Canada’s oldest and most distinguished professional forester was recently honoured at a ceremony at the Kaatza Museum in Lake Cowichan BC. Gerry Burch, RPF, just celebrated his 98th birthday and a group of his family, friends and colleagues gathered to unveil a plaque recognizing his life-long contributions to sustainable forestry in the valley where he worked for 41 years with BC Forest Products Ltd. (BCFP) and served as their Chief Forester.
At the introduction of the event it was respectfully acknowledged we were on the unceded ancestral lands of the local Ts’uubaa-asatx First Nation.
After serving in World War II Gerry began his forestry career in 1946 as a timber cruiser and finished his forestry engineering degree at UBC in 1948. Part of the recent celebrations of his remarkable career included a nostalgic helicopter trip over much of the Cowichan Valley courtesy of Mosaic Forest Management which is a successor company to BCFP.
Gerry has served as both President of BC’s forest professionals and President of the Canadian Institute of Forestry and is the recipient of the Distinguished Forester award and the Canadian Forestry Achievement award along with the UBC Alumni Builder award.
Pat Foster, President of the Kaatza Historical Society said “we are very happy to host this tribute to Gerry. He has been kind and generous to our museum with his donations of everything from hand drawn maps, cruising notes and even an old wartime machine gun from a military plane he found while cruising many decades ago”.
Speaking without notes Gerry recounted his early career and his lifelong crusade to see a dedicated working forest land base in BC. He has witnessed over the past 7 decades the continual erosion of BC’s working forests to other uses along with a consequent decline in the province’s Allowable Annual Cut. He noted the Agricultural Land Reserve has been very effective at protecting agriculture lands and something similar is needed for BC’s working forest lands. Gerry was an early advocate and pioneer in reforestation, genetics and other critical elements of sustainable forestry that are now the foundation of BC’s forest practices.
His autobiography Still Counting the Rings and his leadership on the team that produced the magnificently illustrated Working Forests of British Columbia are must reads for budding foresters and anyone with an interest in sustainability.
Several third year UBC forestry students working for Mosaic this summer attended the celebration and remarked “that guy Gerry is a live wire and sharp as a tack-what an honour to talk with him and have him share his lifelong experiences at the beginning of our own forestry careers”.
Domenico Iannidinardo, Mosaic’s Chief Forester and Vice President, and one of Gerry’s successors recalled “it’s always an amazing experience interacting with Gerry as his wisdom and knowledge of current issues is right up there at the top. He was a critical developer of BC’s sustainable forestry model and it’s great to recognize his incredible contributions”.
After returning home to Vancouver, Gerry said “my flight over the Cowichan Valley was a very special treat to see so many thriving third growth working forests on former old growth areas that I cruised over 70 years ago. It was also gratifying to see how well these beautiful forests are being cared for.”
By W.E. Dumont
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