest's first summer student

Beyond providing support to the company’s foresters, Michelle Wells has spearheaded Sunshine Coast Community Forest's community engagement activities.
Michelle Wells working in the Sunshine Coast Community Forest tenure area.

In many ways, Michelle Wells created her 2022 summer job opportunity for herself. 

After doing a project related to innovative forestry management and First Nations cultural importance while studying at the BC Institute of Technology (BCIT), she reached out to the Sunshine Coast Community Forest (SCCF) to ask if there might be summer employment available. 

Her suggestion resonated with SCCF.  The company made its first foray into hiring a summer student, and with what Wells has brought to the table, SCCF Operations Manager Warren Hansen wants to see the practice continued. 

Dream job for a local BCIT student

“I was overjoyed when I received the email from Sara (Zieleman) and Warren that I had the job," Wells told Coast Reporter. "I was out at the BCIT woodlot with my classmates and almost started crying because I was so happy that I would be able to work for the Community Forest in my hometown.”

In addition to providing support to the company’s foresters, Wells has spearheaded SCCF’s community engagement activities like the Salmon Release Festival, butterfly garden at Cascade Greens park, and providing support with the Sunshine Coast Wildlife Project’s habitat monitoring and restoration work. 

“Michelle has been great with assisting us with community initiatives,” Hansen told Coast Reporter. “It’s been amazing to be able to lend some helping hands to these community organizations doing great work. It’s one thing to be able to provide money to support a project but having the capacity to provide a capable person who cares about the community has been very well received and rewarding.”

Those assignments have fuelled Wells’ passion to pursue a career in forestry once she completes the second year of her studies at BCIT’s Forest and Natural Areas Management program. Once she receives her forest technician certification in May, 2023, Wells said she would definitely apply to return to SCCF, if the opportunity is there. She is also considering additional studies, in the future, to become a registered professional forester. 

Speaking about what drew her to the field and summer employment with SCCF, she said “I felt strongly about wanting to create change and be part of innovative solution in the forestry industry. My awareness of our impact on the environment was always strong. I owe that trait to my mom growing up.”

Advancing ecosystem-based management

That focus makes her a good fit as SCCF moves toward ecosystem-based management (EBM). Her perspective is that EBM means working together to build balance while approaching the forest holistically.

“This means respecting and maintaining healthy ecosystems necessary for the specific area, integrating First Nations cultural practices and considering economic and recreational values for the community. The importance of ecosystem-based management is that it's looking at the entire picture not only focusing on a single objective. We know nature is interconnected and has so much biodiversity that it doesn’t make sense to put them into hard boundaries.

“I think the Sunshine Coast Community Forest understands this importance and is leading the charge for the innovation in forestry which is setting a great example for how to manage forests in the future. This in my mind is also encouraging a future where forest health and community well-being are interconnected.

“I believe that if we educate the community and get the community involved this will shift minds to more of a dynamic view of the forest.”

Wells grew up on the Sunshine Coast and graduated from Elphinstone Secondary. She worked in the service industry and took time to travel in the years that followed.

“I spent some time in Australia and then moved to Whistler to be close to the mountains where I fell in love with snowboarding. Living in Whistler was around the time I knew I wanted to work in nature.”