Greg Anderson had a 35-year career in all aspects of forest management including ecosystem restoration, and continues to bring this experience to the Kootenays, including as a Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund Technical Review Committee member.

Greg started his career as a professional forester in 1977 being responsible for recreation management and land use operations with the Alberta Forest Service in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains. In 1992, he moved with his young family to Invermere to take on the role of Operations Manager with the Ministry of Forests in the former Invermere Forest District. For 10 years in Invermere, he was responsible for administering the day-to-day operations of a cross section of District resource programs. When the Invermere and Cranbrook Forest Districts were amalgamated into a single new district in 2002, the Rocky Mountain Forest District, Greg continued as Operations Manager based in Cranbrook.

In 1996, a conversation with staff led to recognition that the long-time approach taken to forest management in the Rocky Mountain Trench was not ecologically appropriate for a fire-maintained ecosystem and open native grasslands.

“Essentially, one of our young silvicultural foresters, Dave White, approached me directly about research he had found from the US about best management practices in semi-arid ecosystems, such as the Trench. His findings suggested that we should be planting far fewer seedlings per hectare after harvesting and that, in fact, we should be spacing our ingrown open stands and starting to initiate a prescribed burn program. Dave directed me to his US research findings, which validated the points he had raised to me. In fire-maintained ecosystems, like the Trench, where natural and cultural fires had now been suppressed for decades, we were seeing our native grasslands disappearing, increasing habitat and forage loss, a loss of Indigenous Peoples’ cultural values, and increasing wildfire risk in populated areas. Our Trench management practices changed from that point on. It was needed.”

And that’s how the Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration (ER) Program was born. From 1996 through 2006 (in conjunction with his ongoing District management duties), Greg initiated and led BC’s first “Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration” program with an overarching goal of recreating complex ecologically appropriate habitats in a semi-arid landscape where frequent wildfire was once an integral and pivotal part of the ecosystem. During that time, Greg served as Chair of the multi-sector Trench ER Steering Committee and wrote the first “Blueprint for Action” to help guide Ecosystem Restoration activities in the Trench. Note that there is an updated Blueprint for Action guide out this year.

A key part of getting the Trench ER Program off the ground was bringing people from various organizations with often diverse perspectives and viewpoints together – including the BC Wildlife Federation and the BC Cattlemen’s Association – to find common ground. The Steering Committee successfully sought initial funding from US-based organizations, such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Roosevelt Foundation and from BC’s own Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. After the initial years, the BC provincial government also began providing funding. Over the course of Greg’s involvement with the Trench ER Program, 15 different funding sources contributed to Trench ER project work.

In 2008, Greg was a founding member and served as inaugural Chair (until his retirement in 2011) of the “British Columbia Prescribed Fire Council” – a multi-sectoral entity of provincial government, non-government and First Nations reps brought together to collectively further the application, science and public understanding of prescribed fire with the key responsibility being the provision of leadership for prescribed fire and community FireSmart activities which had become fragmented and uncoordinated among the different agencies involved in BC.

Greg says that “Although the BC Prescribed Fire Council has since gone into quiescence at a provincial level, there are fortunately now regional prescribed fire councils still active in some areas of the province.”

The success of the Trench ER Program gained much notoriety, and in 2006 (through to 2011), Greg was selected as the province’s first Ecosystem Restoration Manager to launch the ‘new’ ER initiative in BC as was announced by the Premier. As the Provincial ER Manager, he led the development and implementation of the initial “Province of BC’s Strategic ER Plan” including strategies to address climate change resilience and desired future forest conditions. The ER program was recognized within Canada and internationally for its leadership, innovation and on-the-ground results which led to UN sponsored delegations from China and Mongolia coming to observe the Trench ER Program, as well as forest managers and students from the US.

When reflecting on the wildfires this year across the province, he notes that the use of prescribed fire, if previously undertaken in strategic locations, would have likely made a difference in some areas that were impacted, and potentially could have reduced the severity of some of the wildfires that occurred.  For example, Greg says, “On ʔaq’am Reserve lands a prescribed burn was successfully conducted this past spring of 2023. Upon review, it will quite likely show that it played a positive role in helping contain portions of the wildfire that occurred on Reserve lands later in the summer.”

Ecosystem Restoration is about much more than only the ecological benefits; there are also critically important cultural, social and economic benefits that result. 

As an example, he once took Ktunaxa elders to visit an ingrown open forest stand on Skookumchuck Prairie. They related that as children, that location was a traditional area where their families would come to pick Bitterroot, but that the plant had long since disappeared. Greg and the elders discussed that the ingrown trees in the area were needing to be spaced and after curing, a light prescribed fire would be run through the area. Just over two years later after the spacing and fire had occurred, he returned to the same location with the same elders. They were excited to see that Bitterroot had once again sprouted. It had been waiting in the seed bank for the right conditions all along.

Greg emphasizes that cultural burning by Indigenous Peoples and low intensity fires were always a part of the Trench landscape and the ecosystems evolved accordingly for eons. With the arrival of European settlers starting in the 1880’s, that all began to change with fire suppression, ultimately leading to higher intensity wildfires and other ecosystem impacts we experience today.

Greg finds purpose in being involved and giving back to the environmental and conservation communities, and therefore he continues to contribute in various ways in his retirement including as a member on both the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund Technical Review Committee and Columbia Basin’s Ecosystem Enhancement Program Advisory Committee. Provincially, he is serving his second term as a member (and is currently Chair) of the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation Board. Locally, he has also found it rewarding being on the Rocky Mountain School District Board of Trustees for 12 years and subsequently a Councillor on the Invermere Town Council for 11 years.

An outlook on life that has contributed to Greg’s varied and innovative career is to trust in new opportunities. 

Photos and slides by Greg Anderson: Dorothy Lake near Kinsmen Beach in Invermere; 400 year old western larch from Rocky Mountain Trench showing 10 fire scars; Landscape views of Rocky Mountain Trench; Explaining the concepts behind Ecosystem Restoration to a delegation of practitioners visiting from Mongolia; Using prescribed fire in a pre-treated fire maintained pine stand in the Rocky Mountain Trench; Aerial view of a successfully completed prescribed fire to restore grasslands on Becher Prairie in the Rocky Mountain Trench; Bitterroot plant;  Prescribed Fire ignition – by hand and aerially with helicopter.