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Finding the balance

Marie Rauter is the first female graduate from the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto and first female member of the Ontario Professional Foresters Association. She was formerly with the Ministry of Natural Resources, and manager and President of the Ontario Forest Industries Association. She also was the Chair of the Forest Physiology Committee for IUFRO, Chair of the Canadian Tree Improvement Association, and board member of Wildlife Habitat Canada, Nature Conservancy, Tree Canada, and Faculty of Forestry.


I was fortunate to choose a profession during the best of times for being a forester. Even after many years of retirement, I have never regretted the decision. Why did I choose forestry? Ever since childhood, I was fortunate to spend summers at a cottage and learned to love the outdoors. My first choice was originally Math, physics, Chemistry, but as I sat in the lunchroom with my high school classmates discussing our futures, I realized Forestry was a better choice. Never occurred to me that the Faculty of Forestry didn’t have females – until the Dean invited me to meet with him as I was finishing my Grade 13 exams. He was very positive and very encouraging. In fact, throughout my career, I had tremendous support and encouragement from my employers as well as colleagues. Started my university days as a shy, quiet student: too shy to go into the Common Room to have lunch until a group of senior students asked if I would like to join them for Bridge. Loved cards, but didn’t know Bridge. They told me they would teach me and walked with me into the Common Room. That was the start of my coming out. My classmates were great, but sometimes very frustrating with all the pranks they pulled, until one told me it was because they weren’t sure how to cope with me. Today we have reunions every five years – wives included – at great places across Canada such as Waterton Parks in Alberta, Tofino on Vancouver Island and the next will be somewhere in Quebec.

After graduation, I was hired as an assistant to a research scientist in forest genetics with the Dep. of Lands and Forests (now Min. of Natural Resources and Forestry). I so enjoyed working in this field, that after a year I decided to take a leave and return to school for a graduate degree. During that year, I was able to meet a number of forest geneticists from across North America and had invitations to do my grad work at the University of British Columbia, Yale and Berkeley. Berkeley was my choice, but as my father was dealing with cancer, I chose to stay in Toronto. No matter which University one chooses for an undergraduate degree, I strongly believe there are many advantages to choosing another for graduate work whenever possible. Once completed with school I then returned to the Department as a research scientist, and it was the best of times to be in this field. Based on various aspects of my research, there were invitations to present papers in many different countries. At every meeting, there was opportunity to learn about other research results, but more important to get into discussions with the other research scientists. After each meeting, I would return with enthusiasm and new ideas – critical for anyone in research. Some aspects of my research included cloning spruce, developing a quick technique to determine whether a white pine had blister rust, breeding select trees for faster growth, studying flower induction techniques for spruce and larch species. In the late 70’s, I was asked to write a paper on ‘Women in Forestry across Canada’ for an upcoming IUFRO (International Union of Forest Research Organizations) meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia. I sent questionnaires to all the female graduates I could find and got responses from many – some several pages long. Wish I had kept the responses, but I did find a copy of the paper. Always remembered 2 responses from undergrads – one from a gal who loved course, her fellow students and profs; the other was very unhappy and had little good to say about anyone or anything. They were both in the same class. The difference between the two: probably attitude. Even though 40 years has passed since I wrote the paper, it is interesting to see not only what has changed, but what is still applicable today. Though I didn’t get to the Jakarta meeting, participants elected me as Chair of a working group for forest physiology. It was an honour to be elected in absentia and gave me the opportunity to connect with researchers from across the world. As Chair, I organized a workshop for the next meeting which was held in Mexico City. I have been forever thankful that the earthquake that hit and destroyed that part of the city and killed 5,000 people occurred a number of months later. After several years as a research scientist, I was asked to move into management at Queen’s Park to oversee the provincial Tree Improvement and Seed Collection programmes. Although I was no longer directly doing research, the experience and knowledge gained allowed me to manage the new challenges. Finally got my time at Berkeley in 1984. I was granted a sabattical from the Min. of Natural Resources when the Dean at UCBerkeley invited me to come as a visiting scholar. It was a great opportunity as I had access to any course at any of the UC universities. Also was able to observe how bright the students were as I headed a course on cloning. Upon my return, I was given 3 months to write a Master Tree Improvement plan for the province. Because I had met so many researchers over the years, I sent a copy of the plan to some 40 researchers across the world to review and comment. Most provided detailed reviews, so I felt comfortable with submitting it for implementation. The following year I took my vacation in France when a large forestry company with operations throughout the country asked if I would audit several aspects of their forestry program. Another great experience – travelling from Brittany to Marseilles and many stops between!! Especially since I agreed on condition of speaking English, only to find when I landed in Paris it would be in French as most of the employees I would be meeting didn’t speak English. Thank goodness mine was good enough to get through. In the mid-1980’s, government was in the midst of re-organization and the Forest Management Branch and the Research Branch were preparing to move to Sault Ste Marie in central Ontario. With an elderly mother in Toronto, I chose to move employers rather than cities. Fortunately, there was a retirement at the OFIA (Ontario Forest Industries Association) and I was hired; first as Manager to the President, and then as President when my predecessor retired. My background in research, public speaking, writing scientific papers came in handy especially during the many years we were involved in an Environmental Assessment Hearing on Forestry. Stimulating was the need for me to learn about mill operations, mill environmental issues, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) on lumber, preparing and giving presentations to government committees, dealing with the press and many more – even participating in editorial tours for 3 consecutive years through several European countries when Canadian forest products were in danger of being boycotted. One of the most exciting invites came near the end of my working career – Bali. I was fortunate to be one of 50 people throughout the world to be invited to participate in a workshop to start developing a world forestry policy. We started in Bali, then got on a small ship working our way to Kalimantan on Borneo Island. We visited some of the forests in Kalimantan as well as a large sawmill with quite primitive machinery. One of the most interesting stops was Komodo Island where we walked among the dragons with a few natives with forked sticks to protect us. They were a god send to one dragon who was hopelessly tangled in a poacher’s nylon fishing line. Two natives with their sticks were able to remove the line and it almost looked like a ‘tip of the hat’ as the dragon looked at them, then disappeared. This is but a sampling of the interesting times I had throughout my career and just about all of them come with an additional story or two. I hope others will have many of the same opportunities I had and enjoy their career as much as I did. I would call myself an environmentalist, but also a pragmatist. During my career, I was invited to sit on many environmental boards from Wildlife Habitat Canada, the Ontario Board of the Nature Conservancy to 15 years on the advisory committee to the Ontario Environmental Commissioner. When forests are properly managed – you can have the best of both worlds; the values that you want and the products you need. Not every stand of trees needs to be cut. Not every stand of trees needs to be protected. The challenge is to find the balance. That is the challenge not only for the current batch of foresters; but for all future generations.

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