Business Title: State Forests Research Manager
Business: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
City, State: Sacramento, California
Web Address: www.fire.ca.gov/
Soon after completing my BSF at Purdue in December 1985, I loaded up the truck and headed west. I landed in a graduate student office with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. Immediately recognizing that my longish hair could not begin to compete to make a statement of rebellion amongst the throngs of free speech advocates, Hare Krishnas, and multiple unidentified promoters of causes that existed on the campus, I went to the barber and got a haircut. In 1988 I graduated with an MS after studying Forest Biometrics under Professor Lee Wensel.
I spent an additional two years at Berkeley as a post-graduate researcher working on the California Conifer Timber Output Simulator (CACTOS). This was funded by an industrial research cooperative consisting of timber companies of the mixed conifer region of the Sierras, Southern Cascades, and interior coastal ranges.
Needing a higher paying job in the Sacramento region due to familial obligations, I repackaged myself as a computer programmer and got a consulting job developing accounting and personnel databases for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF). In 1994 the California Board of Forestry passed new regulations requiring large forest landowners in the State to submit long-term management plans (I affectionately call this the Forest Biometrician Employment Act of 1994). CDF needed a biometrician/harvest scheduler type to review these plans and there I was sitting in the computer unit ready to jump into a forester position.
I held the sustained yield forester position until 1999 and then moved to Research Coordinator for the Demonstration State Forests system, which is where I am presently working. As research coordinator I am responsible for managing a competitive research grants program of $600,000 a year. Other duties include interactions with professors and graduate students conducting research on the forests, planning research directions, directing in-house publication and outreach efforts, and developing research infrastructure.
Working for CDF is really a wonderful career for me because of the variety of opportunities available in a 5,000 person organization that is the third largest fire department in the country. A forester in CDF is required to attend the 10-week fire academy that fire apparatus engineers attend. Some CDF forester positions also require you to be a peace officer, which is a 5-month academy.
A typical day is usually in the office working on reviewing a research paper, doing data analysis, preparing a research contract with a university, working on a database for a forest, or any number of things. A day in the field may be spent taking a potential researcher on a tour of a forest, accompanying a student during data collection, collecting my own data for a "pet" project I am doing myself, or any number of other things. I went on four fires last year and served in the planning section working on tracking resources and creating intelligence reports, worked as a field observer, collected vegetation data for fire behavior predictions, and fireline rehabilitation.
My experience leads me to recommend to students that they maximize their quantitative and communication skills. You may have gone into the forestry or natural resources field because you want to be alone in the woods, but if you want to be an effective manager you must be a competent oral and written communicator. I looked at my biometrics degree as an insurance policy that would allow me to feed my family if my forestry career floundered. It turned out that it opened doors for my forestry career that would have otherwise been shut. Quantitative skills that I look for in a potential employee are statistics (particularly applied regression, applied analysis of variance, and sampling), computer programming (my feeling is that if you are capable programming in visual basic or C then you probably know your way around a computer pretty well), basic GIS, and database knowledge. Field experience is also a must. Job candidates that have it always stand out. I had to volunteer to get my first season of work, but it was worth it.
CDF has seasonal job opportunities as both forestry aides and firefighters. Please feel free to contact me with any questions regarding these positions.