Margaret Symon

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Margaret Symon: Adding Value

I’ve been looking forward to talking with professional forester, Margaret Symon, for some time. Margaret is a member of the PFLA Board, but I’ve heard she wears a lot of other hats as well.

Before we get to the that though, Margaret starts our phone interview by sharing the details of a fire she attended the night before, as a paramedic for BC Ambulance. “Our team responded, the local fire department was there, and the landowner was onsite as well, says Margaret, sounding slightly out of breath still as she recounts the late-night blaze. “It turns out it was a backyard grass fire.”

I take the opportunity to offer that the summer of 2019 has been a gentle one as far as wildfires go. I know Margaret is well versed in the world of wildfire, having authored numerous Community Wildfire Protection Plans, consulted to the Coastal Fire Centre in Parksville, and coordinated many fuel management crews.

“Yeah,” says Margaret, “But you know how they were saying this was going to be the worst fire season yet? So we [Khowutzun Forest Services] trained sixty guys and they haven’t budged. That is pretty hard because a lot of them depend on fire money for their income.”

I’m trying to keep up. The running tally, so far, has Margaret as a PFLA Board member, a paramedic, a Registered Professional Forester and forester for Khowutzun Forest Services… anything else? When I ask, she tells me she also has her own consulting company called Strathcona Forestry Consulting. I mentioned that Margaret wears a lot of hats, right?

The hat she wears most actively right now is in her consulting role for Khowutzun Forest Services (KFS), a partnership focused on providing Cowichan Tribe members the opportunity to participate in the forestry industry. With Margaret’s guidance, KFS offers forest management planning and silviculture services (including wildfire fighting).

I ask Margaret what those sixty firefighters hired by KFS to fight wildfires, ended up doing all summer. Margaret’s voice softens as she describes Cowichan Tribes’ small Managed Forest that, for many years, was neglected and abused.

“Boats were dumped there,” says Margaret. “Stolen vehicles were abandoned and set on fire.

Target practices were set up throughout the forest, target shooters cut large swaths of new seedlings for better shots. Dirt bikers and quads and 4WD vehicles tore through the Managed Forest. There was a grow-op in the heart of the Managed Forest, which resulted in a forest fire that burned over three hectares.”

Today, Margaret and Cowichan Tribes are focused on a new chapter, one that aims to protect the Managed Forest. “Together with our First Nation crew and our two UBC summer students, we brought a welder to fix the gate, brushed the roads, cleaned up and removed truckloads of garbage, installed signage, removed invasive plants, blocked illegal access routes for vehicles, and surveyed the area that was once the grow-op and had the fire,” says Margaret. “We also removed hundreds of shooting targets and bag loads of shells, mainly from the area of the burn. Next Spring, we will be planting the site.”

“The satisfaction that our First Nation crews received from cleaning up their land was immense,” said Margaret. “While the economic benefits from harvesting won’t be realized for decades to come, our crews realize that well managed forest lands will provide for future generations.”