Who Is a Forester?

Spring 2010


The expertise of a forester can be an invaluable asset as landowners work toward improving their forest. However, there oftentimes is confusion about who qualifies as a forester and how he or she fits into land management.

It is the role of a professional forester to maintain the balance between human needs and desires, and our forests’ ability to sustain these “services.” A forester not only sees the need to build a house but also incorporates science and biology to help understand how the landscape will respond to the removal of needed resources.

More than a hundred years ago, at a time when our forests were being harvested with little regard for the future, a father asked his boy, “How would you like to be a forester?” The boy, Gifford Pinchot, who later became one of the first (and most notable) professional foresters in the United States, later remarked, “I had no more conception of what it meant to be a forester than the man in the moon…. But at least a forester worked in the woods and with the woods—and I loved the woods and everything about them….” (Reference: ForestHistory.org)

Among his many accomplishments, Pinchot was instrumental in forming the Forest Service and urging President Teddy Roosevelt to protect and manage forests for future generations. He also worked to help define forestry as “The greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.”

Since Pinchot’s time, the forestry profession has become more specialized and diverse. Today’s foresters—university extension foresters, consulting foresters, state and federal foresters, urban foresters, industrial foresters, research foresters, etc.—fill many different roles and play an important part in determining how our forests are managed while working for the “greatest good.”

Although this diversity strengthens the profession, it can also lead to confusion as to who is, or is not, a forester. In essence, a forester is an individual who has obtained a four-year degree in natural resource management and works in the forestry field. Two professional organizations, the Society of American Foresters (SAF) and the Association of Consulting Foresters (ACF), provide competency and credentialing standards for foresters. The main difference between the two lies in how specific the certification is. The SAF offers its members a Certified Forester (CF) designation, which is open to all types of professional foresters, whereas the ACF offers its credentialing system specifically to Consulting Foresters (those foresters available to assist private forests owners on a fee basis). You can get more information on these two organizations and a list of qualified foresters in your area by visiting their respective websites at safnet.org or acf-foresters.org.

Regarding consulting foresters (like Inland Forest Management, Inc); they play a unique role in that they focus strictly on the welfare of the forest landowner. These foresters avoid conflicts of interests, such as buying logs or logging, and adhere to a stringent Code of Ethics.

Obviously defining what, or more importantly, who a forester is goes beyond training and experience. It is ultimately defined by the resource. In the famous words of Aldo Leopold, another leader in the field of forestry, “Conservation is a state of harmony between land and man.” It is a forester’s duty to help preserve this harmony.

Examples of Duties Performed by a Professional Forester:

  • Preparing forest management plans
  • Monitoring and assessing forest health, and developing management strategies for protecting the forest from insects, disease, and wildfire
  • Preparing and maintaining inventories of forest resources
  • Measuring and appraising timber volume
  • Preparing harvest plans
  • Marketing forest products
  • Managing wildlife habitat
  • Analyzing wildfire hazard
  • Participating on teams with other natural resource professionals in the development and preparation of environmental assessments, environmental impact reports, and environmental impact statements.
  • Providing expert testimony during litigation
  • Managing community watersheds for water and timber production
  • Educational assistance to forest landowners

(This article is also appearing in the Inland Northwest Land Trust newsletter www.inlandnwlandtrust.org.)

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