What is a Forestry Degree?

Forestry degree programs teach students how to conserve and manage forests through sustainable practices. This means the curriculum covers both preserving biodiversity, as well as producing wood products in ecologically responsible ways. Classes also address contemporary issues like climate change, carbon management, and how to plan and manage urban forests or green spaces in metropolitan areas.

Students of forestry degree programs attend lectures and participate in labs that focus on these and other subject areas:

  • Forest growth, yield, management, economics, and policy
  • Renewable wood products
  • Soil science
  • Silviculture – the growing, cultivation, and care of trees/forest vegetation
  • Botany – the study of plants
  • Forest diseases
  • Wildlife biology
  • Urban forestry
  • Geographic information systems (GIS) technology and land surveying
  • Environmental law

Program Options

Depending on the school and the specific degree program, available specializations may include forestry operations, forest resources management, natural resources conservation, wood products processing, forest bioeconomy sciences and technology, urban forestry, and international forestry.

Associate Degree in Forestry
The Associate Forestry Degree program typically lasts two years and prepares students for roles like logger, forestry technician or surveyor, recreation technician, and nature interpreter/guide.

At this level, fundamental courses include biology; chemistry; physics; and branches of earth science including geology and climatology. The core forestry curriculum is generally made up of classroom lectures and outdoor hands-on experiences that cover:

  • Dendrology – the scientific study, identification, and classification of wooden plants, primarily trees and shrubs
  • Forest Ecology – the scientific study of the structure, growth, and function of forest ecosystems
  • Timber Harvesting – wood harvest and reforestation planning
  • Silviculture – improving forestland productivity and timber harvesting; ensuring forest industry profitability; stimulating forest industry employment

Bachelor’s Degree in Forestry
Forestry degree jobs for graduates with a bachelor’s include forester, silviculturist, ecologist, or forestation researcher. The Society of American Foresters (SAF) accredits programs which fulfil its requirements.

Bachelor’s students commonly study the topics listed in the Associate Degree section, above, as well as these subjects:

  • Soil science – the branch of science concerned with the formation, ecology, and classification of soil
  • Wood anatomy – the study of the physical and cellular structure of trees to understand its behavior and requirements for long-term preservation
  • Ecosystems – interactive systems of living organisms made up of plants, animals, microorganisms, soil, rocks, minerals, water sources, and the surrounding atmosphere
  • Entomology – the branch of zoology concerned with the study of insects
  • Forest Biometrics – the science of forest measurement; the use statistics to quantify characteristics of trees and vegetation, insects, disease, wildlife, topography, soils, and climate
  • Forest and recreational land management
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) / Forest Technology
  • Environmental economic and natural resource policy

Master’s Degree in Forestry
Graduates of master’s programs in forestry tend to pursue positions as managers, policy makers, and consultants.

At this level, students often choose a specialization, are largely allowed to design their own curriculum, and must complete a final project or capstone assignment to demonstrate what they have learned. These are the subject areas that the two years of master’s coursework may cover:

  • Ecosystem analysis
  • Environmental law
  • Watershed hydrology – water resource management; examination of forest lands from which most fresh water originates
  • Forest molecular genetics and biotechnology – data analysis and other tools that lead to healthier trees and respond to ecological challenges
  • Natural science research methods
  • Policy management and finance

Doctoral Degree in Forestry
Doctoral graduates in forestry often teach the discipline at universities or work as senior-level policy makers or researchers.

Programs at this level tend to focus on:

  • Research methodology and experimental design
  • Statistics
  • Forestry teaching techniques
  • Environmental impact assessments
  • Natural resource management policy and law

Degrees Similar to Forestry

Botany
Botany is the study of the physiology, structure, genetics, ecology, distribution, classification, and economic importance of plants. Degree programs in the field include courses in biochemistry, microbiology, photosynthesis, and plant evolution.

Environmental Studies
Students of environmental studies are exposed to the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. They apply knowledge from each of these areas to examine how resources can be sustained in the face of increasing populations, various forms of pollution, and the endangerment of species and natural systems.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Technology
GIS majors learn how to capture, store, analyze, use, and present geographical data, such as geographic boundaries and elevations, environmental conditions, and urban growth patterns. Classes cover GIS software, global positioning systems, and cartography (map drawing).

Horticulture
Degree programs in this field teach the science and art of cultivating fruits, vegetables, flowers, and/or ornamental plants. Horticulture students learn about plant biology and nutrition, soil science, and greenhouse and nursery management.

Landscape Architecture
Both urban planners and landscape architects design environments. The urban planner determines which infrastructures are needed, where they should be placed, and where buildings can be constructed. The landscape architect designs outdoor spaces like parks, gardens, and other green spaces.

Natural Resource Conservation
Degree programs in natural resource conservation teach students how to protect natural areas like forests, parks, and rangelands. Classes typically cover plant and animal identification and natural resources policy and administration.

Urban Planning
Degree programs in urban planning teach students how to design communities, towns, and cities; how to determine where housing and other buildings will go; and how to make decisions about the need for and placement of infrastructure like roads, highways, tunnels, bridges, airports, railroads, dams, utilities, parks, and other urban projects.

Skills You'll Learn

Forestry graduates come away from their studies with transferable skills in:

  • Research
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Operations planning and management
  • Technical report writing
  • GIS (geographic information systems) and GPS (global positioning system) software
  • Communication
  • Ethics

What Can You Do with a Forestry Degree?

Forestry
The forestry industry presents a variety of possible occupations, requiring different levels of education. Here are some examples of forestry jobs:

  • Forester
  • Forest and Conservation Technician
  • Log Grader and Scaler
  • Logging Equipment Operator
  • Forest Fire Inspection and Prevention Specialist
  • Forest and Wildland Firefighter
  • Faller
  • Forest Ranger (Fish and Game Warden)
  • Environmental Compliance Inspector

Forestry Industry Associations
These are just some examples of associations with which forestry graduates may work:

  • Alliance for Environmental Technology
  • American Forest Resource Council
  • American Forest and Paper Association
  • American Institute of Timber Construction
  • American Wood Council

Education and/or Research
Individuals with the appropriate level of education may find jobs teaching post-secondary conservation science or college/university forestry courses. Opportunities to conduct research in the forestry field also exist.

Federal and State Government Agencies
An example of a potential employer in this field is the U.S. Forest Service.

Landscape Architecture
Forestry graduates, especially those who specialized in urban forestry, bring valuable skills to work in landscape architecture.

National Park Service
The National Park Service (NPS) hires park rangers, biologists, hydrologic technicians, and other professionals with backgrounds in forestry, natural resources management, and conservation.

Non-profit Environmental and Conservation Organizations
Here are some examples:

  • Conservation International
  • Forest Stewardship Council Canada (FSC)
  • Rainforest Action Network (RAN)
  • Rainforest Alliance
  • Trees for the Future

Urban and Regional Planning
This is another field of work that may be of particular interest to urban forestry grads.

Tuition

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