News / Toronto

Fears over future of University of Toronto Faculty of Forestry

A consultation on academic restructuring has sparked a petition to save the faculty, one of only eight in Canada.

Toronto’s urban canopy, some of which is shown here, provides relief from extreme heat.

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Toronto’s urban canopy, some of which is shown here, provides relief from extreme heat.

As climate change makes urban forests more important than ever, students and staff at the University of Toronto’s faculty of forestry are worried about their future.

The university is considering changes to its academic structure, inspiring more than 300 supporters to sign a petition to save the faculty.

U of T vice-president and provost Cheryl Regehr said student demand for the forestry faculty hasn’t kept up with other programs. She explained that the school is looking for the “best administrative structure” for the study of forest sciences, a subject covered by other disciplines throughout the university.

“There’s a possibility that we will change the structure, but we don’t know what that change in structure will be,” Regehr added.

PhD student Eric Davies worries the review could result in shuttering the faculty at a time when faculties at schools such as Harvard and Yale are expanding.

Davies studies urban forestry, something he says more and more students are interested in. City dwellers are finally recognizing the value of urban forests in “making cities more liveable and workable.”

With climate change making extreme weather like heat waves and flooding the new normal, we need experts in “green resilience” more than ever, he argues.

Davies added that programs such as the Toronto Ravine Strategy benefit from the academics, students and research in the faculty, one of only eight in Canada.

Sean Thomas, a professor in the faculty of forestry, said the number of students and the student-to-faculty ratio have actually gone up over the past 15 years and that the job market is “extremely good” for graduates.

While the proliferation of passionate “citizen scientists” is an encouraging trend, Thomas said, the skills, expertise and broader perspectives taught in the faculty are essential to protecting the urban canopy.

“You wouldn’t want to have citizen dentists. So if you really value forests, including urban forests, you want to have professional programs,” he added.

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