Forestry Education & Career Pathways

Forestry Education & Career Pathways

If you picture a lumberjack swinging an axe when you think of a job in the forest sector, think again! Today, a forestry career can take you anywhere: an office, a lab, a mill, parliament, behind the wheel of a big rig, a classroom, a construction site, and of course, the forest!

Whether you’re a data nerd, sound science advocate, natural educator, or tree-hugger, the forestry sector has a place for you. Scroll down to learn more about the different education and career pathways that can get you to your dream job.


Education Pathways

Like they say, all roads lead to forestry! There are so many different ways to get into a forestry sector career, check it out…

Forests Ontario’s Forestry Program Development Coordinator Fraser McLaughlin is putting his Bachelor of Arts in Geography and Anthropology and Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from McGill University to use, compiling environmental data and strategically identifying priority tree planting areas.

Growing up in Sudbury, Dana Collins always had a grasp of the important role forests play in climate change mitigation & adaptation. She wanted to pursue an education that furthered this understanding, so she went to the University of Toronto for a Bachelor’s Degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology followed by a Master’s Degree of Forest Conservation. Today, Dana is the Manager of Integrated Environmental Management for Strategic Natural Resource Consultants Inc.

Pam Jackson, RPF & owner of Jackson Stewardship, got her start at Lakehead University studying a Bachelor of Science in Forestry. Now she’s using her training to follow her passion of educating non-rural landowners about their forest & the importance of sustainable forest management. Other careers this degree can lead to include forest manager, forest planner, wood engineer, environmental scientist, urban forester, arborist, procurement agent, etc. – the possibilities are endless!

Interested in an innovative & hands-on career? Current student Hannah Freedberg recommends the University of Toronto’s Bachelor of Science in Forest Biomaterials, which covers emerging forest-based materials & biorefinery practices and how they can address environmental issues. This degree can open doors to careers in government, research & private industry.

If you’re outdoorsy & interested in forest management, why not check out a Forestry Technician diploma? Offered by many Ontario colleges (Sault College, Algonquin College, Confederation College, and Fleming College), this degree provides students with the skills needed to pursue a range of careers in the private & public sector.

If you want to work in forestry but don’t want to stray too far from the city limits, then Urban Forestry might be the thing for you! Both Algonquin College & Fleming College offer hands-on programs, giving students experience required for a variety of jobs from urban forest technician to city parks manager.


Career Pathways

We chatted with some forestry sector workers about their jobs, as well as the perks of working in the forestry industry and advice on how to break in…

Meet Lacey, County Forester for Renfrew County. She’s responsible for facilitating the management of the County’s ~6,600 hectares of forests, as well as doing outreach & education. Interested in a job like hers? She says, “Be keen, work hard & you’ll have endless opportunities!”

Q. What is your current job?

I’m the County Forester for the County of Renfrew – the biggest County in Ontario is our claim to fame. The County owns about 6,600ha of land that I facilitate the management of – writing prescriptions, looking for forest values, tree marking, tendering and supervising harvest operations and any follow-up regeneration work. I am also fortunate enough to be able to do outreach and education about forestry to the public and schools.

My side-job is hosting a web-series called Mighty Jobs, that highlights people and equipment doing work that provides society with the goods and services they require – including wood!

Q. How did you end up in your role?

Literally because someone said “Have you considered a career in forestry?” when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. As a result, I completed the Bachelor of Science in Forestry program at the University of New Brunswick, and haven’t been unemployed a day since. I’ve worked for the provincial government, a Sustainable Forest Licensee, a Crown Corporation, and now a municipal government. Mentors have played a huge role in my career!

Q. Why did you want to work in the forest sector, and in your role particularly?

I grew up in the woods in Labrador, loved being outside, and was really interested in wildlife. I didn’t know what forestry was, but noticed pretty quickly that it checked all my boxes when I started investigating. I originally wanted to be a wildlife biologist, now I know that is also a role that foresters play everyday! Win-win.

Q. What are your favourite aspects of your job?

Being outside, working with the greatest people and seeing or learning something new every day.

Q. What would you say to someone considering a career in the forest sector, and what advice would you give them?

DO IT! It is such a great time to pursue a career in forestry. Be keen, work hard, and you’ll have endless opportunities.

 

Considering a career in the forest sector? Take some advice from tree planter, tree quality inspector, certified arborist & Fleming College professor Katrina Van Osch-Saxon: “Explore all of your options, don’t sell yourself short, meet new people, be curious & don’t give up.”

Q. What is your current job? 

I am the Arboriculture Certificate Program Coordinator at Fleming College, as well as the Professor of Urban Forestry.

 Q. How did you end up in your role?

Growing up, I worked with my dad doing tree work. That introduced me to the industry, and I have been surrounded by great mentors ever since! I was also inspired by Esther Keyser, the first female canoe guide in Algonquin Park and author of “Paddle my Own Canoe.”

I graduated with a BSc and Diploma in Environmental Pest Management from the University of Guelph and also obtained an Arboriculture Certificate from Fleming College. I went on to own and operate Niagara Tree Service for 12 years. When a position came available at the college, I applied and was successful. I’ve always lived by the saying “cross that bridge when you come to it,” and in this case an opportunity presented itself and I took a chance. I believe that everything happens for a reason.

Q. Why did you want to work in the forest sector, and in your role particularly?

Similar to most, I grew up and was connected to the natural world; I wanted a career where I could work with my hands, in a new environment every day, and where I could be challenged daily. In my role at the college, I wanted to have the opportunity to excite other people about the diversity of careers in the forest sector and about the meaningful work they could do to support a sustainable planet, especially in urban forestry. A main goal for me was, and still is, to increase the number of women working in tree-related careers.

Q.  What are your favourite aspects of your job?

Meeting a new group of young people who are going to make it their living to manage our forests for the future and helping in the development of their knowledge and skill set — helping to motivate and inspire them to go on to do great things! I also work with and continue to learn from an amazing team of colleagues that continue to inspire me to learn more and do better.

Q. What would you say to someone considering a career in the forest sector, and what advice would you give them?

Explore all of your options and don’t sell yourself short. One thing I have heard over the years is “I really want to go to university but I’m not smart enough” and my response is TRY. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t finish, but you won’t know unless you try; we have had several students do it, and one of them is now completing her PhD. Meet new people, networking is so important! When there is an opportunity to attend conferences, workshops, seminars, do it! You never know what new job, opportunity, idea, partnership is on the other side of a new friendship. Be curious and don’t give up, it is true that some of the best and most meaningful things in life are the toughest things to achieve, but most times all of the hard work and effort are worth it!

 

From summer tree planter to National Manager of the Outland Youth Employment Program, meet Sarah Ambroziak! Sarah enjoys working in Northwestern Ontario & strengthening her understanding of the relationship between Indigenous nations & natural resource management.

Q. What is your current job? 

I am the National Manager for Outland Youth Employment Program. I manage a national network of land-based education, training, and work opportunities for Indigenous youth. These opportunities use natural resources managements at a platform to learn about and explore potential career and educational pathways in the natural resources sector.

 Q. How did you end up in your role?

I began my career with Outland in 2006 as a tree planter. I planted trees every summer for nine years to put myself through many years of school and travel. I loved everything about working outdoors in northern remote areas and knew I wanted to carry some aspects of that lifestyle into a career. Partway through my tree planting years I completed a post graduate diploma in project management at Humber College that focused on humanitarian, emergency relief, and development work. Not interested in applying my skills overseas, I began crew bossing for the Outland Youth Employment Program in 2012 as part of an internship and later moved into a management role with the program.

Q. Why did you want to work in the forest sector, and in your role particularly?

When I heard about tree planting while in University I knew it was for me! I grew up on a farm and spent every possible minute outdoors. The challenge, excitement, new experience, and limitless learning that the forestry sector presented was incredibly appealing to me. Working in Northwestern Ontario I became acutely aware of the many differences between northern and southern Ontario – specifically the number of Indigenous nations living in the north. I knew there had to be some intersection between the forestry sector and the people living in the area and I wanted to learn more. Working at OYEP and all the program partners has helped me better understand the critical relationship between Indigenous nations and natural resources management.

Q.  What are your favourite aspects of your job

My favourite aspect of my job is working with the many of public, private, and Indigenous partners collaborating on the Outland Youth Employment Program. Working with such a diverse partner group affords me the ability to learn about all the exciting innovations, industry advancements, and opportunities in the industry!

Q. What would you say to someone considering a career in the forest sector, and what advice would you give them?

I would encourage anyone interested in working in forestry to start as a tree planter! It’s the best decision I’ve ever made and has shaped my career, my social network, and who I am as a person.

 

Did you know that the health of forests affects the health of other ecosystems? As a result, the forest sector is VERY diverse & interdisciplinary! Take Natural Resources Canada’s Erik Emilson. Aquatic biologist by trade, Erik works to protect freshwater ecosystems through forest management.

Q. What is your current job? 

I am a research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service sector of Natural Resources Canada. I am an Aquatic Ecologist with a research focus on understanding how forests support key ecosystem functions and services in freshwater ecosystems. My research aims to improve both forest management and reclamation practices to ensure the protection of Canada’s freshwater ecosystems.

Q. How did you end up in your role? 

I completed my undergraduate B.Sc. degree at the University of Guelph with a focus in Marine and Freshwater Biology. I then went on to do my M.Sc. and Ph.D. at Laurentian University, where my research began to focus on the reliance of healthy, productive freshwater ecosystems on healthy, productive forests. This is when I got “out of the water” and started to gain an appreciation for our forests. I went overseas to do a three year post-doctoral term at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., but my research remained focused on Canada’s boreal forests and freshwater ecosystems. I always wanted to return to Canada, and the opportunity came up to replace Dr. Dave Kreutzweiser in his retirement from the Canadian Forest Service. Dr. Kreutzweiser was a pioneer of research in forest management for the protection of Canada’s freshwater resources, and I now have big shoes to fill!

Q. Why did you want to work in the forest sector, and in your role particularly?

I have a love of forests and freshwater ecosystems in Canada, and especially in Ontario; I have always wanted my research to go towards the responsible management of these ecosystems. The demand for wood products is not going to go away, and – when managed responsibly – wood products are a sustainable and environmentally responsible resource. I decided early on in graduate school that I wanted my research to inform policy and industry to ensure that we are managing our forests in a way that protects their productivity and biodiversity while also ensuring the protection of our freshwater ecosystems.

Q. What are your favourite aspects of your job?

Ontario’s forest sector is very forward-thinking and has some of the most sustainable forest management practices in the world. It is an honour to contribute to this and to improve our practices, and I enjoy working on complex management challenges in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada. It has been eye-opening and challenging to learn how to place evidence-based scientific findings in decision-making processes along side social, economic, cultural, and political influences – I thoroughly enjoy the challenge!

Q. What would you say to someone considering a career in the forest sector, and what advice would you give them?

The best advice I can give is to shape your career path based on your passion, but be open to new perspectives and ideas. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the forest sector and the many varying career opportunities that exist! Don’t be afraid to reach out to those working in the sector with career path questions and to look for opportunities!

 

According to Adam Chamberlin (Project Manager, Forestry for Haldimand County), working in the forest sector is not only extremely rewarding – it also provides many opportunities for you to find your own niche.

Q. What is your current job?

I am the Project Manager of Forestry for Haldimand County. I look after the maintenance of trees within Haldimand County’s urban forest as well as County Woodlots.  I’m fortunate to have a lot of variety in my position.  Some of my daily tasks include conducting risk assessments of urban trees, working with contract arborists maintaining street trees, reviewing tree protection plans for proposed developments, administering a tree planting program, enforcing our forest conservation by-laws, monitoring commercial timber harvests, answering tree related questions, and working with community groups on various forestry initiatives.

Q. How did you end up in your role?

I enrolled in the Landscape Design program at Fanshawe College because of my passion for gardening and my interest in design.  I started working in the horticultural department for the City of St. Thomas as a summer student and learned about working for a municipality and how my work could have a positive impact on my community.  I continued my education with a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of Guelph and realized how significant trees and forests are for healthy communities.  I wanted to learn all I could about caring for trees in our cities so I decided to take the Arboriculture and Urban Forestry programs at Fleming College.

Q. Why did you want to work in the forest sector, and in your role particularly?

When I was starting out I didn’t really know that I could have a career working the forestry sector.  My education and summer work experiences really helped to show me the many career options in the forestry sector.  I knew I wanted to find a position where I could work with trees, help my community, and get to use the skills I learned in school.

Q. What are your favourite aspects of your job?

I really enjoy collaborating with all of our community groups because we get to share knowledge and perspectives from members with various personal and professional backgrounds.  It is extremely rewarding to be part of the process that can see these creative ideas go from the drawing board to a completed project for the community to enjoy.  I’m also a data nerd and get really excited with all the story maps and information we will be able to share once our tree inventory is completed.

Q. What would you say to someone considering a career in the forest sector, and what advice would you give them?

Working in the forest sector is an extremely rewarding career and there are many opportunities to find a niche to express your talents.  More and more, forestry sector jobs require professional qualifications such as a Registered Professional Forester, Certified Tree Marker, or Certified Arborist.  Look into what work experience, training, or education is required for any qualifications you are interested in obtaining so that you can find opportunities to meet the requirements throughout your professional development.

 

Liz Celanowicz (Acting Director of Operations, Forests Ontario) is continually inspired by her team of passionate individuals. Together, they work towards creating healthy forests & ensuring their survival in the face of climate change.

Q. What is your current job?

I am the Acting Director of Operations at Forests Ontario. I oversee the planting and education programs, as well as the day-to-day operations.

Q. How did you end up in your role?

I studied resource management, GIS and remote sensing at York University, which sparked my initial interest in the sector. I also tree planted out west in an area heavily affected by the Mountain Pine Beetle; seeing the destruction made me want to focus my efforts on replanting areas and ensuring long-term sustainable forests to withstand pressures.

When I graduated, I started tree planting at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), where I worked for the next 12 years on planting and education/awareness programs. I was also a Planting Delivery Agent for Forests Ontario, and enjoyed being apart of the 50 Million Tree Program (50 MTP).

During my time at TRCA, I was mentored by a forester, and this inspired me to continue to get more experience in the forestry sector. Though my schooling laid a strong foundation, my work experience has been incredibly important in getting me where I am today.

Q. Why did you want to work in the forest sector, and in your role particularly?

Forestry and forest management has been a long time interest of mine. I’ve always enjoyed walking in the woods, growing trees from seeds, learning and perfecting tree identification skills, and plants in general.

Being a part of the 50 MTP and having the opportunity to see it grow on a national level is very exciting. My past experience can help foster the goal of two billion trees, especially my experience tree planting, raising awareness, and using systems like GIS to identify priority areas for planting and promote tree planting.

Q. What are your favourite aspects of your job?

Working with so many like-minded, passionate people in such an altruistic field is truly inspirational. I really enjoy working with my team to create healthy forests and ensure their long-term survival in the face of climate change.

Q. What would you say to someone considering a career in the forest sector, and what advice would you give them?

Determine your interest and focus to find your niche. If you are passionate about what you do, you will always succeed; you will excel, because it’s who you are! Try different aspects of forestry because you will not know what’s out there until you try it, and there are so many different aspects! Take every chance to engage, network, and learn about the many career opportunities, and when something captures your heart go for it!

In the forest sector, it is very important to get field experience. Education is useful, but when I was hiring in my previous position, I would always put more emphasis on experience. And remember – you never know where a job will lead you, even if it’s entry level or volunteer.

 

Darren Sleep of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative can’t name one thing he likes about his job… Rather, he has a whole list! Meeting new people, seeing new places, and advocating for sound science & sustainable forestry are just a few of the highlights.

Q. What is your current job?

I am the Senior Director of Conservation Science and Strategy at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). My job is to build on SFI’s conservation science work, collaborate with external stakeholders on various research projects, provide science support to SFI’s various work streams, and provide conservation leadership on behalf of SFI to various national and international organizations.

Q. How did you end up in your role?

I found my way to this role primarily through a love of the natural world and a fascination for how it worked. I was fortunate enough to have a slew of incredible mentors who fed my curiosity, challenged my thinking and assumptions, and who shared with me their time and insights. After wandering through the work world and trying on various professions, I fell quite by accident into a biology degree at UNB in my undergrad, and discovered wildlife work as a technician for a PhD student. I was incredulous that they would pay me to walk through the woods catching mice for the summer! After that I was hooked, pursuing a Masters degree in Saskatchewan (University of Regina) where I studied forest-dwelling bats, followed by a PhD at the University of Guelph where I worked on owls in the far north of the boreal forest.

Q. Why did you want to work in the forest sector, and in your role particularly?

I didn’t.

Coming out of my doctorate degree I was very leery of the forestry sector, as I was very suspicious of how they might want to use science to tell the story they wanted. I took my first role as Senior Forest Ecologist with the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI) in Montreal, believing I would keep my ties to academia in case it didn’t work out. To my surprise – and delight – I have consistently found that people in the industry are passionate about protecting the natural resource they work with, and are dedicated to good information and sound science. I continued working at NCASI for 12 years before taking my role with SFI, and I only changed jobs because I saw an opportunity to grow beyond my work at NCASI.

Q. What are your favourite aspects of your job?

I love meeting new people, visiting places I’ve never been (I’m writing this from a property in Alabama owned by one of SFI’s program participants, after 2 days of meeting with colleagues about issues of concern to forestry in the south), taking on tough scientific questions, and passionately advocating for sound science and sustainable forestry as the solution for many of society’s most pressing issues. In short, I LOVE my job.

Q. What would you say to someone considering a career in the forest sector, and what advice would you give them?

My advice to students I interact with is always the same. Love what you do. Being passionate about your chosen career is the most important factor in being good at what you do, and enjoying doing it.

Secondary to that, I would say that soft skills are as important or more important than anything you will do with your technical skills. Learn to network, talk to people, present yourself and your message well, understand what people need, communicate well, and never take yourself too seriously. Be ready to consider and adopt diverse points of view, and hold your beliefs in an open palm. In my experience, these are the keys to a successful career.

Finally, always look for opportunities, and never be afraid to stretch yourself. You will not grow without stretching, and like a tree, if you’re not growing, you’re probably dying.