Forest Health Supervisor Talk with Aaron McGill

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Forest Health Supervisor Talk with Aaron McGill

Aaron McGill is the forest health supervisor for the province of Nova Scotia and has over 30 years of experience in the forest industry. He has worked in four provinces in forestry consulting, industry, provincial governments and also environmental engineering and is always looking for efficiencies and ways to improve processes. The forest industry offers growth through diverse career pathways and has provided the opportunity to experience remote locations across the country.


Supervisors in logging and forestry supervise and co-ordinate the activities of workers engaged in logging operations and silvicultural operations. They are employed by logging companies, contractors and government agencies.

Job Forecast

For Supervisors, over the period 2019-2028, new job openings (arising from expansion demand and replacement demand) are expected to total 1,000 , while 900 new job seekers (arising from school leavers, immigration and mobility) are expected to be available to fill them.
As job openings and job seekers are projected to be at relatively similar levels over the 2019-2028 period, the balance between labour supply and demand seen in recent years is expected to continue over the projection period.

Employment Requirements

Completion of secondary school is usually required.

Completion of a one- to three-year college program for forestry technologists or technicians may be required.

Formal company training and several months of on-the-job training are provided.
Several years of experience as a logger, silvicultural worker, or logging machinery operator are usually required.

A chemical application licence may be required.

An industrial first aid certificate may be required.

Salary Range

Job Bank Link:

Full Length Episode:

Complete Episode Transcript

And I mean, sometimes you’re taking a year, you need to take a lunch break, right? So sometimes you land on like a an inaccessible beach or, you know, somewhere where nobody nobody’s me, obviously

So we’ve been there, but it feels like no one’s ever been there

So, I mean, that’s pretty incredible when you get to do that day like that

The Job Talk Podcast shares stories from people who are passionate and love what they do in their careers

Through conversation, we explore their careers, past work experiences and the education that got them to where they are now

We are putting together an ultimate career crisis interview series

We are asking experts to give their best advice and guidance around work anxiety career pressures, career goal setting, and ultimately career transformation

To learn more about this special interview series and get notified when it’s available, please visit our web page at Today’s guest is Aaron McGill

Here’s our job talk with the forest health supervisor

Aaron, you’ve been posting beautiful aerial photography on your social media accounts

Do you think helicopter trips is one of the biggest perks of being a forest health supervisor? Oh, I’d say it’s got to be one of them for sure


Usually when I post pictures, my father in law, who’s lived here most almost his whole life, and my mother in law, they say how you know and I know Nova Scotia better than they do

Between that and my other things, I don’t really post

But we drive around all over the province, hanging insect traps and things like that

So I get to see lots of parts of Nova Scotia that nobody ever sees

Let’s back up a little bit

Where did you grow up? All of my dad was military, so all over the place

I went to high school in Germany

Well, grade six to grade nine in Germany

Before that, I was in southern Ontario

After that I was in Winnipeg

And then my last year of high school, I didn’t see a Sioux Lookout in northwestern Ontario

And what was your first post-secondary experience? I took Forestry Lakehead University

Okay, so you jumped right out of high school and jumped into forestry

What kind of positions were you looking for when you when you went into forestry? I wasn’t sure

I just I remember thinking, what do I want to do? And my parents were encouraging me to go to university

And I was like, well, I really like camping and being outdoors and being able to look out

Small town, there’s some firefighters there

You see the helicopters going on like very cool little for riding that


And so I was like I applied to that and I think I applied to agriculture, University of Manitoba, but I didn’t really want to be a farmer

I just thought that would be another cool outside job

And you could probably get into more of the science side of it

So yeah, I got accepted there and and decided to go there


A million years ago

How long is the program and what kind of courses or what’s the experience like as you’re going through that program? So we have a 4 year and a two year and I ended up I started off in the fourth year and then went and I after the first year I said, I don’t think I want to be in forestry that long

So I switched to the two year

Yeah, partially because in my, in my first year at this of course in geographic information systems, which is GIS

Back then nobody ever heard of it


And I took a course in it and I was like, wow, this

It kind of blew my mind as I love this course

So I tried to figure out how I could get finish forestry and then get into G.I.s


And yeah, so specifically, what kind of courses what are you studying when you’re going through that program

On forestry, you’re taking like the andrology, which is plant identification

So you have to do the plant collection and you learn how to identify all the different tree species

There’s different programs across Canada and like being in northern northern Ontario, in Thunder Bay, there’s not a lot of tree species

So they kind of tend to try to focus on stuff in southern Ontario as well

NAIT I think, has a program that’s the same and there’s also you do a a forest harvesting course, a fire management course, silviculture which is how you treat the standard after it’s been harvested

So you go and you do ground site preparation, planting, all that kind of stuff

There’s business management courses

math It was always math And then there was a GIS course and soils where there were soils, there was tree diseases, insects like tree tree insects and things like that

There was one called wood technology where you learn about like the different hardness of wood and you know, the difference in hardware and software, deciduous, all that kind of stuff

Some I like some of the courses, some of the courses I wasn’t so enamored with, I guess

Yeah, I was going to I was going to ask you if you’re actually interested in this specific subject matter or if you just got through it because I was the the program you were in? Well, after after my first year, I started I got a summer job fighting forest fires

And I absolutely loved it

So, I mean, when I took the fire, the fire course wasn’t until second year

So I took that course and was just I love that one

I like the operations management, the business management one

I like try to remember them all

I didn’t really like the Andrology one because it was just memorizing

It was just memorization

I like being more hands on, learning, doing stuff, doing that

When I think there was a plant, there’s a plant biology course and a few others we had to take as well

But and I think my favorite course obviously was the GIS course because it I remember we did we were sort of spoon fed the the commands to do back then

It wasn’t it was sort of a new program and then you kind of had to come up with your own project to do

And I, I had given, picked even a taste of three dimensional modeling in this course

And I was like, What can I use it to plan a new ski, a ski run with Candy Mountain, which is the ski hill at Thunder Bay

And they’re like, Yeah, sure

So we, that was my my project

So I figured out where the best slopes were up in mountain to another skier, which was really fascinating

Yeah well let’s let’s talk

So you got through your post-secondary and what do you leave with it? Is it a diploma? Is it a degree when you when you’re leaving? I got the diploma
You can also get the degree


You got the diploma and yeah, you said you were fighting forest fires

Was that for
My summer
Job? That was a summer job

Okay, let’s let’s talk about your career path as you to where you are now as a forest health supervisor, what was your first real job coming out of post-secondary? Well, actually, after forestry, I went to Algonquin College in Ottawa, Ontario

So I took another one, another college, and took another diploma

And while I was there, one of my fire, I kept fighting fires

Every summer, one of my friends who I had fought fires with had taken a GIS program before me

And he was working out in B.C

and he phoned me up and said, Hey, do you want a job in GIS

and Prince George, B.C.? And I was like, Sure, why not? Like, I might as well find out if I really love this

So I moved to Prince George and started was a consulting company there

I was there for about a year and a half

Yeah, maybe about a year

And then they asked me to bid on a contract where you’re like a consultant

You go into the forest industry office like like Canadian Forest Products

You go into their office and you work directly for them, but you’re contracted with the consulting company

So I did that

And then after about a year they hired me at Canfor and then I spent about five years there up until 2004


And then in 2004, my wife wanted to move she wanted to move to Nova Scotia, but so we were hunting for jobs and couldn’t find one

So I ended up she ended up finding one in, in Edmonton

So we thought, well, but believe it or not, that cuts our travel time home to Nova Scotia in half


And you’re only moving 7 hours, a seven hour drive east and then and it also, you know, made it a two day drive to my house in Ontario

So we said her move there sold the house and Prince George and moved to Edmonton


And did you have a job lined up for when you were moving to Edmonton or you were moving to Edmonton because of your your wife’s position? We moved to Edmonton because of her position, but she did a similar role as me in GIS, at a consulting company

And when she moved there, she was moving into the provincial government and her consulting company said, oh, you could use Aaron Skills at Timberline

So I moved to Edmonton

Having a job was I didn’t even have an interview

It was just you’re hired because forestry GIS combos is not that common I guess so I basically we moved there in December of ’04 and I started there January 2nd or whatever the first day after after that year was

And I worked there for almost two years

And then started with the provincial government in their forest health section in 2006 as a GIS information person

But I started doing bits of field work and sort of building all their systems and doing modeling, and that’s right around when the Mt
Pine Beetle started to come into Alberta and then in 2017, my wife found a job here in Nova Scotia

And so we basically sold the house and lives in Nova Scotia for her job

And I started I was here about six months before I found the job because there’s a really good GIS school here

I was kind of going back onto my GIS skills, living here and found a job with an engineering company called Wood and worked for them for almost two years

And then this position came up with the provincial government and I was fortunate enough to get it

So the position
In the state

The position that you were in, in Edmonton, were you doing the same kind of work there as you are right now? Oh, no

Some of it was the same

Some of it was

But I’m still touching the the mapping in the GIS side

I’m less involved in the data and the applications, but I’m still using them

Like I used to use build them and use them

And out in Alberta and here, I’m not building them anymore

We have a GIS person who takes care of that for us

So I’m more just building or using the applications now

Well, I don’t I do way more fieldwork here

There it was more of a kind of a treat to get out and do fieldwork, like go and do aerial surveys out there or to go out and do mountain look at Mountain Pine Beetles data or look at trees and things like that

See the operations, the ground surveying and the control and things like that

Yeah, the mountain pine beetle was in the news almost every day

Just like everything in this world with news

It seemed to be a popular topic, but I don’t hear much anymore about it

What did they did they freeze off and die, or are our forests still in in danger with with the mountain pine beetle? I believe they’ve become more of like an endemic population

So they’re just there

They’re still I’m pretty sure they’re still doing the fall and burn program where they they try to control the clumps of trees where they but I mean, they’ve been occurring naturally in B.C

for like thousands of years

So, I mean, it was just the fact that one day a windstorm came along and picked them up and dropped them all in Grand Prairie then I mean, they were and then they were sort of a population explosion in in in B.C

that basically caused it to come into Alberta

I want to talk to you a little bit about your forest fire experience

Can you talk about some of the experiences you’ve had doing that? Yeah, for sure

I started off, I think, in 1991 as a crew member in Ontario, and I fought forest fires for six summers, moved up a crew boss

We along the way and Ontario tends to be all initial attack

So you’re you’re flying a helicopter

It’s all very clear

Remote northwest frontier and a lot of roads

So you’re basically flying a helicopter with a crew of four of your total

Usually you can’t come across the fire

You’ve been sent to and you basically hover exit a chainsaw person and another person and they go and they cut

A helipad – helicopter can come in, you can offload all your gear and then you basically set up a pump and you lay hose up to the fire

If it’s a bad enough fire, you’re you’re never going to be sent in to the head of a fire

You usually set in the rear or the flanks If it’s severe enough, water bombers might come or the helicopter ride bucket on it

That kind of thing

So I did that for six years and then once I started in gas, I kind of got away from fire

It kind of always was one of my favorite jobs because there’s just so much teamwork in it

You working as a four person unit, you’re trained, you’re with them the whole summer

And yeah, once I got into GIS, I kind of missed it

And then when I moved to Alberta, served the government there, the opportunity was there to help out on fires

So it still gave you the the adrenaline rush of being around the fire

And it’s kind of a you run a lot of adrenaline on fire because, you know, I remember one time on a fire, my partner and I were so exhausted that we couldn’t open up

We had a piece each had a piece of beef jerky, and we were so exhausted we couldn’t tear it open

So so we drank

We shared a pop, and then we wripped up from the beef jerky to eat it

So, I mean, it’s just you just exhaust yourself

I mean, it’s a great job for young people

I mean, I couldn’t do it now

I, I wouldn’t be that effective

So, yeah, moving to Alberta, we had had the opportunity to sort of get involved with fire again and I went up to the Richardson wildfire as a GIS specialist

So you’re providing mapping

You’re GPS, the select fire line

So they constantly I mean, information’s key in fire, right? You have to be able to to get the boundaries, fire crews, all that kind of stuff

So we were constantly updating fire boundaries, constantly updating helipads, dozer lines, things like that

If you’re getting all these compiling information and getting it back, go as fast as you can

So I was able to stay involved in fire in Alberta

That was, I think the first that was 2011

And then the same year I went to Slave Lake

I think that that was the same year, the day after it burned

I was there and I was kind of GIS support outside of the fire, but I was kind of like the go between between the emergency operations center and the wildfire crew

So I was making sure that they both had the same data and they were talking back and forth in 2015, I went to High Level as a GIS person as well

I went to Wabasca

There was a fire north of Slave Lake and the Helibase manager, and then in 2006 I went to Fort Mac actually to start off with the Fort Mac fire happened

I was in the head office in Edmonton doing resource projections like what we’re going to need in from the crews you’re going to need in five days how many crews are going to need in ten days because they need to order them from, you know, around the world? We brought in crews from Mexico and South Africa and all across Canada

So I was doing resource projections say we’re going to need this many people and we’ve never seen a fire like this before

It’s so big and so intense, so trying to figure out what we needed

But it was a real challenge

And then I basically had four days off and then I was gone again to Fort Mac for another three weeks, living in a living on site

So you were literally you’ve been on the crew on the ground, cutting wood, fighting the fire, and then you’ve also been kind of in a supervisory role like managing it as well

Yeah, I would say I was more of a support staff rather than managing the fire myself, usually an incident commander

And then there’s like a an ops chief and a plans chief and like sort of and then I would work for one of those guys

Can you talk us through kind of a typical day for you for when you get up in the morning and end of day? I usually have about a 35 minute drive to work

That’s where I listen to your podcast

And then, I mean, it can be random

One day, like typically in July, I’ll be flying aerial surveys with like grid lines across the province

I usually only take pictures on turnarounds which are on either coast because Nova Scotia is pretty well surrounded by water

So when you turning around, you fly to the north, ten kilometers along the shore, which is opportunity for great pictures, which go on Facebook and then all the way to the south side and then cross across and back up again

So, I mean, you’re flying for about two weeks of the of the of the summer

You’re flying grid lines across the province or like tomorrow I’m heading down to I don’t if you ever heard of Puget National Park

I think I have

But it’s down by about two and a half hour drive from two hour drive from Halifax

So we’re going to go down there and hang about 40

Jack Pine traps on Thursday, Friday and then next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday

I’m in Cape Breton hanging Black headed bud worm traps and yesterday one of my coworkers was up took all your survey data

Sometimes you can’t tell what it is like

You’ll be up in the up in the air and be sleep mining we will looks a lot like Ashura

They’re both green deciduous trees and the leaves are filling brown

So we have to go on the ground afterwards and down trees that are checked out and try to confirm what what it is or isn’t

So a couple of my coworkers were for the last couple of days have been out there doing that

So are you
Let me

Interrupt you

Are you in an airplane or a helicopter? Every time you go up a helicopter, you’re in a helicopter and you guys are taking photography

What kind of data are you taking in? Well, I use a it’s our pad, it’s on my computer

And I have actually one for off here

I have this pen here


And basically I’m drawing on the screen while I’m flying

I’m drawing polygons of damage that I see

And it’s so then that’s the only time they fly though

So the rest of it is all driving

So we’re driving around now trying to choose what, what the issues are that we saw


So you’re collecting this data and you’re looking at the damage in the forest

What where does that data go? Compile it all and then we do any reports on it

And eventually it gets rolled up into like a natural a federal

We do what we do in Nova Scotia and a report every province does

And then there’s also a national one that’s in our can pay for service and that’s Resources Canada particular

What do you love about your job? Mostly, I would say it’s a variety

Like, like I said, like one day you can be doing, you know, one day I’m in the office for catching up on stuff and the next day I’m off looking at trees in someone’s yard

You know, people also call in and complain

So about, you know, what’s wrong with my trees

So we’ll go and we’ll check it out

You know, you shouldn’t have pushed all those rocks up beside it

You killed the roots or whatever or we’re hanging traps or we’re flying the province or I don’t know

It’s just a it’s a variety of, of work every day

And it’s not monotonous ever

So it changes from day to day, right

You’re not doing the same thing every day pretty well

Like next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or three days in a row will be hanging traps

But then I won’t hang traps again until sometime in August

And in between all do we do lot of things? Yeah

And what are some of the obvious challenges in in your work? Probably I would say the biggest would be Mother Nature


Like in Alberta, it was Mother Nature that basically picked up all the mountain pine beetle and dropped them into Alberta

Here we’re constantly monitoring fir inflates of spruce butter from Quebec because they have a massive or even Newfoundland now to help break there

But the wind can just pick those up on a on the right conditions and basically drop them in Nova Scotia and then we have our own instant yeah
Outbreak I don’t know I would say maybe trying to do every get everything done is always more there’s more insects to be monitoring for

There’s more of everything to do

And we have only have four people to do it basically all summer

So I mean, staffing, I guess would be it could be a little bit of a challenge, I guess, for sure

So maybe there’s a lot of job opportunities coming up with people with a forestry background

Well, there’s I if you go on the websites, there’s always lots of I mean, and I’m only in like this much of the forest industry like there’s harvesting there’s still culture

So like you could go work for a forest to consult forestry where he worked for forestry consulting company doing block layout or you could go work for like a big company like Canfor or something and then you’re doing harvesting and then once they’ve harvested that, you have to build roads to get into the systems

They have to then lay out the blocks which they usually give that full consulting company to do

Then they have to go in and a a contractor will harvest it all

They have to haul it all to the mill

Then once it’s harvested, then they have to go in and like treat it, I guess

So they have to like verify or like also dig planting spots and things like that

And sometimes they burn, this burns down, they’ll do prescribed burns just to burn it off or they just pile up all the brush that’s left and burn it so that it goes back into the into the earth, naturally

And then the tree planters come along, they plant the stands

Then once they’re before, they’re declared free to grow, which is a few years, like ten years later, often you’ll get people going in, they’ll be thinning so of natural regrowth as well as it was planted

And basically it has to go in there and, you know, you know, the less desirable species so that you’re your trees will come back

Has anything surprised you over your career? I guess the resilience of of some of these pests and how how they can just, you know, with the wind come along and pick up a billion mountain pine beetles, little tiny site size of a grain of rice thrown over the mountains

And destruction in Alberta like that to me is kind of amazing

Or the fact that they can pick up through flood or moths in Quebec, fly them all the way

The wind can just carry them all the way over the ocean and drop them in Nova Scotia

I mean, that has not happened back in the seventies

I think that here

But I mean, it could just as easily happen this year

It’s some days when other supplies, I guess the houses that I get paid to do what I do, I mean, some days it’s just a great day and it’s like, oh, like today, if I was flying today, this is just be a fabulous day

And I mean, sometimes you’re taking a you’re you need to take a lunch break, right? So sometimes you land on like a an inaccessible beach or, you know, somewhere where nobody’s obviously someone’s been there, but it feels like nobody’s ever been there

So, I mean, that’s pretty incredible when you get to do that day like that


And so you’ve seen all different parts of Canada

I think it’s it’s a really fascinating career that you’re in

If you were speaking to somebody that was interested in forestry and there’s there’s so many different careers based around forestry, what kind of advice could you give that person? Find the part of forestry that you really love

Like, I didn’t even know Forest Health existed until I guess I started work with Canfor and they were doing beetle walk harvesting

And so that was probably the first time I sort of was exposed to Forest Health I had heard of trees fluttering before

I’ve heard I’d heard of some of these things

And then when they moved into Edmonton, I basically jumped right into forest health

Also, I was like, Wow, this is really cool

It’s more science and research side, which I really enjoyed and not so operational hands on working in the bush like I think doing block layout day after day

I’d see all the young guys when I work for a consulting company come in and they’re all gung ho

They love it

They love being outside

And after about two years with the new job because it’s it, it’s a great experience, but it’s not something you want to do for your life, I guess

I try to touch all aspects of it and figure out what you really like to do

When you look over your career, what do you think you’re most proud of? One that came to mind actually sent me a picture was me in front of a plane crash back in around 1994

We got a call that there was a plane crash and myself and three other guys, you know, four of the guys we went out with, the pilots, the helicopter pilot, and all we were given was a rough coordinate

We were trying to find where the the plane crash was

And it had it had rained the day before

And it’s kind of wispy coming off the coming off of the forest and the crew walk through here in the front

They actually saw the the smoke from the plane crash

And we basically flew over, hovered

We lowered a person in they cut a pad big enough to fit the helicopter in

And there was no water nearby and everyone survived

And we were able to load them all in and get them to the hospitals

And then basically helicopters came back and picked us up

But it was it kind of made the local newspaper because not often, you know, you’re going to a plane crash, you always get to find anybody

And we were fortunate that there was one broken arm and a few other minor injuries

So I was pretty fortunate and probably being able to help out in Slave Lake and Fort MacMurray

That was kind of an awful lot like I mean, it was obviously a horrible thing

But just to be able to help out and try to, I guess, get people back in their homes as soon as possible was kind of rewarding, I guess

After after the forest fires that took place there



We were trying to get them back in as soon as we could

Well, Aaron, congratulations on a successful career

It’s fascinating to hear some of the things that you’ve done

And I just want to thank you for for joining us today

Thank you for sharing your stories

Well, thank you

Thank you for tuning in to the Job Talk Podcast

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Our podcast music was created by our friend Mike Malone in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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