What do foresters do?

There is a wide variety of specialisations available in the forestry profession. Some foresters are concerned with planning of field operations to minimise soil erosion, to conserve water catchment values, to provide suitable habitats for native fauna, to ensure that rare and endangered plants or animals are protected and to maintain scenic landscape values, a whole of landscape approach to land management is being undertaken in Australia, which means that foresters interact with farmers, water supply, engineers and soil conservation officers to achieve better coordinated and more sustainable systems of land management.

Protection of forests from fire is major function of foresters in Australia. Foresters plan and implement strategies for fire prevention, detection and suppression. They devise and maintain the management techniques in the forest to meet objectives of fauna habitat management or regeneration of new forests. They provide equipment for fire fighting and radio communication, and train and direct staff. Other foresters are involved in tending forests.

This is called silviculture, which means the establishment or regeneration of forests and their subsequent thinning, pruning or wed control. Silviculture also includes production of seed for new forests, often using sophisticated genetic improvement techniques, the establishment and management of tree nurseries. Tending forests may require the application of fertiliser, sometimes from the air, and the manipulation of forest composition by the use of fire or carefully controlled tree harvesting. A vast amount of information on tree growth and growth rates under different cultural conditions is needed for making silvicultural decisions. The business of forest management requires foresters to undertake inventories of growing stock in forests, to forecast future growth of a variety of forest products, to estimate community demand for forest products, and to identify optimum strategies for forest management. The latter requires the use of advanced modelling techniques and computer based decision tools.

Foresters make use of computer based land information systems and geographic information systems for analysing the outcomes of various options for management. Some foresters are engaged in organising and controlling the harvest of timber from forests for the production of sawn timber for house construction, furniture manufacture, plywood, particleboard, poles, posts, fuel wood and for paper pulp. Other forest products are tannin bark, gums, resins, essential oils, honey and forage for livestock. For timber harvesting, areas to be felled or thinned are identified and carefully planned to meet the requirements for environmental protection, soil and water conservation, fire protection, regeneration of the forest if required, market requirements and the economics of harvesting equipment. Harvesting involves a considerable amount of forest engineering skill to locate and construct roads, bridges and other facilities. Foresters may be involved in the processing, utilisation and marketing of forest products.

They may provide technical expertise to ensure efficient use of timber, better timber seasoning, development of new wood adhesives and better methods of preservation of wood against rot and termites. All forest operations are supported by scientific research, and there is a very wide variety of research undertaken by forest managing agencies or companies, by CSIRO, by cooperative research centres and by universities. Often, research activities are associated with extension work, taking the results of research to users, either in government agencies or in the agricultural community, in the case of agroforestry.