28 April, 2021
Final Cut: An inside look at what it's like to be a hand faller on the BC Coast
|Brendan Flanagan in the process of falling an eight-foot Spruce near Rivers Inlet, B.C. Photo courtesy Brendan Flanagan.
In the minds of loggers and enthusiastic Canadian youth nationwide, the Coastal B.C. forest industry remains a crown jewel. But what of the infamous lumberjack? It seems the fog is thickest when understanding the modern West Coast faller. This article seeks to rebuke misconceptions and otherwise offer insight into this vocation and entice those interested. I won't dwell on the work itself; it should go without saying, it is fantastic. For those who haven't been exposed to the job yet, check out @westcoastfaller on Instagram.
If you're looking for an easy ride or for a group that gives up quickly, I wouldn't start here. But if you consider yourself durable enough to toil all day in the dense foliage of the rainforest or to spend your summer months vagabonding the ashen plains of the Interior regions, you may be on the right path.
So how can you go about it? First, understand the work is controlled by the B.C. Faller Standard, a required body of knowledge for anyone falling any tree more than six inches in diameter. This document restricts the supply of human capital to cut trees on projects province-wide. Two local agencies work to fill this supply-side, the BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC) - which renewed 2,437 fallers' cards in 2020 - and the Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractors (CAGC), which has closer to 800 assumed active members. On the demand side, there are many active resource projects - some scheduled and some, such as in the case of wildfire work, totally unplanned. Regardless, all of these projects create jobs above and beyond the relatively predictable cut-controlled forestry land base.
Although these agencies coexist and have commonalities, in my personal experience, BCFSC is the certification to have. The CAGC licensing provides you with timely and lower-cost opportunities to perhaps generate employment sooner and ultimately end up at the same goal. But, if your goal is to work as a production faller in the alluring stands of Coastal B.C., then as a CAGC (also known as Enform) faller, you may be required to test into the BCFSC program again to satisfy the prime contractor's expectations - or better yet, to increase your boss' willingness to pay you full-rate. For high-quality employment in fire protection, oil and gas, and ancillary forestry field roles, the Enform courses offer suitable training. The difference in dollars spent between these programs seems to be a substantial factor when making this choice, alongside the availability of courses in your area.
But, ultimately, through each, you can build a network with your peers, who will be one of the best ways to assure your success. In my opinion, BCFSC shines because its training operators come from the immediate production environment. They are often a new faller trainee's best source of early knowledge and networking beyond the standard and expertise in oil and gas work, among other projects.
Once on the job, another lead faller, the bullbucker (a BCFSC-qualified supervisor), will work to baseline your skill and otherwise keep a crew cohesive and on track. The truth is that camp conditions are often pretty awful. But, those who would rather spend a day on a hill than a day fidgeting in a chair are seldom the type to care. Projects and contractors along the various nooks and crannies of B.C.'s coastline offer similar projects to each hand faller. On some, you'll cut big trees; on others, you'll work big ground. And after a while, you'll make big money.
Today, it's more achievable than ever before to enter the specific forestry field you are interested in. For many, the only failure is not trying.
The forest industry, especially production tree falling, may have more to offer than you know. The naysayers will tell you there's less use for hand fallers - and they aren't wrong - but that doesn't mean the faller can be taken out of the equation altogether or that the machines will ever be able to do everything a manual faller can. Those who don't understand your career decision will ask if it's seasonal work - it's not, but it can be. Many fallers are away in camps all the time, and danger is always present.
Nonetheless, I urge you to jump in. Other people remain warm and coddled, but for those interested in becoming a faller, there will always be a great deal of pride.