I got my first impression of Rod, a woodlands supervisor at Tolko, during my internship training when I overheard him discussing the merits of a day at the beach:
“I’d rather be doing anything else. I don’t get it. You’re just lying on dirt.”
Now that’s hilarious stuff. Maybe it’s because – for a guy who seems like he’d prefer spending every waking minute outdoors – I am certain the beach is halfway tolerable. Or maybe he had a bad beach experience as a child. Maybe the water was really green and the sand, much too dark. Either way, I wanted to know more about him and what he thought about things.
Rod is one of the Tolko staff responsible for showing us students the ropes this summer. He has a strong background in planning and operations supervision, with 35 years of experience in the field. As such, he has been a source of valuable forestry-related advice and entertaining anecdotes.
Andy Goodson: I’m curious how you found your way to forestry.
Rod Pshebnicki: The funny thing is I wanted to be a conservation officer or work in fisheries. I hated forestry in college. It just didn’t interest me. I took a summer job [in forestry] because it paid well in The Pas, Manitoba. And I lived out in the bush and paid off my student loan. After that summer I realized it’s a pretty cool job. A bunch of us in school, I think we had in our minds that being a conservation officer or being in fisheries or working for the government was the way to go. It kind of opened my eyes—that summer in the bush timber cruising. I’ve stuck with it ever since.
You’re definitely no stranger to the bush. I remember you talking about a job where you basically spent the year camping.
Well that summer I worked in the bush, I timber cruised from May long weekend until September long. A buddy of mine phoned [when Rod was laid off] and said they were short-staffed up in northern Manitoba for fisheries for the brook trout tagging program. They had a contract to tag brook trout when they were building power dams, so I went up and stayed in a tent there.
So basically the first summer I worked in forestry I worked sixty days straight and took three off and then thirty straight. And then I went directly up to northern Manitoba where we were two weeks in and one week out in a tent. So I did that for two years in a row – timber cruising – and I really liked it. But I was done camping. It was just too much.
It seems so extreme to be camping that long—and you’re not just camping, you’re not just sitting around and enjoying yourself. You’re working. Where does the drive come from? Like, the work ethic.
I’ve always liked the outdoors. And I guess, as a kid, like when I was twelve, I got a shotgun for Christmas. And in today’s era, that’s not uhh…It’s not vogue, but when you’re young, it’s the 70s, and you grew up on a farm on the edge of the Duck Mountains, lots of twelve year olds get guns. So you start to hunt and fish. You spend time alone in the forest. So the camping part was fairly easy. In the timber cruising program, it was maybe once every year or two we would have to fly people out of the bush because of nervous breakdowns, or physically they were just done with it. It’s physically tough but you have to be mentally tough too. And we’re not in urban areas. In northern Manitoba, we flew in on an Otter bush plane and we flew our boats in… there was absolutely nothing there. I’ve always liked that.
Even as a kid when I went fishing and hunting I would push harder to go places where people don’t go. So it did suit my personality. I did get a kick out of it. It was fun.
Obviously there’s a lot of unpredictability when you’re out in the field, and I’m just wondering… how do you contend with situations that go upside down? Or just adverse situations in general. Like how do you not let that get on top of you?
I guess the bad or good thing with youth is you’re unprepared. So earlier in my career, I’d be stuck in the bush more on a bike or in a truck—you’re way in the middle of nowhere, you make a bad decision and get stuck—you know you have all the proper safety equipment to contact people to pull you out or jack up the truck and get it out. As you age, you’re a little more risk averse and you make better decisions. I haven’t had any bad situations with bears, or things going south really bad. A lot of that has to do – a little bit of it is luck, there’s no doubt – but a lot of it has to do with planning and preparation and making those correct choices. I don’t go out on a boat when the weather’s going to be brutal.
Having that pre-planning can mitigate a lot of those disasters. I know I have a lot of friends who have lots of good disaster stories. Spending time with them, you realize a lot of them are self-made by really poor choices. (laugh)
That’s pretty much what my personal blog was about. I only learn the hard way it seems.
And it comes with age, like with youth. I made a lot of those not-the-greatest decisions. They didn’t turn out bad, but as you age you’re a little more risk averse and you’re smarter about planning things and setting yourself up to succeed as opposed to having a cool story to tell.
Yeah…yeah. That’s why I haven’t written in a while.
(laugh) Yeah, exactly.
I guess the nice part about this job is you encounter a lot of cool places and people along the way. I’m wondering if you have any stories to share.
So a couple of neat stories. One of them was a trapper up in La Ronge...We were planning to cut some blocks within his trapping zone. We went through the plan and we chat about the logging part first. And we’re just chit-chatting about stuff. He was telling me a story about being on the Bow River south of La Ronge—and this was about fifteen years back he told this story to me. He was walking down the river and all of the sudden he wakes up – like he fell asleep for some reason – and it’s three to four hours later and he’s on the other side of the river. And he’s perfectly dry. So he doesn’t know what happened. And he told me this story in seriousness.
So it happened, or he believed it happened. But the neat thing is, when I fish the river, I hundred-percent of the time think of that story and I wonder. I always think about him when I’m walking the river, and especially the stretch he told me about. I think, will it happen to me? I kind of don’t believe the story, but there’s a little bit of belief because I do think about it.
Well, we should get the X-files on it.
So that’s kind of a neat one. You do meet a lot of neat people. And another kind of bizarre story—one of the outfitters that we deal with that I’ve known for years. I was out with him in the bush. So we went through our harvest stuff, our harvest plan—and the one neat thing about the job is we have lots of work to do in the field but part of our job is just to chit-chat with people. Get to know them, you know. And we do a lot of fun things. So we’re out in the bush with the outfitter and we had done our jobs, so he says, Rod, do you wanna see something neat? I go yeah sure. We go on the bikes and we quadded way into the backcountry—like kilometres away from the major roads. We parked the bikes and walk down through the forest. There’s no trail to it—we walk up to this spot where there’s a buried culvert. It’s in the middle of the forest. There’s no road to it. It’s quite old. And it’s about a six- to eight-foot culvert that’s buried halfway in the ground, so it’s actually buried horizontally… it’s maybe fifteen feet long. There’s a wooden back, so you can leave the culvert one way, but you come in the other and there’s a door with a bar on it and a little clasp to lock it. You walk in there, you open the door and you look through the culvert and you see that someone was there of time because things were all packed down. You can see that someone was there. So…don’t know what the backstory is.
But it’s just bizarre to think what odd things took place in the bush.
That’s been one of the best parts about this summer I find. Just coming across something weird and then putting your detective hat on and figuring things out.
Yeah, and your cynical or your conspiracy theory hat kind of goes one way. And there might be a simple explanation that is very benign, or there might be something nefarious. I don’t know.
The conspiracy hat is a good one to have, because I think a lot of people that have those hats might be the ones to go out in the bush and live in culverts.
And the weird thing, the one thing I did find, I was out in the bush and I can’t remember where. But I was out in the middle of nowhere quadding, and I find a tent. So there was this tent that was blown down and I thought that’s kind of odd. The door was open and it just rained the previous day, so it was super wet. I quad up to it and the door’s open and there’s a sleeping bag and everything’s just soaking wet. So I’m wondering, what’s the backstory here. Your mind kind of goes to dark places. Is it someone who’s fleeing from the authorities and they camped here and they bugged out, or…
Work your way backwards from the worst case scenario.
Exactly. It could be something as simple as a couple kids went camping, it rained and they went home. Because they were cold, you know? (chuckle) Or something in between, I don’t know.
I guess I’ll wrap it up here with a lighter question. What do you like about living in Prince Albert?
I like the outdoor opportunities. The Saskatchewan River is a great river to fish. There’s waterfowl hunting five or ten kilometres away from the city. And the people are really good. There’s a lot of like-minded people. So those opportunities to hunt and fish, and just enjoy the outdoors, whether you’re mountain biking out in the country or… it’s just a good place to live. We’re right on the edge of the forest, so you have the transition to the boreal forest from the farmland. And I kind of grew up in farmland country on the edge of the Duck Mountains, so it is kind of like home.
Any parting advice for any aspiring foresters?
You’re at a good time right now because there’s a shortage of people. So people starting out can fast track themselves. Like in my day, you had to put your time in…I think, you know, taking jobs that may not be the best current job can get you further later on. There are jobs like supervision and operations, that tend to be a little more stressful than the other jobs, but it does give you a good foundation moving forward. Because that’s what really helped me, my timber cruising and my supervision, knowing the forest, volumes and operations really helped me.