Founded in 2000, Lesser Slave Lake Forest Education Society hired M. J. Kristoff as the forest education coordinator. Her position morphed into executive director. She held that position until her retirement in June 2019.

Born in Drumheller, Kristoff moved around a bit until her family settled in Edmonton when she was in Grade 4. In high school, an aptitude test suggested careers in nursing, teaching, or forestry.

Since Kristoff didn’t want to be a nurse or teacher, she studied forestry. By the time she graduated in 1984, she knew it was the right career for her.

Kristoff’s first experience teaching forestry education came when she needed a job for three months before a trip to the Yukon and Alaska. She got a job with Alberta Forest Association teaching forestry education to children at schools in Calgary.

Kristoff received lots of compliments, but still didn’t feel ready to go into teaching.

In April 1988, Kristoff moved to Slave Lake with her husband. In June, one of the worst floods in Slave Lake history destroyed all of their possessions. In July, they had everything they owned in a car and were in a car crash.

After a rocky start, Kristoff and her husband settled into life in Slave Lake. Her husband, Terry, worked at Zeidlers which became Slave Lake Veneer until 2017.

Kristoff worked with Alberta Forestry until December 1989. She stopped work to have her first baby.

For 10 years, Kristoff raised her three kids and did some contract work.

Kristoff and her husband passed on their love of forestry to their kids. Two of their three children work in forestry. The other is a nurse in Slave Lake.

While their kids were younger, Kristoff and her husband ran the Junior Forest Warden Program.

Forest Wardens existed for a long time before that, but wasn’t very active. Much to Kristoff’s surprise, she realized she liked teaching people about forestry.

This realization surprised her.

“I struggle to learn,” Kristoff says. She sees this same struggle in a lot of children, and enjoys helping them make sense of things. Especially, through hands-on teaching in the bush.

In 2000, a man named Chris Schischikowsky moved to Slave Lake area from Peace River.

Schischikowsky had been involved in a forest education society up there, so he decided to start one here with the help of the local mills and Northern Lakes College.

Kristoff applied for the position of education coordinator.

“This job fits right for me,” Kristoff says. “I was very lucky. I want the kids to be as successful as I am.”

The goal of LSFES is to teach people about forestry. Since Lesser Slave Lake is on the southern edge of the boreal forest, there are lots of opportunities for field trips into the woods.

In 2000, LSFES reached 1,200 kids. Now, it reaches around 9,000 each year.

By 2005, LSFES had grown so much that Kristoff couldn’t do everything on her own.

LSFES, Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory and Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation, applied together for funding to hire an educator.

For National Forest Week in September, LSFES does school forest tours for Grade 6 students on both ends of Lesser Slave Lake. Two days in Slave Lake area and one day in High Prairie.

LSFES has programming for every grade which works with the existing Alberta curriculum. LSFES doesn’t just teach children, it also has programs from college students.

The current LSFES board has delegates from the public and Catholic school boards, each of the four mills in Slave Lake, and the two in High Prairie, and one from Northern Lakes College.

A major misconception people have about forestry is that all forests are the same, Kristoff says. The way the Amazon rain forests are managed is not the same as how the boreal forest is managed.

Forests are a renewable resource, Kristoff says. People in forestry get into it because they like forests, being outside and “want to make sure we have forests forever.”

Kristoff has enjoyed her career. She and her husband will likely continue to do a bit of contract work.

Kristoff retired, so she can travel with her husband. Their first trip will likely be to New Zealand. However, since she retired they have been very busy with their first grandchild, family weddings and graduations, so they haven’t made plans yet.

For now, she and her husband plan on remaining in Widewater.

When their house burnt down in 2013, Kristoff and her husband decided to rebuild it they way they wanted it, not to make it easier to resell.

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader