Taylor Popyk grew up camping and hiking in the Cariboo but it wasn’t until she went to university that she decided she wanted to spend her career in the bush.
The 21-year-old student at the University of Northern B.C. was taking science courses in biochemistry, molecular biology and other studies that “weren’t really her thing” when she fell in love with plant biology. She switched her focus to forestry in the second semester of her second year.
“I really like learning about forest health. I’m always asking my supervisor what is this, why is this like this?” Popyk said. “I love making maps. I’m minoring in GIS, which is geographic information systems (or mapmaking).”
This summer, Popyk will intern as a silviculturist with West Fraser in 100 Mile House after being chosen as one of 15 members of the Forest Products Association of Canada’s annual Green Dream Internship Program. The interns will blog about their work experiences in Canada’s forests and mills over the course of the summer.
“The purpose of it is to encourage other students to become part of forestry and the industry. I think that’s great,” she said. “It’s really refreshing to have young people enter the workforce.”
Popyk, who graduated from Peter Skene Ogden Secondary, wishes she had known about the program before she started working for West Fraser. When she heard applications were open this year, Popyk applied and was thrilled to be chosen.
During the first two months of her internship, she spent the summer assessing the work of tree planters from Lac des Roches to Clearwater. Her job was to go out into blocks of land that they had recently worked on to evaluate the quality of the planting and the health of the seedlings.
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One thing Popyk noticed is the introduction of western larch to the South Cariboo ecosystem. It’s not typically found here but tree planters are using larch to regenerate local forests after logging and fires. Popyk explained that this is because larch acts more like a broadleaf tree than a conifer, meaning it doesn’t burn as easily during a wildfire.
Unfortunately due to the heatwave at the end of June, they have lost quite a few freshly planted trees, she said. Now that planting season is done she’s been doing walk-throughs of blocks planted up to 10 years ago to check the density of the trees and look out for any potential health problems.
“It’s a lot of taking pictures and taking notes, but it’s fun though. I like looking at forest health.”
Polyk loves taking pictures of trees, landscapes and animals she comes across in the bush and is ecstatic to share them.
“Some of the areas I’m working in are just incredibly steep. It can be pretty tiring to get to the top but when you do you have this amazing view,” she said. “Frogs are my favourite animal and I take lots of pictures of them as well as bears, cranes, moose and whatever else I see. I’ve seen more bears this summer than I have in my entire life.”
While she hasn’t begun posting her blogs and photos yet, Popyk has them ready to go on the FPAC’s website and social media. She’s hoping those who read her blogs get a sense of the love she has for forestry and her job.
Popyk went to university straight out of high school after earning her way into UNBC’s Scholars program. As long as she keeps her grades up, which she’s had no problem doing, her entire degree is funded leaving her with no student debt to worry about.
“I couldn’t have afforded it on my own so I cried when I got it. I couldn’t be more thankful for this opportunity.”
For her thesis project, Popyk plans to combine her love of maps and forests into a paper studying the trend of disturbances in forest ecosystems. Disturbances can include fires, climate change, drought, pine beetles and disease.
If all goes well Popyk said she’ll be graduating from UNBC this December and hopes to get into working in forestry soon after. She wants to get a job either in 100 Mile House or up in Williams Lake.
“In the beginning, this job was going to be pretty outside of my comfort zone. Of course, I grew up in the Cariboo and loved camping and hiking but that was recreational. Forestry is a lot of fun but it’s tough work sometimes,” she said. “I wasn’t sure I’d be cut out for it but I wanted to push myself and I have had so much fun.”