Education and Training Requirements
To prepare for entry into a college forestry program, you will need to focus specifically on mathematics and sciences in high school. Take algebra, geometry, and statistics as well as biology, chemistry, physics, and any science course that will teach you about ecology. English classes are also important to take, since part of your job is likely to include research, writing reports, and presenting your findings. In addition, take history, economics, and, if possible, agriculture classes, which will teach you about soils and plant growth, among other things.
A minimum of a bachelor's degree in forestry or a related field is required to become a forester. The Society of American Foresters accredits forest technology, forestry, and urban forestry programs. Visit https://www.eforester.org/Main/Certification_Education/Accreditation/Students for a list of accredited programs.
The courses of study in all accredited schools of forestry have the same fundamental components. To be accredited, a school must offer a specified amount of instruction in four essential areas of study: forest management (the application of business methods and silvicultural principles to the operation of forest properties), forest ecology and biology (ecosystem management and physiological principles including fires, insects, diseases, wildlife, and weather), forest policy and administration (understanding legislative procedures and environmental regulations that influence management decisions), and forest measurements (the inventory process for quantifying forest resources such as timber amount and quality, wildlife habitat, water quality, and recreational potential). The courses in these four topics, which are generally concentrated in the junior and senior years, make up the professional portion of the forester's schooling.
To prepare for these subjects, you need to be grounded in mathematics, surveying, chemistry, physics, botany, zoology, soil science, economics, and geology. Moreover, to help develop the skills needed for self-education later in your career, you need basic courses in literature, social studies, and writing. All these courses are organized in a program that fills the freshman and sophomore years largely with basic sciences and humanities.
Foresters also do fieldwork as a part of their university training. Some schools of forestry are so close to forests that regular three-hour or all-day laboratory sessions are conducted in the school forest. Following the sophomore year in many schools of forestry is a summer camp or internship of eight to 11 weeks. This is basically a continuous laboratory period during which you take part in the life of the forest, and, under guidance of the faculty, store up experience on which to draw in your junior and senior professional courses. In addition, some schools of forestry require you to spend an entire summer working for a forestry organization such as the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, a state forest service, or a company in the forest industry. The employer usually reports back to the school on your progress.
In addition to the basic sciences and humanities and the four core forestry areas of study, elective courses are offered to enable you to specialize in such fields as forest or logging engineering, wood technology, range management, wildlife management, forest recreation, and watershed management.
Graduates of forestry schools who wish to specialize in a certain area or broaden their general knowledge of forestry or related fields may opt for graduate work at one of the forestry schools to earn master's degrees or doctorates.
Other Education or Training
The Society of American Foresters, Forest Stewards Guild, Society of Municipal Arborists, and state-level forestry associations offer continuing education workshops, field sessions, and webinars. Contact these organizations for more information.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
Voluntary certification is offered by the Society of American Foresters (SAF) and requirements include having completed a professional level (bachelor's degree or higher) education program and having at least five years of professional forestry experience. Those who meet requirements receive the designation certified forester and must complete a certain amount of continuing education for certification renewal every three years.
Currently 15 states have some type of licensing or registration for foresters. Depending on state regulations, these may be either voluntary or mandatory. The SAF can provide some information on states' requirements. You should also check with your state to find out about specific statutes and regulations.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Prior experience as a forestry intern or forestry technician will be useful for aspiring foresters.
Because of the nature of his or her work, the forester must often make decisions on the basis of incomplete knowledge. This means that you must be self-reliant and have a high degree of initiative. You should have an aptitude for science, curiosity, and a strong liking for the outdoors. Because trees grow slowly and the changes in forests are gradual, you must have greater-than-average patience and a firm conviction that the work you do is important. If you make mistakes or are careless, the results may not be apparent for many years. Therefore, you must be dependable and conscientious. While it is not necessary to be intensely athletic, you must have greater-than-average endurance and enjoy physical activity.