How To Choose a Forester

By William L. Hoover, PhD

The purpose of this article is to provide you with the background information needed to make informed decisions about the type of professional forester that can best serve your needs. The focus is on the categories of foresters working in Indiana. Specific advice on which type best meets your needs, or on specific individuals, is not provided. The guidelines applicable to choosing a provider of professional services of any kind, apply to professional foresters. The experiences of other woodland owners who have worked with a forester may be helpful. Membership in the Indiana Forestry and Woodland Owners Association (IFWOA) is a good way to network with other woodland owners (

What Constitutes a Professional Forester?

There is no licensing requirement to provide forestry services in Indiana. Thus, the fact that someone calls themselves a forester doesn’t mean they are a “professional forester.” Professionalism is based on training, experience, continuing education, and quality of services provided. The formal training of foresters is conducted by institutions granting Bachelor of Science and graduate degrees, and those granting associate degrees. Associate degrees prepare graduates to perform “routine” tasks related to the management and sale of timber such as conducting inventories, marking timber for sale, overseeing logging operations, and purchasing timber. Bachelor of Science degree programs provide graduates with these same skills and a deeper understanding of the complex abiotic and biotic systems constituting a “forest,” including the wide variety of species of plants and animals associated with forests, and the social context within which forests are managed. Schools offering quality forestry programs are accredited by the Society of American Foresters (SAF), the national professional society of foresters. Purdue University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources (FNR, is SAF accredited. A complete list of accredited schools as well as accreditation standards and guidelines is listed at Foresters who are members of SAF, and meet SAF’s training and testing requirements are certified by SAF, indicated by the title Certified Forester, “CF,” after the individuals name.

Services Provided by Professional Foresters

The forester you choose to work with depends primarily on the services you need and the resumes, discussed below, of the individual foresters working in your area. The major categories of forestry services include:

•  management of land currently covered primarily by trees

•  creating a forest on non-forested land by tree planting or seeding

•  management of mixed-use land, usually forested and open land, with provision of wildlife habitat as a major goal

•  assistance with the sale of timber, best described as timber marketing

•  care of shade and ornamental trees

Professional foresters also provide services to companies needing to establish and maintain rights-of-ways for utilities, railroads, streets, and highways; and communities in the planting and maintenance of street trees and urban forests. The forestry profession, like most, includes individuals and firms that specialize in specific services, and others that provide a range of services.  A catalog of many foresters practicing in Indiana, the areas of the state they serve, and the services they provide is at

Who Do They Work For?

The categories of foresters below are based primarily on the characteristic of how they are compensated for their services.

Consulting Foresters. Most private consulting foresters are self-employed. Thus, their livelihood depends on the quality of the service they provide. Many consultants have long-term relationships with their clients. Some consultants hire additional foresters to increase their capacity. Consultants work under a contractual relationship with you. For the sale of timber they may charge a fixed fee determined by the size of the woodland, a straight percentage of the gross sales revenue, or a percentage tied to the size of the sale with a small percentage for larger sales. Fees for other services are typically negotiated in advance as part of a contract for services. Foresters typically have fee schedules that are available to you. Fees are usually based on the amount of work and inputs required.

Consulting foresters usually belong to the Association of Consulting Foresters of America, Inc. (ACFA, Membership requires a degree in forestry, a minimum number of years of experience, and continuing education. information about the Indiana Chapter of ACFA is located at ( )

District Foresters. Since 1901 state government has made available individuals with forestry expertise to advise woodland owners. Currently, these District Foresters are employed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry. The services they provide have changed over the years. Prior to the development of the consulting forestry industry the District Foresters provided the full range of services, including marketing of timber. Their focus currently is the development of management plans, administering the Classified Forest and Wildlands Program, and approving plans required for receipt of cost-share assistance. Since their services are provided at no cost, they can’t provide the amount of time available from foresters in the other categories. They are, however, a good initial contact if you’re just starting your woodland activities.

Industrial Foresters. Most Industrial  foresters are involved in the actual purchasing of standing timber from the landowner and are employed by a sawmill, logger, or log merchandiser to help fill the market demands for hardwood logs and lumber. These market demands cannot be met by waiting for woodland owners and consultants to contact them. Thus, some employ licensed and bonded professional foresters as timber buyers. These professional foresters contact woodland owners with mature timber to determine their interest in selling timber. They also work with other components of the log supply chain. These include licensed and bonded loggers who also purchase timber on their own, produce logs, and market them to buyers such as mills. There are also log brokers who purchase logs and merchandise them to domestic and off-shore buyers. Many industrial foresters work with woodland owners in marking the trees to include in a sale and purchasing them. Sale terms are negotiated between the woodland owner and the buyer. Some industrial foresters seek to develop relationships with woodland owners for the long-term management of their woodland.

Urban Foresters. The individuals responsible for the care of street trees and urban forests are frequently professional foresters. These include crew chiefs and estimators for tree care companies and city foresters. Most forestry schools offer courses specifically for students preparing to work in the tree care industry.

Other Foresters. Some forestry graduates take positions outside the field of forestry. Because they generally lack forestry experience their level of expertise may be limited, although they can be helpful with general advice. Foresters working for the Purdue Extension Service are also professional foresters. They are required to have at least a Master of Science degree in forestry. They are primarily a source of information and advice, rarely working directly with woodland owners in the field. They also provide much of the continuing education required for professional foresters.

Components of a Professional Forester’s Resume

Any professional forester you are considering to work for you should willingly provide you with a copy of their resume. Here are the important components you should evaluate closely. You will also want to “interview” her/him.

What is your forester’s level of education completed at a university with an accredited forestry school? Ask about other continuing education taken, especially in areas where changes are the norm or where safety and environmental issues are of concern (for example: tax appraisals, prescribed burning, pesticide application).

1.  Is the forester associated with a saw mill or wood products firm? If they are their professional qualifications are evaluated the same as any other forester, but you’ll want to be aware of their fiduciary responsibilities and issues arising from future sales and harvests.

2.  Since there is no licensing requirement in Indiana you should focus on other indications of professionalism. Is she or he a current member of Society of American Foresters (SAF), and if a private company, the Association of Consulting Foresters of America (ACF)?

3.  What continuing education programs have they completed in the last five to ten years?

4.  If the work they are being considered for will require the application of herbicides are they a certified applicator?

5.  What is their fee schedule, what services can be provided, and which can’t be? Would they sign a contractual agreement detailing the services you want done and the metrics to be used to assess satisfactory completion?

6.  Will they provide references from previous clients?


The number of professional foresters providing services in Indiana is very large in proportion to the acreage of woodland. This indicates that collectively they are successfully providing the services needed by woodland owners. Thus, I’m confident that you will be able to identify a forester to work with you. Nevertheless, it’s important to consider the guidelines provided here to find the one that best meets your needs.  Additional information managing forests including tips on selling and marketing timber may be found on the Purdue FNR Extension website at

Bill Hoover is Professor Emeritus, Forestry and Natural Resources in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.