Of all the professions, forestry may be the most misunderstood of the lot. Many kids and adults who ask me about becoming a forester haven't a clue that it takes a four-year degree which includes college-level math, biology, and statistics.
The stereotypical picture is of a job spent in the forest, or in fire towers, or hunting and fishing and saving campers lost in the wilderness. However, professional foresters are not the people who do these jobs but have been trained to supervise these activities as well as managing forest regeneration activities, keeping the forest healthy, and optimizing the commercial and aesthetic potential of the forest.
I want to put a more realistic face on the profession of forestry.
The Requirements for Becoming a Forester
A bachelor's degree in forestry is the minimum educational requirement for professional careers in forestry. In many of the U.S. states and most of our federal government, forest management jobs can be a combination of experience and appropriate education may substitute for a four-year forestry degree, but job competition makes this difficult. Still, for industrial employment or becoming a state registered forester, you must have a forestry degree which leads to professional registration in many states.
Fifteen States have mandatory licensing or voluntary registration requirements which a forester must meet in order to acquire the title "professional forester" and practice forestry in these states. Licensing or registration requirements vary by state but usually demands a person to complete a 4-year degree in forestry, a minimum period of training time, and passing an exam.
Places to Get a Forestry Education
Most land-grant colleges and universities offer bachelor or higher degrees in forestry. At this writing, 48 of these programs are accredited by the Society of American Foresters. The SAF is the governing authority for curricula standards:
- "The Society of American Foresters (SAF) only grants accreditation to specific educational curricula that lead to a first professional degree in forestry at the bachelors or masters level. Institutions request SAF accreditation and offer curricula that have been found to meet minimum standards for objectives, curriculum, faculty, students, administration, parent-institution support, and physical resources and facilities."
SAF approved curriculums stress science, mathematics, communications skills, and computer science, as well as technical forestry subjects. Just loving working in the woods is not a very good reason for becoming a forester (although it should be considered a necessity). You have to like scientific course study and be willing to develop your science skills. Foresters generally must enjoy working outdoors, be physically hardy, and be willing to move to where the jobs are. They must also work well with people and have good communications skills. You probably ought to realize as well that you may work your way out of the woods as you gain more experience and knowledge.
Most colleges require students to complete a field session either in a camp operated by the college or in a cooperative work-study program with a Federal or State agency or private industry. All schools encourage students to take summer jobs that provide experience in forestry or conservation work.
Desirable electives include economics, wood technology, engineering, law, forestry, hydrology, agronomy, wildlife, statistics, computer science, and recreation. You certainly have an extremely wide choice to zero in on a small subset discipline of your choice.
Forestry curricula increasingly include courses on best management practices, wetlands analysis, water and soil quality, and wildlife conservation, in response to the growing focus on protecting forested lands during timber harvesting operations. Prospective foresters should have a strong grasp on policy issues and on the increasingly numerous and complex environmental regulations which affect many forestry-related activities.
Professional Foresters Are Expected to Address Public Issues
Foresters are now expected to address the public and write in the print media. While it has been a problem to find good speakers that present the professional forestry in the past, it is now more important than ever to present to a group the standards and philosophy of forest management.
Thanks to BLS Handbook for Forestry for much of the information provided in this feature.