From Logging Camp to Boardroom: WFP Names New Chief Forester

Shannon Janzen | BCBusiness
Shannon Janzen

On July 10, B.C.’s largest coastal woodland operator and lumber producer, Western Forest Products Inc., announced the appointment of Shannon Janzen, 37, to the post of chief forester. BCBusiness caught up with her just days after the announcement, to ask about the new job and the challenges it will bring.

Tell us about yourself and how you got into the forest industry.
I was born in Cold Lake, Alberta, then moved to Sicamous near Salmon Arm. I got a bachelor’s of science in resource management from the University of Northern B.C. in 1998, and became a registered professional forester in 2000.

What path led you to Western Forest Products?
I came to WFP in 1999 and spent five years in a logging camp at the north end of Vancouver Island working with operational plans. I wanted to broaden my horizons so I accepted a position with the Coast Forest Conservation Initiative; it’s a group of five forest companies including WFP working on the Great Bear Rainforest [land use agreement]. This job was really just finding that balance between social, economic and environmental goals for that region. After a five-year break I came back to WFP in strategic planning and focused on sustainability initiatives with First Nations in the 45 traditional territories WFP works in.

What does the job of chief forester entail?
Chief forester is a leadership role, focused on the sustainable practices of WFP, and finding economically viable alternatives to land management issues. The position will be working with our senior management team and operations to continually improve and find practices around environmental management. WFP is a Crown land company, so that involves working with government and first nations and other stakeholders to ensure their interests are reflected in our day-to-day management.

What will the biggest challenges of this job be?
In addressing land management, there’s a diversity of interests out there, and it’s being able to find ways to align those interests to ensure that we can maintain a successful business on the coast, when it’s globally competitive and continues to support the employment and support our manufacturing investment.

There have been big government cuts to the B.C. forest service in recent history, including a 25-per-cent reduction in staff. Does the B.C. government need to invest more back into the B.C. forest service?
Right now forest professionals who are employed by forest companies are accountable for achieving the results of B.C. legislation, which is quite stringent by global standards. The transition has resulted in the reduction of a fair amount of administrative burden on behalf of government and refocused energy on something I think is more effective and efficient. I don’t think there’s a direct link to staffing reduction and effectiveness of the oversight framework, but I think public understanding of how the system works may need to be improved.

Where could Christy Clark’s new government be of most help to the coastal forest industry?
One of the biggest challenges for us at WFP is security of fibre. The industry is coming out of a downturn; it needs to reinvest in manufacturing and in the forest, to ensure it can be globally competitive. So pressures that continue to reduce the operating land base can compromise that investment. My sense is that Christy Clark’s new government really understands this problem and are proactively seeking solutions.

Do you see yourself as a trailblazer for women in the industry?
The general consensus is that I am the first woman Chief Forester for a large forest company. If there are barriers still to be broken by women, then this is an important step for the BC forest sector and industry in general, to ensure there is more representation from women at higher levels in companies.