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A Career In Forestry

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Three hundred years ago the vast extent of the United States was covered, in most regions, with a dense forest growth. With the coming of the first white settlers began that cutting down of the virgin forests which has by now almost entirely depleted them. It seemed that there was so much forest land that it could never be exhausted, and reckless cutting, which wasted much fine timber, was generally practiced. And then, perhaps twenty or thirty years ago, the results of this wastefulness began to make themselves so apparent that people began to see that, if the forests continued to be used as they had been till then, there would soon be none left. And with no forests, or scant second growth forests, the country would soon find itself in a serious position, for forests are one of the most important natural resources a land can have.

Perhaps, on first thought, it will seem that forests can have but one use that of supplying wood for use chiefly as building material and fuel. But they have numerous other and equally important uses. Have you ever thought of what would happen if the spring rains or melting snows were to flow, unimpeded, down the hillsides? The forests act as a natural check for the run off of these rains and snows, thus protecting the land from frequent and dangerous floods. The forests of a region also have a perceptible effect upon its climate, breaking the force of harsh winds and increasing the rainfall of otherwise dry areas to a consider-able degree. Without forests, many parts of the country would suffer from aridity, for vegetation and rainfall increase and decrease, each in proportion to the other.

The many reasons for which forests are so necessary for our welfare so impressed themselves upon the government that it was decided that steps must be taken to prevent the further wasting of the timberlands. Large tracts of virgin forests in the West were therefore brought under the federal jurisdiction as "National Forest Reserves." It is the work of the Federal Forest Service to conserve the productivity of these lands, while at the same time permitting the removal of certain amounts of mature timber. Foresters are engaged for similar work by states and private individuals, and it is through their labor that the virgin forests still left are being preserved for future generations.

The work undertaken by foresters is the proper management of forests on both the productive and business ends. The problems connected with the production of forests are of a scientific type; those connected with their utilization demand business treatment. Thus foresters must, like so many professionals, have the combined abilities of the technical man or scientist, and the business man. The technical side of their work consists of the study and investigation of the forests under their supervision; of the working out of problems dealing with the rate and amount and probable period of growth of the forests; in fact, of the discovery of the best ways to maintain the life and productiveness of forests. The business side of the foresters' work is concerned with the problems of utilization of the timber. Foresters must decide what timber is marketable, must devise cheap and efficient methods of lumbering it and must be able to organize a thoroughly workable system of administration. One other general duty of the forester, which can hardly be put under the heading of either scientific or business practice, is the work of educating the public to a proper appreciation of the value of the country's forests, and, consequently, to a realization of the importance of the work of the professional forester.

In order to do their work properly, foresters must be possessed of wide and varied technical knowledge. They are. called upon to identify all sorts of trees, to make maps, to devise and carry out plans for protecting the forests from fire, to recognize and control the attacks of insect pests and fungus diseases on trees and to collect seed and produce young trees in nurseries. And, besides these things, there are a number of homelier matters to which the forester must be equally ready to turn his hand. He must be able to pitch in with axe and spade, to help make a trail, to mark trees, and to do all sorts of manual labor. And then he must, in addition to all this, be able to sit down in an office, draw up comprehensive reports, make contracts for the sale of lumber, and do other work of a like nature.

Few men have such a variety of duties to perform as does the forester, especially if he holds an executive position. There are, of course, men with less taxing work, who act in the capacity of assistant foresters, and there are also men known as "forest rangers." The rangers are not required to have any extensive technical knowledge, but they must be well versed in all the practical side of forestry. They are the subordinates of the foresters, and carry out the plans and routine work outlined by the latter.

It will be seen from these duties of the forester which have been mentioned that he must be a man possessed of a large number of different qualifications. Much of the forester's time is spent in the woods, frequently with very few comforts or even conveniences, and so he must naturally be a man of strong physique and healthy constitution. A vigorous body is necessary not only for the rough life which the forester is obliged to live but also for the hard manual labor in which he must so often engage. He must be a man who is fond of the outdoors, who does not mind traveling about a good deal, who is not afraid of hard work and discomfort and who is ready to turn to any sort of task which may be required in the discharge of his duties.

He must be observant and ingenious, and must be able to adapt himself, mentally and physically, to the circumstances in which he may find himself at any time. A high degree of executive ability is also necessary for the forester's work, and with it should go sympathy and tact in handling his men. Love for his work, and a realization of the fact that it is a most important form of public service, may complete our list of the qualifications which the forester should possess.

All these characteristics must be supplemented by a thorough knowledge of forestry. A number of subjects in which the forester must be proficient have been mentioned. In order to obtain a knowledge of all the technical aspects of forestry, intensive training is needed. This the forester may best obtain by taking a course in one of the well-known universities or colleges which offer instruction in forestry. In some cases such a course lasts four years, in others it is combined with an academic college course and covers a period of five years and in still others it forms a two-year postgraduate course. In all cases, theoretical and practical work are combined in these courses. Mathematics, surveying, chemistry, geology, dendrology, silviculture, forest engineering and forest management are among the subjects studied. Short courses for the training of rangers are also given in a number of institutions. These are anywhere between two months and a year or two in duration. A complete list of schools offering forestry and ranger courses is to be found in the Government Bulletin, "Forestry Pursuits," listed in the bibliography at the end of this chapter.

In order to enter the federal or state Forest Service, it is necessary to take a civil service examination and await appointment. Rangers usually enter the service at a salary of $1,100, and may eventually make an average of $1,500 or $1,600 a year. Foresters are at first appointed to positions at salaries of $1,100 or $1,200, but upon being promoted to more responsible posts receive higher pay. The average forester does not make much above $2,500 or $3,500, though some few have an income of $5,000. State foresters are generally a little better paid, their salaries ranging from about $1,800 to about ,000 yearly. Foresters who enter the employ of lumber, railroad or paper manufacturing companies, or of the owner of a large estate, may find greater financial reward than those in the public service, but the latter find in their work a certain attraction, due to the official standing which the public service affords.

A forester can hardly look forward to wealth, but there are other considerations besides financial ones to be taken into account in estimating the value of an occupation. Perhaps the chief of these considerations is the personal satisfaction which one may find in his work. There are a number of disadvantages connected with forestry as a vocation—the work is hard, and the life of the forester is often extremely uncomfortable and migratory; but there are, on the other hand, many compensations for these things. Hard though the life may be, it is a thoroughly wholesome one, and to many men there is a certain fascination in the very fact that in their work they will be forced to struggle against many obstacles. It is work which is rich in opportunity for true usefulness, and offers to the enthusiastic man a certain inspiration in the close contact it affords him with coworkers who have high ideals of public service and, further, in the thought that the work he is doing is as much for the benefit of future generations as for his own.


CHAPMAN, HERMAN H.: "Forestry; an Elementary Treatise," American Lumberman, Chicago, 1912.

"Forestry Pursuits," U. S. Federal Board for Vocational Education, Vocational Rehabilitation Series No. 10, Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1919.

GRAVES, HENRY S.: "The Profession of Forestry," U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Circ. No. 207, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1921.

ISE, JOHN : "The U. S. Forest Policy," The Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 1920.

MOON, FREDERICK F.: "The Book of Forestry," D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1916.

PINCHOT, GIFFORD: "The Training of a Forester," J. B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, 1914.


American Forestry Magazine, American Forestry Assn., Washington, D. C. Journal of Forestry, Society of American Foresters, Washington, D. C.

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