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Dr John Innes is Dean of the Faculty of Forestry. He is actively involved with climate change research, particularly its effects on forest ecosystems. Dr Innes teaches in the field of international and sustainable forestry.


John Innes is Dean of the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia. He teaches in the field of international and sustainable forestry. He is President of the Commonwealth Forestry Association (since 2010), Chair of the Standing Committee on Commonwealth Forestry and Chair of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Education Coordination Mechanism. He is an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Melbourne School of Land and Environment at the University of Melbourne and Honorary Professor at five different Chinese universities.

John came to British Columbia in 1999, having previously worked as a Section Head in the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research. Since arriving in BC, he has worked on a range of issues associated with forest management. He is actively involved with climate change research, particularly its effects on forest ecosystems and the development of appropriate management strategies for adaptation, and in 2007 was part of the IPCC team that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore. For his lifetime contributions, he received the International Forestry Achievement Award by the Canadian Institute of Forestry (2015), and was bestowed International Fellowship by the Royal Swedish Academy for Agriculture and Forestry (2018). Last year he was selected recipient of the 11th Liangxi Forest Science and Technology Award (2020) by the Government of PR China.

As Dean of the UBC Faculty of Forestry, he has encouraged greater international involvement of the Faculty, and entrenched its position as one of the leading faculties of forestry in the world. Under his leadership, the Faculty has taken significant steps toward broadening the curricula and academic content to reflect changing realities in the forest and conservation sectors, also enhancing interdisciplinary and continuing education for forestry professionals and scholars from around the world.

University forestry education after the epidemic: Will anything change?

Like many other similar disciplines, ‘forestry’ often reflects on its coherence as a discipline and its relevance to society. However, as a professional discipline, these ruminations are often initiated by people who have never been directly involved in forestry. This is a problem that has grown as forestry schools have diversified to try and maintain student numbers. Increasingly, the faculty members teaching students forestry have minimal or even no experience of managing a forest. Given that forests cover a third of the land surface of the Earth, this is becoming a significant issue. The problem is particularly apparent in forestry schools that have diversified to the extent that they are now called schools of ‘natural resources management’, ‘environmental sciences’, or a combination of forestry and something else, such as ‘forestry and conservation science’. The combination of forestry with another discipline is particularly insidious, and has inevitably led to the demise in the unit of forestry as a separate and unique discipline.

Forestry has a long and proud history, although courses addressing the history of the discipline is curiously absent from most university curricula. A direct consequence of this is that students are often unaware of the context of their discipline, and have little understanding of the basis of ethical requirements that may be taught. In good forestry schools, there is a focus on the acquisition of competencies – skills that individuals will need when they become foresters. These are diverse – ranging from surveying, to plant identification, to quantitative planning, to interactions with multiple and diverse stakeholders. Unfortunately, the requirements are so broad that there is little room for additional courses in areas seen by many as of marginal relevance. The better forestry schools also ensure that the learning experience is highly experiential, with students spending a considerable amount of time in the forest.

The earliest forestry schools were established in the late 1700s in what is now Germany. Through the 19th century, the number of forestry schools progressively increased, although it was not until 1878 that the first English-speaking school was established (the Imperial Forest School at Dehradun in India, founded by Dietrich Brandis). The 20th century saw a rapid increase in the number of university forestry schools worldwide, but by the end of the 20th century, many forestry schools were in crisis, and saw mergers and closures. Much of this was related to a drop in the numbers of students, which precipitated the diversification described earlier.

In the early 21st century, further consolidation has occurred, and the number of schools has continued to shrink in some regions, and many of the remaining schools have struggled to survive. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, forcing major changes in how university education is delivered, with most programs having to switch to online delivery. This new form of teaching is very different to the hands-on training provided in the past, and initial thoughts were that it would be impossible to teach field skills online. However, it is clear that at least some skills can be transferred, and others may even be better taught online. Students however indicate a preference for in-the-forest training, and this will likely start again as the world returns to a post-pandemic normal.

There are however a number of changes that may have been precipitated by the pandemic. New forms of training are being offered, such as micro-certificates that may or may not lead ultimately to a degree.  Intensive Master’s programs are condensing the material from three- and four-year undergraduate degrees into a single year of highly concentrated learning. And new technologies, ranging from the control of drone swarms to the incorporation of Artificial Intelligence, are making their way into more progressive curricula. The future looks bright for those schools that can adapt to these changes. For others, partnerships and strategic alliances may be the answer, especially now that remote teaching has evolved to the extent that it has.

One thing is clear: today, the need for trained foresters is greater than it has ever been.

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