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Train future forest resource professionals

Jordan Herrin can look back and see the forest for the trees.

A crane loads logs from a pine forest onto a truck. Wood has a $41.6 billion economic impact in Texas, including more than 172,000 jobs. (File photo)

The stages of Herrin’s career development as a forester detail the path he chose. The path began as a Forest Resources student in the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology at Texas A&M in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Herrin began as a student worker in the Forest Genetics Lab as a freshman and worked seasonally at the Bastrop County office of the Texas A&M Forest Service. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 2010 and is now a regional forester with the Texas A&M Forest Service and responsible for offices supporting 17 east Texas counties.

“I knew I wanted a forestry job in high school, but I always knew I wanted a job related to the outdoors,” he said. “I didn’t know what a career in forestry meant when I came to university, but after taking fundamental and basic courses in forestry, I saw a career path.

Forest Resources Curriculum Balances Student Development

Jason West, Ph.D., associate professor and associate department head in the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology, said most students in the Forest Resource stream feel a natural pull to the outdoors. They generally express attitudes focused on conservation and sustainable management with regard to the natural resources and ecosystems that surround them.

“Some commonalities among most forest resources students are that they love nature and love the idea of ​​spending time outdoors as part of their job,” he said. “Working in a cabin is not their idea of ​​how they want to spend a career, and more and more I think there is value in having a career that helps manage natural resources effectively so that future generations can access and enjoy it.”

Firefighter dragging a hose during a practice fire.
Wildfire suppression is a big part of what foresters hired by state and federal agencies do. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Laura McKenzie)

Job opportunities span the gamut of private and public entities that prepare and plan for short- and long-term management and actively manage forests and timber interests, West said.

The forestry sector generates more than $41.6 billion in economic benefits for the State of Texas, including more than 172,000 jobs.

The US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Army Corps of Engineers, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Texas A&M Forest Service, and Texas Parks and Wildlife are some of the top destinations for graduates. West said municipalities are increasingly aware that trees and green spaces make urban areas more attractive and healthier for residents.

Developers are also paying more attention to these trends, so opportunities with private companies extend beyond timber planning, consulting, management and production, he said.

West said the program is good at training students in the fundamentals of forest management and ecology with cutting-edge research methodology and technology that prepares them for employment or further education. Foresters face challenges ranging from megatrends related to climate change and carbon sequestration or regional concerns such as disease and pest problems to management decisions for intensive timber production and non-intensive natural forests .

The Forest Resources curriculum provides students with a balance between how forest ecosystems have historically existed and evolved amid land use changes, West said. Perspective, knowledge and techniques using both natural and technological tools prepare graduates

“Some students take jobs in state and federal forestry departments or in management and planning departments,” he said. “Some may continue their studies and focus on the analytical side of wood regeneration or become silviculturists. Both academia and industry are aware of the challenges and time it takes to grow trees or restore and maintain balanced native forests, and there are career paths across the spectrum where students can meet these challenges.

Forestry presents unique work, challenges

Herrin’s student work at Bastrop exposed him to the ebb and flow of menial tasks and exciting assignments. The forestry program developed its expertise in forest management and the university shaped its character.

He didn’t land the job he wanted after graduating. Herrin worked part-time until 2011, when a position as a forester opened up at the Texas A&M Forest Service office in Huntsville. Since then, Herrin has risen through the ranks.

Pines in Sam Houston National Park.
Pine trees planted in the Sam Houston National Forest. Foresters manage trees in a wide range of contexts, from urban parks to natural forests and timber production. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Courtney Sacco)

Being a forester gave Herrin access to nature throughout Texas and from the Pacific Northwest to the Florida-Georgia line. There has been adventure and danger from time to time. There has been paperwork, projects, and assignments that run the gamut of satisfactions and challenges.

“Half the job is to suppress the fires,” Herrin said. “But as a forester, there’s a lot of managing state forests, helping private landowners and industry, and partnering with federal agencies. So I would say about 95% of the job is working with people. It’s a good mix, and each day can present a unique piece of work.

Forestry is more than trees

Herrin says he has hired graduates from many forestry programs. But there are a few characteristics that set Texas A&M forestry graduates apart. Basic knowledge is expected of all graduates considered for employment, but he said foresters in the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology have intangibles that equip them for leadership roles.

“One thing Texas A&M does well is that graduates typically have leadership qualities,” he said. “I don’t know why or how, but they arrive and understand how to go up and down. I think maybe it’s the overall Texas A&M experience that builds this. It’s a big place, so success depends on the work you do, and no one is holding your hand through the process. Then there are all the opportunities the campus presents, and students are exposed to so much. »

Herrin met his wife, who is a supply forester, while he was on the program. There is a stark contrast in the tasks they perform, but their careers parallel the fact that being a forester is about more than trees.

The experience and exposure helps graduates meet unique and different challenges as a forester or working in the forest industry, Herrin said, whether it’s helping landowners with a tree or a million trees, look for pests like the emerald ash borer, plant trees or bulldoze. .

The challenges of producing timber or managing a healthy native forest are unique in Texas agriculture, Herrin said. No crop requires so much time and dedicated effort or faces so many threats and stresses over its decades-spanning life cycle.

Drought, disease, pests, fires and other natural disasters all need to be managed, he said.

There are job opportunities in the private and public sectors for entry-level and experienced foresters, Herrin said. The industry continues to evolve with better tree selection, scientific discoveries and new monitoring technologies that continue to propel the field.

Herrin said the future of forestry will be driven by research, detection equipment, statistics and modeling, but the industry will continue to need versatile people to become foresters.

“The future of forestry is changing the career path and introducing different disciplines that make us more efficient and effective,” he said. “We leverage technology and skills to meet challenges and meet trends, but at the end of the day, trees are the smallest part of the job, and people are the biggest part. »


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