Forestry for Beginners: Understanding the Basics

Forestry is a broad and multi-faceted ecological discipline designed to be both ecologically stable and of long-term benefit to communities and to economies. This does not mean that all commercial forestry is sustainable, nor that all forestry is commercial; however, all facets in this field seem to be working together for both short- and long-term growth and for the common good. The economic and ecological issues are just the tip of an iceberg that also includes studies in biology, geography, tree care, and forest management. New practices, such as sustainability, silviculture, and arboriculture also lend nuances to the skill sets required to become a forester. Knowledge about fires, insects, and disease also help the basic forester to understand how to rejuvenate and restore a valuable and renewable resource. The following information offers tips on how to understand forestry and learn the basics.

Forestry Basics

BLM ForestryOriginally, authorities and forest owners made decisions based upon what worked in Europe. Over the past century, however, forest U.S. forest scientists have focused on what works in this country’s environments. Research on how to control insect and disease, improve growth rates, enhance soil and water conditions, and to understand other variables is a major industry. Organizations, such as the Society of American Foresters, can keep you up to date on many of the topics noted below.

No matter where you are on the spectrum of learning about forestry, there is always room for growth. Whether you’re seeking an accredited college to begin your career, or you’re searching for Continuing Forestry Education credits, the Society of American Foresters is a great place to start. Their web pages include resources for the classroom and a complete calendar of CFE-approved (Continuing Forestry Education) events.

If you plan to study in this field, the best way to know what you need to learn is through the two organizations linked in the previous paragraphs. Other ways to become educated include free courses available online. Some of those options include:

  1. A Beginning Forestry eCourse: Steve Nix, the Forestry guide since 1997, provides a beginner eCourse on North American forestry.
  2. Agricultural Science and Policy I: This course highlights the
  3. relevance of natural resource conservation for ensuring healthy agricultural, food and environmental systems, as well as the various approaches for implementing it. Offered by Tufts University.
  4. Avalanche and Snow Dynamics: This course covers the basic factors that lead to avalanche formation. There are also units on decision making in avalanche terrain, companion rescue, and organized rescue. Offered by Utah State University.
  5. Environmental Earth Science: This course explores the many ways in which geologic processes control and modify the Earth’s environment. Provided by MIT OpenCourseware.
  6. EPA Training Opportunities: The Environmental Protection Agency provides links to various only resources, systems, and seminars that may appeal to a forester.
  7. USDA Forest Service: This government agency provides a list of training opportunities, including distance learning, that covers watersheds, fish, wildlife, air, and rare plants.
  8. Wildland Fire Management and Planning: You will see how the interactions of fire with its environment must influence our assessments of fire behavior. This course will also introduce you to mathematical fire models available to help us predict fire behavior. Offered by Utah State University.

If you check out the free online courses, you may discover that you want to know more about this topic, or to learn more about other forestry careers. Many resources exist to help you learn about techniques in silviculture, urban and community forestry, wildlife management, geospatial technologies, entomology, and pathology. You also need to study information about soils, biometry, disease tree physiology, and much more, depending upon your career choice.

Some Relevant Forestry Topics

Prescribed FireThe following topics are relevant in the forestry industry today. Fewer programs focus primarily on the tree and its use although those that do specialize in forest engineering and timber utilization have branched out to include more sustainable and productive methods as well as economies.

  • Reforestation: The practice of “restocking” existing forests didn’t exist until after the 1920s. Until that time, forests generally were logged and abandoned. Now, an average of 1.7 billion seedlings are planted annually for harvesting, climiate mitigation, and to rebuild natural habitats and ecosystems.
  • Fire Protection: Through educational programs that use icons such as Smokey the Bear, prevention, and control, that amount has been reduced. Recently, the government has addressed how climate change may affect this topic, as “climate change will likely alter the atmospheric patterns that affect fire weather.” Changes in fire patterns will in turn impact carbon cycling, forest structure, and species composition.
  • Produce and Waste Management [PDF]: Today, advanced technology allows us to use every part of the tree for products. However, other groups have lobbied for products such as hemp and other grasses to replace trees for certain products. Waste management includes how logging affects water resources, and reforestation.
  • Research: The Research and Development (R&D) arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service works at the forefront of science to improve the health and use of forests and grasslands. Research has been part of the Forest Service mission since the agency’s inception in 1905.
  • Return of Wildlife: Species such as whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and wood ducks were almost extinct at the turn of the century. Foresters as well as organizations such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service work together to address endangered species, environments, climate change, and conservation.
  • Wilderness Protection: America’s first wilderness areas were established by the U.S. Forest Service in the 1920s. There are now 95 million acres in the wilderness system, and 149 million more acres of land in parks, wildlife refuges, and other special, set-aside places. Additionally, thousands of laws and policies have helped shape and manage the National Wilderness Preservation System in the United States.
  • Urban Forestry: Urban forests are dynamic ecosystems that provide environmental services such as clean air and water. Trees cool cities and save energy; improve air quality; strengthen quality of place and local economies; reduce storm water runoff; improve social connections; complement smart growth; and create walkable communities.
  • Recreation: The National Forest Recreation Association represents and serves as an advocate for businesses offering quality outdoor recreation opportunities to the public on federal lands and waters across the United States.

Professional Education

Secretary of the Interior Ken SalazarAlthough the definition of forestry has not changed over the years, the thoughts about what should be included in a forester’s education have changed. Programs have become more inclusive of environmental issues related to biological diversity, sustainability, effects of human interactions with the forests as well as knowledge of human social systems. Six main influences affected this development of U.S. forestry education:

  1. The Morrill Act of 1863, which established state and federal Land Grant Colleges to promote the development of applied agricultural education.
  2. Concern among early conservationists over the destruction of primary forests across the country.
  3. The need for trained employees for the forest industry and for government agencies established to counteract this destruction (such as the USDA Forest Service).
  4. Regional politics and issues regarding the use of the forests.
  5. Changes in individual college and university administrative structures.
  6. The development of professional standards for the profession.

A century ago, there were no professional forestry schools in the United States. Now, the Society of American Foresters accredits about 50 universities that offer specialized forestry education. The need for a five year professional program has long been advocated to give students a broad liberal arts and social science background in addition to the technical expertise they need, and these accredited schools (some carrying online courses) provide the best education possible in this field.