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Be A Forester - Requirements and Training

Getting Started in the Forestry Profession


Mount Drysdale and Rockwall Pass, Kootenay
John E Marriott /All Canada Photos/Getty Images

Of all the professions, forestry may be the most misunderstood of the lot. Many kids and adults asking me about becoming a forester haven't a clue that it takes a four year degree. 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. I want to put a more realistic face on the profession of forestry.

A bachelor's degree in forestry is the minimum educational requirement for professional careers in forestry. In the Federal Government , a combination of experience and appropriate education occasionally may substitute for a 4-year forestry degree, but job competition makes this difficult. Still, for industrial employment or becoming a registered forester, you must have a degree.

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 completing a 4-year degree in forestry, a minimum period of training time, and passing an exam.

Most land-grant colleges and universities offer bachelor's or higher degrees in forestry; 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.

Desirable electives include economics, wood technology, engineering, law, forestry, hydrology, agronomy, wildlife, statistics, computer science, and recreation. 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.

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.

Thanks to BLS Handbook for Forestry for much of the information provided in this feature.

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