The Certified Forester Exam

Foresters engage in the art and science of forestry. They create, manage and conserve forests to meet certain goals in a sustainable way. Foresters can manage forests for the use of the wood and other resources they produce or for their role as park and recreation sites. As you would guess, much of the job of a forester takes place outdoors, but it also involves negotiating with landowners, loggers and the government on the uses and abuses of the forests that are under the forester’s care. A career in forestry is obviously ideal for those who love the great outdoors and want to keep it great. It will also give you the opportunity to protect the natural resources of our national forests while at the same time allowing them to be used in a productive and sustainable manner.

Becoming a forester requires certification, which is performed on a national level by the Society of American Foresters (SAF). In many instances, state licensure is also necessary for foresters. The SAF keeps a list of state forestry licensure boards at this address:http://www.safnet.org/certifiedforester/become/state.cfm. The SAF offers three levels of credentials, from the Candidate Certified Forester credential to the Forest Certification Auditor credential to the full Certified Forester credential.

There are several prerequisites before you can be eligible to take the SAF’s certification examination. The first is the education requirement, which can be met in one of three different ways. First, you can earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in forestry from an SAF-accredited institution. The SAF keeps a list of accredited forestry education programs at this address:http://www.safnet.org/education/handout2009Accr.pdf. The second method is to earn a degree in forestry from a non-SAF-accredited institution and have the degree content approved by the Qualifications and Administration Committee (QAC) of the SAF Certification Review Board. The third method is to get a degree in a forestry-related natural resources field, such as wildlife management or ecology, and a minor or an associate’s degree in forestry. The QAC will review the degree content to make sure it contains at least 56 credit hours of forestry-related coursework. To meet the education requirements, original copies of your transcript — not photocopies — must be submitted with your application for the certification exam.

In addition to the education requirement, there is an experience requirement that must be met before you are eligible for the certification exam. For the full Certified Forester credential, you must have demonstrated proficiency in at least two of the following areas: Resource Assessment, Stakeholder Analysis and Relations, Management Planning, and Execution of Management Plan. The SAF offers details on the nature of this experience and how to document it at this address:http://www.safnet.org/certifiedforester/become/workexperience.pdf. You must also have at least five years of professional forestry experience within the ten years before you apply for the exam. This experience must have occurred after you obtained your forestry degree for the education requirement. Qualifying experience is not necessary for the Candidate Certified Forester certification.

To apply for SAF certification, you must submit a copy of the certification application, which can be downloaded online at this address: http://www.safnet.org/certifiedforester/become/CFApp.pdf. The application fee for SAF members is $260 and $335 for non-SAF members. The fee not only covers the Certified Forester exam but a one-time online practice exam. You will be sent a copy of the Certified Forester Study Guide by the SAF. Should you not pass the exam the first time, you must apply for reexamination using the form at this address: http://www.safnet.org/certifiedforester/become/re_examination_form.pdf. The reexamination fee for SAF members is $120 and for non-SAF members is $180. Your certification must be renewed annually by paying a renewal fee of $40 (for SAF members) or $60 (for non-SAF members).

If you hold a Candidate Certified Forester certification, you can apply for advancement to full certification using the application at this address: http://www.safnet.org/certifiedforester/become/ccf_to_cfapp.pdf.

The Certified Forester Test

Do you love nature? Do you like nothing better than spending your time in the great outdoors, breathing fresh air and feeling sunlight on your skin? Then forestry may be the career for you.

A forester tends forests, both the large kind and the small kind. Tending forests means that foresters make sure that forests can be used in a sustainable way, so that they can be a resource for both recreation and building materials while continuing to thrive as a natural environment. Foresters work with forests but they also work with people, negotiating with the government, with loggers, with businesses, and with many other people over the use of the forest. There are many different subspecialties of forestry, including agroforestry, urban forestry and industrial forestry, as well as different sectors where foresters can be employed, including the government, private industry and as a consultant for forest owners.

If forestry sounds like the field in which you want to make a career, you’ll need to become certified. Although localities will have their own rules for licensing you to practice forestry, national certification under the Society of American Foresters (SAF) is the most important form of certification. To achieve it, you will need both a degree in forestry or a related subject and practical experience in the field. There are three levels of certification available from the SAF: Candidate Certified Forester, Forest Certification Auditor and the highest degree of certification: Certified Forester. To achieve these certifications, you must first pass the SAF’s certification exam.

You can download a copy of the application for the exam at this address:http://www.safnet.org/certifiedforester/become/CFApp.pdf. However, before you can apply, you must have a degree in forestry on at least the bachelor’s level from an institution that has been accredited by the SAF. What are these institutions? You can find a list of them here: http://www.safnet.org/education/handout2009Accr.pdf. If you don’t plan to attend one of these institutions or already have a degree from another, you can have the contents of your degree program approved by the Qualifications and Administration Committee (QAC) of the SAF Certification Review Board. If the subject of your degree is not forestry, you can substitute a degree in a related natural resources area, such as environmental studies or range management, and a minor in forestry. This program must be reviewed and approved by the QAC and must contain at least 56 hours of forestry-related coursework. An original copy of your transcript will need to be submitted with your application.

You will also need to have a certain amount of experience in the forestry field before you can become certified, including five years of professional experience from the previous decade and coming after the completion of your degree. You will need to demonstrate proficiency in two or more of these areas: Management Planning, Resource Assessment, Execution of Management Plan and Resource Assessment. The SAF explains the details of this experience and how to document it on the Web page at this address: http://www.safnet.org/certifiedforester/become/workexperience.pdf. Note that experience is not necessary when applying for the Candidate Certified Forester exam.

Along with your application, you will need to submit your application fee, as follows:

  • Non-SAF members: $260
  • SAF Members: $335

If you need to take the examination a second time, you must submit the reexamination fee, which you can download from the Web site at this address: http://www.safnet.org/certifiedforester/become/re_examination_form.pdf. You must include a recertification fee with your application, as follows:

  • Non-SAF members: $180
  • SAF Members: $120

There is also an annual renewal fee of $40 for SAF members and $60 for non-SAF members required to keep your certification current.
There is also an exam for upgrading your certification from Candidate Certified Forester to full Certified Forester. You can download the application at http://www.safnet.org/certifiedforester/become/ccf_to_cfapp.pdf.

For all applications, documentation of required experience must be attached as well as the name and contact information for a supervisor who can verify your credentials for the application.

The Forester’s Job

If you love the outdoors and like to live a physically active life, breathing fresh air and basking in a natural environment, forestry would be a natural career for you. But what exactly is it that a forester does? Let’s consider a few of the things.

The Forester’s JobAlthough it involves forests, forestry is not entirely an outdoor job. Much of it involves planning, negotiating with property owners, businesses and governments, and talking with groups of people. So if you expect a job that will let you spend your entire life among the trees, forestry might disappoint you. Then again, if you’d like to combine a love of the outdoor life with a love of humanity, it could be ideal.

Foresters also do a great deal of their work outdoors. As a forester, you’ll work amid vegetation and wetlands, on mountains and with animals. You may be called on to serve with fire fighters during a forest fire. You may also have to climb tall fire towers to observe the state of the forest and identify forest fires while they’re in the early stages.

As a forester, you could have many different possible employers. If you work in private industry, your role may be to help them obtain timber from the forest for industrial purposes. As such, you would have two very different roles. One is to negotiate with landowners for the purchase of trees and monitor the harvesting of those trees. The other is to protect the forest and be sure that this is done in a sustainable way, so that the forest itself not only remains undamaged but trees are replanted to replace those that have been removed.

You may work for the government. In this case, you will manage public lands rather than privately owned forests. Otherwise, your job may be similar to that of a forester in industry, working with companies that wish to harvest the trees and ensuring that the forest is managed in a sustainable, ecologically safe manner so that it will continue to produce timber and provide necessary wilderness habitat for generations to come.

You may work as a consultant, in which case you can offer advice and assistance to private forest landowners. As a forestry consultant, you will advise landowners on the best way to keep their forest lands in good condition, minimizing the risk of forest fire, replacing trees that have been harvested and sold, treating various diseases and infestations of trees by insects that are damaging to the wood, and counseling on the use of forestry equipment, pesticides and controlled burning in a way that utilizes all the latest knowledge available to forestry experts.

You will use a number of tools found in no other professions, including instruments for measuring the size and diameter of trees, for computing volumes of harvestable timber and predicting the regrowth rate of harvested land. You will use remote sensing devices, including digital positioning systems and satellite photography to map the forest and make possible advance planning for both the use and protection of the forest. You will use computers to store information about forests and to formulate management plans for the forest land.

You may be interested to know what you are likely to earn as a forester. Recent surveys indicate that starting salaries are in the range of $35,000 a year based on a bachelor’s degree ($60,000 based on a doctoral degree), but can easily increase over time to as high as $75,000 a year. Forestry is not a field that will make you wealthy, but it will pay you a comfortable wage and one that can be used to support a family and a solid middle-class lifestyle.

Although forestry jobs have been more difficult to acquire than usual during recent economic hard times, many older foresters are retiring and new positions are constantly opening up both with the government and private industry. However, if you want to maximize your chances of finding a job, consider working as a consultant, where you can be your own boss and determine who you’ll work for and when.

Documenting Your Proficiency as a Forester

If you want to qualify for the Certified Forester Exam offered by the Society of American Foresters (SAF), you will be required to document your proficiency and professional experience in two of four important areas of forestry. These areas are Resource Assessment, Stakeholder Analysis and Relations, Management Planning, and Execution of Management Plan. The SAF has very specific requirements for the types of experience that it wants you to document in these areas. These requirements are available from the SAF at this address: http://www.safnet.org/certifiedforester/become/workexperience.pdf. However, we’ll summarize them here:

  • Resource Assessment. Your experience in this area should include knowing how to collect preliminary data about forest lands using various collection methods; how to use this data to come up with an inventory strategy for the property; how to determine the condition and capabilities of the property; how to establish a direction for achieving objectives for resources using quantitative and qualitative methods; how to survey weeds, insects, disease, damage and other forest conditions with accepted survey methods; how to identify property boundaries through appropriate methods and the use of licensed surveyors; how to perform an assessment of supply and demand to determine availability and market conditions for a defined geographical area; and how to estimate the productivity of a land base for a specific resource using accepted procedures.
  • Stakeholder Analysis and Relations. Your experience in this area should include knowing how to identify stakeholders through sources such as ownership records, lease documents, and consultation with landowners, regulatory bodies and regional professionals; how to evaluate the importance of stakeholders in regard to the planning and implementation process; how to get input from stakeholders so that their concerns can be incorporated into planning and implementation; how to determine the implications of management options through consultation; and how to advocate for science-based forest policies, laws and practices and ensure the ability of the land to provide resources in the long term.
  • Management Planning. Your experience in this area should include knowing how to confirm land ownership using legal records; how management goals derived from stakeholder analysis can be used to establish management priorities and direction; how existing resource conditions are assessed to help determine science-based management options; how to develop management options that meet owner objectives based on economic and operational factors; how to establish management options using stakeholder input, laws and regulations, and resource assessment to meet owner objectives and address potential conflicts; how to review federal, state and local laws, regulations and voluntary practices to find the applicable standards, practices and regulations; how to describe operational methods and techniques by formulating the silviculture system to meet owner objectives; and how to establish monitoring and adjustment strategies that will meet owner objectives and mitigate conflicts.
  • Execution of Management Plan. Your experience in this area should include know how to implement the management plan through activities such as surveying, site preparation, harvesting, hazard reduction, road building and reforestation; how to do this in compliance with applicable laws, regulations and voluntary practices to meet owner objectives; how to estimate costs and revenues for activities that will fund the management plan; how to negotiate detailed specifications to implement management plans and objectives; how to measure specified variables and indicators to monitor activities to be sure that management plan goals are met; and how to identify changes as they occur by monitoring indicators and change the management plan accordingly.

When you apply for SAF certification you must document your experience in two out of these four areas by including a resume that clearly indicates the beginning and ending month and year, job title and employer, and synopsis of job activities and responsibilities for all jobs that contain relevant experience. You must also include the name and contact information for your current supervisor who can verify your status in the forestry field.

Forester Specialties

Forestry isn’t just a single field and there isn’t just a single job called “forester.” There are actually many specialties within the field and, if you plan to make a career in forestry, you can choose any or even more than one of them. These range from educating others to working with wildlife and water resources. We’ll look at some of those specialties here.

  • Forester SpecialtiesAgroforestry — The integration of trees and shrubs onto farms and other agricultural environments to provide benefits for all land users through the biological interaction of the forest with the crops and livestock raised on the land.
  • Biomass – Forest biomass utilization is the harvesting of biological products to reduce fire risk, assist in the restoration of the forest ecology, remove invasive species and provide other benefits for the forest area. The removed biomass can then be used for the production of energy.
  • Climate change — The use of forests as a means of removing carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere. An increasing amount of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, can trap heat in the atmosphere and facilitate global warming. Trees can absorb the carbon dioxide and replace it with oxygen, thus slowing or reversing global warming.
  • Consulting — A consulting forester can use their knowledge to work with landowners on a contract basis to plan ways of using forests sustainably and to maximum advantage for both the owner and the environment.
  • Education — A professional forester, especially one with substantial experience, can make an excellent teacher at colleges where the next generation of foresters are being educated.
  • Fire — Fire-related forestry focuses on finding ways to minimize the risks of forest fires. Often this is done through the removal of flammable biomass through small controlled fires or by letting natural fires continue so that the forest’s natural build-up of biomass can be burned away.
  • Genetics & Physiology — Experts in the genetics and physiology of trees can use this knowledge to breed trees that are more disease-resistant or less prone to damage from such environmental factors as cold and existing species.
  • Invasive species control — Experts on invasive species control attempt to prevent foreign species of insects and other pests that are not natural to the forest from becoming destructive to it.
  • Inventory & biometrics — Experts on inventory and biometrics essentially catalog trees and their physical descriptions, using scientific methods of measurement and documentation.
  • Outreach — Experts in forestry outreach work to communicate important information about forestry-related issues to the public in general and to lawmakers in particular to achieve goals that will be good for the forest environment.
  • Policy/Law — Experts in forestry policy and law work with lawmakers to promote legislation that will be positive for the well-being of forests and of the forestry profession in general.
  • Recreation & Wilderness Management — Experts on recreation and wilderness management forestry work to improve and protects areas of forests that are used for recreation by campers and other lovers of outdoor living and sports in a way that is compatible with the preservation of wilderness land and its role in the natural ecology.
  • Remote sensing — Remote sensing forestry is the use of remote sensing devices such as global positioning systems in mapping forests and planning forestry management.
  • Silviculture — Silviculture is the controlled growth and development of forests so that timber can be harvested and other forest resources can be used in a sustainable way, by constantly renewing those portions of the forest that are removed — e.g., planting new trees to replace those that have been harvested.
  • Urban Forestry — Urban forestry is the maintenance of forest environments within cities, often by transplanting trees from wilderness areas.
  • Water Resources — Water resource forestry is the management of bodies of water, such as streams and lakes, within the forest environment.
  • Wildlife & Fisheries — Wildlife and fisheries forestry is the maintenance of forests in a way that does not negatively impact the natural wildlife that inhabits it but in turn does not allow certain forms of wildlife, such as beavers and bears, to damage the forest environment.

Why Become a Certified Forester?

It’s possible that you’ve reached that point in your life — perhaps at the end of high school, perhaps somewhere in college, perhaps even after receiving a college degree — where you aren’t quite sure what it is you want to do with your career. In that case, we have a suggestion for you: Become a forester.

Admittedly, becoming a forester is not for everyone and it may turn out that you’re one of the people that it’s not for. Nonetheless, you should look at the pros and cons of the field to see if it’s the kind of work that you’d enjoy doing and might have a talent for. We’ll describe some of the reasons that you might like being a forester and you can decide if they mesh well with the type of person that you are.

You’d get to work outdoors. A forester, as you might guess, will get to spend a great deal of his or her time (though not all of his or her time) in forests or in the areas around forests. If you enjoy being outdoors, breathing fresh air, experiencing natural sunlight instead of artificial office light, working in the company of trees and animals, forestry could be perfect for you. Although you’d still have to do desk work — there’s a lot of planning and negotiating involved in forestry, just as in any other profession — there’d be a lot less of it than there is in most jobs that require a college education.

You’d get to make a difference to the environment. Foresters are trained in the sustainable, ecologically correct use of forest resources. Although foresters work with landowners and private industry for the harvesting of trees, they never allow a tree to be removed from the forest without another being planted in its place. And they protect the trees against disease, against harmful insect infections and against animals such as bears and beavers that can, if left uncontrolled, actually damage the forest.

You can fight climate change. Most experts believe that increased amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere are causing global warming and that eventually this will cause climate change that will be disastrous to agriculture, to people living along the sea coast and even trigger violent weather patterns. Foresters are trained in the use of trees to fight this climate change. Trees “breathe” carbon dioxide and convert it to oxygen, removing the overabundance of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and delaying and perhaps even reversing global warming. Reforestation — the planting of trees in areas where forests were long ago removed — is an important tool in the global warming fight.

You’d get to protect wildlife habitat. Wilderness areas are essential for the continued health and even the existence of wildlife. By protecting forests and harvesting them sustainably, foresters help to maintain that habitat so that wildlife can thrive and be a part of our environment for generations into the future.

You’d get to improve urban environments. Most of us think of cities as being about buildings, but cities are also about trees. Without trees, a city would be a dead place, lacking in fresh air and habitat for birds and other animals. If you specialized in urban forestry, you would foster the growth of trees right in the middle of the city, on city streets, in city parks, even in parking lots. Through urban forestry, you could make cities a better place for the humans and other animals to survive and thrive.

So how does forestry sound to you now? It’s true that there would also be lots of relatively boring parts, unless you find the use of computers to compute land management exciting, but we think that for many people the exciting parts of forestry far outweigh the dull ones and could provide you with a happy career for your entire working life.