Forest Science

When people think of careers in forestry, their images are often those of forest rangers who act as kinds of caretakers of the woods, putting out fires and supervising campgrounds. Most people are not aware of the diverse and challenging opportunities — including science and business—that a career in forestry can provide.

Does Forestry Fit Your Interests?

Forestry is inherently appealing to those who enjoy working outdoors in a natural setting. But if you are also interested in science and technology, are concerned about environmental quality, and enjoy working with people, then you may find forestry to be an especially rewarding career.

The responsibilities of a forester are varied. Forest lands vast or small must be mapped and inventoried, often using the latest technology such as geographic information systems (GIS) and satellite imagery. Using this database, a forester writes management plans for each unit of land. These plans must integrate many potential uses such as timber production, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities into a workable system, while at the same time maintaining biological diversity and environmental quality. A forester might also select trees to be cut to improve existing stands or plan harvest of mature stands. He or she monitors insect and disease conditions and recommends control measures in the event of a pest outbreak. Foresters often advise private landowners on tree planting and forest tax laws, and may help them set up timber sales.

There are opportunities to become a specialist, too. Some foresters specialize in ecology, silviculture, assessing environmental impacts or monitoring forest health. Some specialize in genetics and work in the area of forest tree breeding. Others concentrate on remote sensing or resource policy. Some of our students have used their forestry degree as a foundation for further study in environmental law or business administration.

Job Opportunities in Forestry

Forestry is a challenging career. The United States has some of the largest and most productive forests in the world. Forest resources of all kinds will be in increasing demand as the world population doubles in the next 50 years. Forestry is the leading industrial employer in 28 Wisconsin counties, and Wisconsin is the number one papermaking state in the country.

Leading employers of foresters are state departments of natural resources, county governments, large and small forest products industries, urban communities, and private consulting firms. Placement rates for our graduates in natural resource jobs have averaged about 80% for students with a B.S. degree and nearly 100% for students with a M.S. Degree. Entry-level salaries for foresters have been comparable to salaries in other fields of the life sciences. An October, 2007 survey of professional salaries reported average starting salaries for “foresters” ($45,020) and wildlife biologists” ($46,810) are above the capitol region average ($40,050).

The Forest Science Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Forest Science Major in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is ranked among the top five majors of its kind in the country. All of the faculty have national reputations and contribute actively in their field through work on applied problems and research. As a result, students obtain the latest information, even before it gets into the textbooks. The department has excellent laboratories, equipment, and computing facilities. Access to the latest information and technology helps give students a competitive edge in a rapidly changing job market.

There is a high standard of teaching in the major. Eight forestry professors have received awards for excellence in teaching and advising, including the first national award for forestry instruction. Classes seldom have more than 20 students, ensuring that each student can receive individual attention. Each student has a faculty advisor, and there is ample opportunity to become acquainted with your professors on a personal level.

In addition to basic instruction in such areas as biology, soil science, and economics, students take courses in specific forestry topics, such as forest ecology, measurement techniques, remote sensing, tree physiology, wood products, silviculture, forest insects and disease, and forest economics and policy. In the junior year, students choose between program tracks in resource conservation, management, and environment. The department also offers advanced degrees at both the master’s and doctorate levels in a wide variety of subject areas.

Experience Outside of Class

Forestry students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison obtain valuable experience outside the classroom:

  • Several courses include field trips, in which students have a chance to put classroom principles into practice. This includes actual stand treatments in the 1,280-acre arboretum in Madison and in other woodlands close to campus.
  • All students complete a comprehensive three-week field course in forestry at Kemp Biological Station, located on the shores of Lake Tomahawk in north central Wisconsin. Students practice their forestry skills on the adjoining 200,000-acre Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.
  • All students take a ten-day tour of forestry practices in the southern United States during spring break.
  • All students complete at least one summer internship in forestry, providing real-world job experience and potentially valuable job contacts.
  • Students are encouraged to join the Forestry Club, which is the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s student chapter of the Society of American Foresters. Travel to professional meetings and special outings to improve field skills are among the frequent activities.

Financial Assistance

Over $500,000 in scholarships are available in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, including some specifically restricted to natural resource majors. These scholarships are based on student need, academics, and extracurricular activities. Additional low-interest loan and work-study programs are available from the UW-Madison Financial Services Office. Many of our under-graduates work part-time on the Madison campus or in the field assisting with faculty research.

For more information contact the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology:

Prospective Student Services: College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Office of Academic Affairs

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is an AA/EEO institution. University policies create additional protection that prohibits harassment on the basis of cultural background and ethnicity. Inquires concerning these policies may be directed to the appropriate campus admitting or employing unit or to the Equity and Diversity Resource Center, 179-A, Bascom Hall, (608) 263-2378, TTY (608) 263-2473.