UNB Alumni
Telling our #ProudlyUNB stories

Understanding current and future challenges for Canadian forests

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on Jan 22, 2024

Category: UNB Fredericton , FOREM , Inspiring Stories

As Science Director, Forest Health and Biodiversity at the Atlantic Forestry Centre in Fredericton, Christy Arseneau (BScF’97) supports a team that is developing the science and technology to assess and effectively respond to threats to Canada’s forests.

As Canadian lead in the development of a North American Blueprint for Wildland Fire Science collaboration, a large portion of her focus is directed towards fire science projects and initiatives.

Back when she was a UNB undergraduate forestry student working a summer job at a New Brunswick paper mill, Christy was told that her safety couldn’t be guaranteed when the rest of the woodlands team went out to fight a forest fire. “I really wanted to get out there and experience fighting that fire!” Christy remembers. “I was young, inexperienced and didn’t question why I was denied an opportunity just because others didn’t know how to behave around a woman.”

Obviously, she didn’t let that experience stop her. “I’ve had an amazing career so far, and have actually enjoyed very fair conditions along the way, though I recognize many women don’t have the same experience. It’s really fun that I’ve ended up in a role focused on wildland fires!”

Growing up in Dalhousie, New Brunswick, Christy loved the outdoors and enrolled at UNB to study biology. “I loved UNB and was very involved on campus and in residence at Lady Dunn. But after two years, biology just wasn’t sitting right with me. I saw how much my roommate loved forestry and made the switch. It was a tough decision, but the right one. I loved it and learned so much.”

Christy had the opportunity as part of a Professional Experience Program at UNB to work in California for eight months, where she was exposed to urban forestry. “It was an amazing opportunity and it opened my eyes to the breadth of what forestry could be. I brought that home with me and after graduating, went to the University of Toronto for a Master of Forest Conservation in Urban Forestry degree. I was able to springboard from there into the federal government to work on Forest 2020 – a new vision at the turn of the century for the sustainability of Canada’s forests. We planted over 6000 hectares! The program was a forerunner for what is now the 2 Billion Trees (2BT) program.”

After a seven-year stint in Ottawa Christy was looking for a new challenge, and an opportunity arose to move back home as CAO of the Town of Dalhousie. “I had a strong policy background along with urban forestry training, and that was exactly what was useful for this position. Going back home where my parents and other family still live was wonderful. I was there for nine years and oversaw major re-structuring and re-aligning of the Town’s operations to adapt to a post-industrial economy.”

She then took her knowledge and experience and began consulting with other small and medium sized municipalities in the Maritimes to help them reduce emissions and implement climate initiatives. It wasn’t long though, before Natural Resources Canada came calling once again.

Christy took the opportunity to become Science Director for the Atlantic Forestry Centre in Fredericton because it was a chance to use her experience at all levels of government to make headway on understanding how our trees are changing in our current environment.
“Wildfires are a growing concern in Canada. Last summer highlights that. We have a research project ongoing in New Brunswick with researchers from Atlantic Canada and other areas across the country to share knowledge and learn from one another. Our Acadia Research Forest continues to operate as one of the oldest and longest-running research forests in Canada, and our scientists are undertaking new and innovative forms of research. My focus is on increasing capacity and partnerships, working with both the provinces and federal departments, with industry, with academia and with Indigenous communities. It’s collaborative work.”

Christy explains that other factors are also playing a role in changing forests as climate change increasingly affects Atlantic Canada. “New pests are killing trees, which then become fuel for fires. We are also experiencing more frequent hurricanes that are damaging huge sections of forests. We’re focused on trying to understand the impacts of these events, and also the impacts of different decisions by governments over time, so we can make better predictions that lead to better decision-making.”

“Forests are very dynamic systems, and this work is certainly not boring! While there are many challenges in this role – especially in building capacity for forest fire research – there are also so many things I love about what I do. For example, we’re working with Indigenous communities on a seed collection program helping with collecting techniques and storing and preserving traditionally important species. Our National Tree Seed Centre here in Fredericton has over 13,000 unique seed collections from over 200 tree and shrub species – the most diverse collection of its kind in Canada!”

Christy is also proud of playing a role in diversifying the field of forestry. “In spite of focused efforts to increase inclusion over the years, wildland fire is still an overwhelmingly male space. However, the first meeting of the steering committee for the upcoming Wildland Fire Canada Conference was actually 100% female! The committee includes provincial and federal senior and junior positions. We all paused for a moment to acknowledge this momentous occasion.”

“We face many challenges because of the impact of climate change. But I’m quite hopeful for our future. We have so many dedicated people working to understand the challenges and find ways to reduce our impact and improve sustainability. There has been a lot of progress made. There are many dedicated, passionate people trying to make this world a better place.”