Earning a Forestry Degree: What to Know

Though forestry programs have evolved and spread across colleges nationwide — especially at land-grant institutions — many prospective and current college students remain unaware of this major, experts say.

So to increase the visibility of this academic discipline, some colleges have linked forestry with environmental science or natural resources.

The emergence of forestry degree programs — which teach students how to manage and conserve forests for economic, ecological and recreational purposes — began at the turn of the 20th century, with the formation of the National Forest System and the U.S. Forest Service, says Thomas DeLuca, dean of the College of Forestry and director of the Forest Research Laboratory at Oregon State University.

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“The thinking was the country was going to need to train up all these individuals to serve as rangers to manage this enormous new estate that was owned and managed by the federal government,” he says. “And up until that time, forestry as a degree option was not present here. But it was present in Europe. So we sort of followed the European model to a great degree.”

Established in 1900, The Forest School at Yale University‘s School of the Environment in Connecticut is the “oldest continuous professional graduate forestry school in the nation,” according to Yale.

What Is Forestry?

Forestry degree programs train students to manage forests, but it’s not just about the lumber. Foresters also manage forests for wildlife, water, recreation, soil conservation and, more recently, carbon sequestration — the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide — due to climate change issues, says Rene Germain, professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“Forestry is a conservation science, and that’s lost on a lot of people,” DeLuca says. “The practice of forestry is actually a highly sustainable land management application. And when we contrast it with other land uses, whether urban development, agriculture, oil and gas development, forestry as a practice is really light on the landscape comparatively. Yet when someone sees a harvest unit, they get the wrong impression. And that’s partly on us. We need to keep doing better.”

Common Courses in a Forestry Degree Program

Most forestry degree programs are accredited by the Society of American Foresters, or SAF, but curriculum may vary slightly by college. Students majoring in forestry can expect to take courses related to science, math, economics and natural resource policies. Examples are tree biology and dendrology, forest ecology, soil science, harvesting, silviculture and the study of pests and pathogens that infect or kill plants.

Some electives may focus on other paths, such as fire science or recreation management. Much of this learning is hands-on, with many core courses requiring lab components.

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SUNY ESF, for instance, has 25,000 acres of forestland in central New York and the Adirondack Mountains for teaching and research laboratories. As part of their Forest Resources Management bachelor’s program, students attend a four-week summer session on Cranberry Lake in New York to learn about surveying, sampling, watershed management and other topics.

Course work may also cover the role of forests in combatting climate change.

“Forestry has become very popular lately because everyone is looking at us to save the world from climate change,” Germain says. “We’re managing the forest to sequester carbon and so if we can get more carbon out of the atmosphere, that’s going to help our situation. That has been incorporated into the curriculum during the last 10 or 15 years as climate change has become a bigger issue.”

How to Know if Forestry Is Right for You

Experts advise first-year students who are undecided about their major or have changed their area of focus to explore a wide range of courses. But if a student has specific interest in the environment or the outdoors, that’s the “first inkling” that forestry may be the right fit, Germain says.

“Foresters are the ones that control all the land,” he says. “Other people with expertise, perhaps in wildlife or hydrology, they come in as experts to help the forester. But the forester has a lot of control over area.”

What You Can Do With a Degree in Forestry

There are many career options for students who graduate with a degree in forestry. They don’t need an advanced degree to get a job in this field, but there are options to earn a master’s degree or Ph.D. in forestry or related fields.

“I think what I’ve heard is that some students think that it’s going to limit them in the kinds of things they want to do if they’re majoring in forest science,” says Allee Hochmuth, academic advising manager at the Russell Labs Administrative Service Center in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “But there’s a lot of different things that you can do. It’s not just about trees and forests. It’s about ecosystems, policy and people.”

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Students with this major often pursue positions in forest management, geospatial analysis, conservation science and environmental education, and work for government agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management or a state’s department of natural resources. Others may go into the private or nonprofit sectors for forest and land management companies.

“It’s a really exciting time to be in the field and I think that more and more students are discovering that,” DeLuca says. “And they’re seeing the connection between forestry and the multitude of other benefits in terms of climate, recreation, human health and ecological well-being.”

Schools Offering Forestry Majors

Below are 10 schools that offer forestry majors. This is not a comprehensive list, so prospective students should do their own research on available academic programs at schools of interest.

University of California, Berkeley Berkeley, CA 20 (tie), National Universities
University of Florida Gainesville, FL 29 (tie), National Universities
University of Wisconsin–Madison Madison, WI 38 (tie), National Universities
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Syracuse, NY 105 (tie), National Universities
Oregon State University Corvallis, OR 151 (tie), National Universities
Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ 317 (tie), National Universities
The University of the South Sewanee, TN 51 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges
Rollins College Winter Park, FL 1, Regional Universities South
Alabama A&M University Normal, AL 103-135, Regional Universities South
Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College Tifton, GA 72 (tie), Regional Colleges South

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Earning a Forestry Degree: What to Know originally appeared on usnews.com

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