SAF: To Be or Not to Be

Steve Shook esw at
Thu Jan 16 08:41:25 EST 1997

John Vona <jdvona at> wrote:
> I am forester in california who works more with GIS than in the woods
> but that's the breaks.  Anyway, what do my fellow foresters feel about
> the SAF these days?

I wondered how long it would be before this topic would appear on

> My personal feeling is one of disgust on many issues.  I cannot
> condone  their embrace of touchy feely ecosystem management and their
> urgings for "paradigm shifts".  I would have more respect if they
> acknowledged our credibitlity as foresters and  showed support.

I agree almost 100 percent. On one hand, we do have to appeal to the
public. Creating an image of foresters that "care" about the environment
they manage may improve the public's perception of the
profession/industry. On the other hand, most forest management
professionals are working with individuals who see their forests as
investments (i.e. business). This includes the industrial timberland
owner all the way don to grandparents who purchase timberlands as trusts
for their hiers. They expect some sort of reasonable return on their
investment, which ecosystem management tends to disregard (or lose focus
of). As I see it (and I'm probably wrong!), the question is: Are we to
manage forests to meet the publics' perceptual expectations (whcih are
generally inefficient with regard to resource use), or do we manage
effectively and efficiently while falling within the guidelines of the
current regulations and laws?
> Secondly, as a relatively new member to the field (class of 91), I am
> incredulous that they think young foresters should get more broader
> training in the ecological sciences.  If you have read their education
> issues for the past decade, the same message of more cross training
> and more years at school resonates.  Hell,  in my private and public
> experience, foresters seem to be given less and less involvement in
> land management planning these days because they are surrounded by
> __ologists of every stripe who bridle at the site of caulk boots or
> hickory shirts; so, in response to this the SAF thinks we ought to
> remedy our public perception problem by taking less forestry classes
> and more conservation type classes.  Is this wise?

For some programs I would say "yes."  Other programs, however, I feel
have gone overboard at the expense of diluting the net worth of their
graduate's degrees.

> I have also read in the SAF that forestry students should be
> encouraged to take more classes, ie, spend 5 years towards a bachelors
> and better yet, go right for the masters degree.  This is the biggest
> crock as I  have worked with men having only associate degrees who are
> more than competent.

Are they more competent from the start - or is it experience that made
them competent?

How far have these individuals with associate degrees advanced in their
careers? How fast have their wages/benefits grown over time after
discounting for inflation? There are published studies showing that
there's a reasonable return on investment from obtaining more education
related to forestry (i.e., benefits outweigh the cost). Now, if you
don't care about job advancement or real wage growth, then you can
completely disregard my comment.

> The problem is that there is a dwindling demand
> for foresters, due to the public lands moratorium, which resulted in a
> glut of foresters and resource managers in general.

Overall demand has probably remained constant. In fact, regulations have
likely increased the need for forestry professionals (at least
consultants) in the Pacific Northwest.

> I know guys
> making peanuts doing forestry work after breaking their balls to put
> themselves through school.  So how does the SAF respond to this
> oversupply, they proscibe longer sentences for forestry students.

Take a look at wildlife science/mamangement supply - talk about a
problem! With regard to increasing the length of programs - this will
probably have a negligible influence on the supply of forestry

> Is
> this really necessary when one also considers that many agencies are
> also staffing a myriad of specialists to assist in the planning
> process.  I mean why should a kid take another semester taking
> advanced classes in hydrology or biology when most public or private
> outfits have those people on the staff.

Good point which I have heard time and again.
> Lastly, the SAF to me is a sociopolitical periodical that devotes only
> 15% of its time to scientific research.  I think they're flat wrong
> trying to make their journal the spokesman for the membership.

Which one of their journals are you talking about? Forest Science and
the regional Applied Forestry journals are excellent with regard to the
"science" of forest and forest-related topics. I would agree that the
Journal of Forestry is used too heavily as a socio-political tool. I
think most of the general membership would agree.

> It's
> fine to have position statements and the like but all I see every
> month is article after article on how we need to shirft our paradigms,
> rethink our profession, embrace non-scientific public feelgood
> advocacy, abandoned our past.

That's ALL you see?  I'll agree that there is a lot of paradigm shift
and feel-good forestry articles, but not all of the articles can be
thrown into the same kettle.
> The funny thing I have encountered is that the several academics I met
> from several accredited forestry institutions see forestry as not
> changing much at all and that we learned ecosystem management stuff
> many years ago and that this EM stuff hogwash.  Well, why is the SAF
> bent on admonishing the lot of us?

Again, I agree; there is practically no difference between the current
ecosystem management curriculum offered at the University of Washington
and the forest management curriculum that I obtained. Add the first two
chapters of a popular ecosystem management textbook currently in use to
Davis and Johnson's "Forest Management" text that I used and there's
your difference - marginal, at best.

SAF can't be all things to all people. It does serve a useful purpose,
although at times I disagree 100 percent with their/our(?) position

-Steve Shook

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