Canada has 10 per cent of the world’s forests, and nearly half the country’s land mass (more than 1 billion acres) is forested. This embarrassment of riches made forestry a natural field of academic inquiry when the University of Toronto opened its Faculty of Forestry in 1907. It was the first such school in Canada and the second, next to Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., in the Western Hemisphere. Its mandate, which was born of public concern about the degradation of forests in Ontario and Eastern Canada, was to provide a firm scientific foundation for forest management. “They did not want to run out of wood,” notes Dean Rorke Bryan. “The thinking was that a solid academic foundation would achieve a sustained yield.”
Until as recently as 15 years ago, the prime mandate of forestry schools was to support the forest industry in its quest to produce timber and fibre. By the 1980s, however, Canadians began to realize that plantation forests could not reproduce all the conditions of natural forests, which were rapidly being lost. The real turning point came at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, where the concept of sustainable development had matured to include protecting wilderness and biodiversity into the future, even as we satisfied our need for wood and fibre in the present.
In response, the U of T Faculty of Forestry re-evaluated itself and decided to concentrate on new graduate programs. So in 1996, the undergraduate program was closed. In the same year, a new master’s program in forest conservation – which included the first university course in the world on forest certification – was added to the existing MSc and PhD research streams. A master of wood product engineering program was then introduced, focusing on the role of new products in reducing pressure on forest resources. In the near future, a third master’s program on international forest policy and trade analysis will be added. In 2000, the faculty introduced three new undergraduate programs in forest conservation and forest conservation science, taught in the life sciences division of the Faculty of Arts and Science. “The demands for fuel and fibre increase by 10 per cent each year,” notes Bryan. “There has been a realization that for education to meet industry demands, we must involve academics in practical issues of forest management. We want to train students so we can mesh these two needs.”