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Careers in forestry.

For many students, forestry has never ranked in the top 10 as a profession. Compared to teaching, medicine, law, and the basic sciences, it is a small profession. But a majority of those who choose it build meaningful and satisfying careers. Because so few African Americans have chosen forestry in the past, most of the profession's colleges and employers are actively seeking African-American graduates. The results are outstanding opportunities for African Americans who want what forestry and related conservation professions have to offer.

Special Kinds of Satisfaction

Like any profession, forestry tends to attract people with a certain set of motivations--people who are looking for particular kinds of satisfaction in their lives. Successful foresters can earn a great deal of recognition, particularly in the small communities where they often work. Most, however, are attracted more by the inner satisfactions that natural resource conservation offers. Foresters get satisfaction from nurturing living things and natural systems and taking actions vital to the future of the Earth and its people. During the early portions of a successful career, a forester is likely to live near a publicly owned forest, a company forest, a game refuge, or a municipal watershed. If the starting salary is lower than that in some other professions, the cost of living in a rural setting is likely to also be lower. For the right person, choosing forestry can mean doing the sorts of things you want to do, living in the kinds of places you want to live, and being the kind of person you want to be.

Educational Requirements

A majority of the nation's Land Grant Universities offer four-year degrees in forestry, and some private universities have similar programs. The Society of American Foresters can supply a list of accredited professional forestry schools in the United States. It also has a list of schools where technician degrees are offered. Its address is included at the end of this article.

Four-year forestry programs are designed to prepare students to become professional land managers, who must deal with the expected and unexpected in creative and successful ways. Professionals must know most of the things that technicians know and a good deal more. If they succeed, professionals are paid primarily to supervise the work of others. Technicians are paid primarily for the work they do themselves. In the long run, that difference translates into considerably more responsibility and a considerably larger paycheck for the professional.

A four-year forestry curriculum typically includes a balance of general courses in liberal arts, basic sciences, and mathematics, as well as more specific courses in things like plant identification, forestry sampling, and forest engineering. The particular balance varies among universities and among students with various interests and talents, but universities have always struggled to provide all the key courses within four years. Most successful foresters are good communicators, but the number of credits a student can include in a forestry degree program is limited. Similarly, forest inventories require detailed knowledge of sampling, statistical analysis, and computer use. Because of the difficult tradeoffs among course opportunities, many forestry students spend more than four years earning a bachelor of science degree. Many others enter master's degree programs to pursue special interests and improve their employment prospects.

Employment Outlook

Traditionally, graduating foresters have looked first to public agencies and second to forest products corporations for employment. The largest single employer has always been the Forest Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With cutbacks in public programs and agencies in the 1980s, some graduating foresters found it difficult to get certain jobs. Even now, "downsizing" is a word that is frequently spoken in the U.S. Forest Service and in many other state forestry agencies. Nevertheless, the Society of American Foresters reports that as many as three-fourths of new forestry graduates are finding jobs in the profession. Given the tendency of students to change their minds, the percentage of degree holders working in forestry is as high as that of any profession.

There are several reasons for a bright forestry employment outlook, particularly for African-American graduates:

1. Large numbers of public foresters who began their careers in the late 1950s are retiring, creating opportunities for young foresters despite downsizing.

2. Reductions in timber cutting on national forests have caused lumber and timber prices to rise, increasing the profits from timber growing. Forest products companies with large landholdings are hiring foresters to intensify their timber-growing efforts.

3. Increasingly, owners of small forest tracts are hiring forestry consultants to help them manager their land. The Society of American Foresters reports that many recent forestry graduates are being hired by small consulting firms. 4. African Americans are underrepresented in forestry at both the technician and professional levels. They made up only 3.1 percent of employed foresters and 6.9 percent of employed forestry technicians in the 1990 Census. Three to four times as many African-American foresters are needed to achieve balance. At present, African-American enrollment in forestry schools is well below the number needed. In our research for this article, 12 Southern state forestry agencies and several major forest products manufacturing firms were contacted. All reported that they were making concerted efforts to hire African-American foresters and forestry technicians. All cited improvement in public service as the primary reason for these efforts. Some reported that special recruiting was going on despite overall plans for downsizing. We interpret those reports to mean that an African-American graduate with a good academic record can expect to receive several to many offers of employment.

To find qualified African-American foresters, state agencies and companies routinely visit forestry schools, but find few candidates. As a result, they are going to predominantly African-American colleges and universities. The U.S. Forest Service has been a leader in increasing the supply of African-American foresters. It has established cooperative education agreements with several 1890 colleges.

The largest such agreement is at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville. There, a four-year forestry curriculum is being developed, and students are offered summer employment with the Forest Service as they pursue their degrees. At other predominantly African-American universities, students can split their education, spending the final two years at a Land Grant university to obtain a degree in forestry.

Among public agencies, the range in starting salaries for professional foresters is relatively small. In the U.S. Forest Service, $18,340 is the minimum, and a person who has maintained a B average in college qualifies for $22,717 a year. The starting salaries in most Southern state forestry agencies are similar. Initial salaries for forestry technicians are $2000 to $4000 a year less than those for professional foresters. The big difference, however, shows up later in a career. Top salaries for professionals of over $50,000 are quite common in public agencies, and the most successful people are earning well over $60,000 a year.

Successful Formulas

The numbers of successful African Americans in the U.S. Forest Service are increasing, and the approaches they have used may be instructive. Luther Burse is the director of the agency's Multicultural Organization Staff in its Washington office. He works closely with the top decision-makers in the Forest Service. When asked for his success formula, Burse replied: "I have always placed a great emphasis on education and training. I often enrolled in classes that weren't required simply to improve myself. As a consequence, I have often found myself prepared for opportunities that were unknown to me while I was preparing. My experience is that nothing fosters success like preparation and a positive attitude."

John Yancy is the forest supervisor of the National Forests in Alabama, in charge of all the national forest operations in that state. When he was appointed district ranger of the London Ranger District of the Daniel Boone National Forest in 1983, he was the first African-American district ranger in the South. He was the first African-American forest supervisor for the National Forests in Alabama.

Yancy sees a major pitfall to success for African Americans: "trying so hard to prove your current and potential capabilities that you fail to excel in what really counts--the performance of your duties. Success comes to those who dare to dream about tomorrow and spend today developing and implementing strategies to turn their dream into reality."

Sixteen years ago, Melody S. Mobley became the first African-American female forester in the Forest Service. She is currently a forester with the Timber Management Staff in Washington, DC. Mobley points to several "survival skills" that have been helpful to her career: "Define your immediate and long-term career and personal goals. Know what you want to achieve. Learn the system; know the regulations and the unwritten rules. Communicate well; develop good writing and speaking skills to convey your ideas and abilities. Take advantage of training opportunities; develop your own training plan that includes formal and informal skills building. Network for support and to share information. It's critical that all of us take responsibility for ourselves and use every tool available to achieve our professional goals."

Charles "Chip" Cartwright is assistant director for strategy and communications in the Forest Service Ecosystem Management Program. The program is meant to change approaches to land management in national forests. In reflecting on his 20-year career in natural resource management, Cartwright advises: "Give yourself permission to struggle--to not always win--to sometimes fail. Then give yourself authority to learn from the risk and failure so that you can succeed." For More Information

The Society of American Foresters, 5400 Grosvenor Lane, Bethesda, MD 20814-2198, can supply lists of accredited forestry programs in the United States. The Directory of Wood Products Industry, available from Miller Freeman Publications, Circulation Dept., 500 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94105, is a comprehensive listing of wood harvesting and manufacturing operations in the United States and Canada.

The Conservation Directory, available from the National Wildlife Federation, 1400 16th St., NW, Washington, DC 20036, lists public organizations, agencies, and officials concerned with natural resource use and land management.

The Historically Black Colleges and Universities Manager, USDA Forest Service, 14th & Independence, SW, P.O. Box 96090, Washington, DC 20090-6090, can supply information about Forest Service cooperative education programs.

Florida Forestry 2+2 Program

The critical shortages of professionals of color in forestry and natural resources led to several educational initiatives by the USDA-FS. One such initiative is the joint 2+2 degree program between Florida A&M University (FAMU) and the University of Florida (UF).

A combination of two or more degrees may be awarded, a BS in agricultural sciences, BS in forest resources and conservation, AA degree or certificate. The three majors in the program are: forestry, forestry with certificate in urban forestry, and natural resources conservation with a concentration in urban forestry.

In this joint four-year program, students will study for two years at FAMU (Tallahassee) and two years at UF (Gainesville). Students are admitted as freshmen at FAMU. After completion of two years at FAMU and the College Level Academic Skills Test (CLAST) requirements, students are awarded the AA degree. Then the students will be admitted to upper division status at UF where they will be awarded a BS degree after the second two years.

The Forest Service offers scholarships to qualified students--$5000 annually to each student during the four years. The Southeastern Forest Experiment Station, Forest Inventory and Analysis Work Unit offers comprehensive cooperative education, employment opportunities, and scholarships to qualified students. For more information, contact: Division of Agricultural Sciences, FAMU, Tallahassee, FL 32307, (904) 599-3383; or Dept. of Forestry, UF, 118 Newins-Ziegler all, Gainesville, FL 32611-0301, (904) 392-1850.

Dr. Peter J. Roussopoulos is director of the Southeastern Forest Experiment Station and Robert C. Biesterfeldt is leader, Publications Management and Information Systems in Asheville, NC.
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Title Annotation:Career Report/ Science & Mathematics
Author:Roussopoulos, Peter J.; Biesterfeldt, Robert C.
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Words:1954
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