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Becoming a Forestry Consultant in Indiana

Started by DrakeTruber, March 30, 2024, 03:25:26 PM

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I'm looking to become a forester in northern Indiana. Looks like Indiana Code requires either a four year SAF accredited forestry bachelor degree, or else a Bachelor of Science Degree in Wildlife management. I've added the referenced portion of code below.

I'm 26 with a son, and a four year Bachelors degree in Forestry isn't a possibility right now. On the other hand, an online degree in Wildlife Management, say with Unity Environmental University, would be possible. From the research I've done, it seems like the really good money is in being an Independent Forestry Consultant, since your earnings aren't dependent on your employer, so that's what I believe I'd like to aim for.
Would having a Wildlife Management Degree be limiting career-wise over a forestry degree? Is getting a degree even worth it in the first place? What does the difference in pay look like with a degree vs no degree, and being a consultant for a logging company vs independent? Many thanks folks : )

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312 IAC 15-1-7 "Management plan" defined Authority: IC 6-1.1-6-16; IC 14-10-2-4 Affected: IC 6-1.1-6 Sec. 7. As used in this article, "management plan" means a written document prepared by a district forester, or by a professional forester or wildlife biologist and approved by a district forester, which meets the following requirements: (1) The plan is prepared in consultation with the owner or an authorized representative of the owner and signed by the owner or an authorized representative of the owner. (2) The plan adequately describes the forest plantation land, native forest land, or wildland being entered into classified status. (3) The plan prescribes management practices for the classified land that: (A) meet the objectives of the owner; and (B) satisfy IC 6-1.1-6 and this article.
(4) The plan promotes sustainable timber production, wildlife habitat management, or watershed protection as appropriate to the land type.

Ron Scott

Check what the minimum requirements are to practice as a consulting forester or wildlife biologist in the state of Indiana and if the state requires a license, registration, or certification to practice as such.

As a minimum, you should have a 4-year degree in forestry or wildlife management to practice as a professional consultant as such. Anything less may qualify you as a technician in the associated field.

Pay is definitely higher for the person with a 4-year degree and a degree in wildlife management would support being a professional consultant in that field as well as forestry being broader in land and resource management.


And a degree by itself will not make you a consultant. Takes some years of experience or a real good sales job for your clients to believe in the results of a consultation.
Look into what it will take for you to get those years of experience.
Good luck to you and your family.

Looking back at your question last year about getting into a trade dealing with timber construction. No response to any of the several well-stated suggestions for some reason. We don't know if they were followed up or cast aside.
We like at least a two-way conversation. So what's up?
south central Wisconsin
It may be that my sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others


Thanks for the replies Beenthere and Ron. Sounds like a degree in Wildlife Management is the way to go. Yes, seems I read through all the posts and absolutely spaced responding!! Feel pretty bad about it since there were many solid responses. Lead me to get into plumbing. Did well at it but decided that I need fresh air to stay sane.

Ron Scott

Get the 4-year degree in the area that you prefer to work in whether it be Forest or Wildlife Management.

And yes, to put out your shingle as a professional consultant, you should get at least 5 years of field experience under an experienced mentor whether it be with a government agency, private industry, or a professional private consulting firm.

Once working for one of the above, you might wish to stay employed with them since the pay and benefits provided by them may be more permanent and assured over that of a private consultant who has to compete for the consulting jobs.

petefrom bearswamp

No 4 year degree here, just my certificate of completion from the NY state Ranger School in 1959.
Worked a bunch of stuff after graduating, some in forestry, some not.
Hung out my shingle in 1980, retired in 2006 due to my second hip replacement, same hip and some worn out knees.
No requirement here in NY then dont know about now.
Very rewarding career, met 99 percent nice folks and a very few jerks.
long hours the first several years then after establishing a good reputation always had work.
Wouldn't  have traded that part of my varied career  for all the tea in China.
I wish you all the best whichever path you take.
Kubota 8540 tractor, FEL bucket and forks, Farmi winch
Kubota 900 RTV
Polaris 570 Sportsman ATV
3 Huskies 1 gas Echo 1 cordless Echo vintage Homelite super xl12
57 acres of woodland

WV Sawmiller

   You say getting your degree in Forestry is not an option now. When would it be an option? Are we talking months or years or ever to get the degree in Forestry vs Wildlife?

    I agree getting your degree in the field you want to work seems to be the best option but if you can't get it now or in the foreseeable future I'd recommend getting your degree in Wildlife Biology to get your foot in the door and go from there if it gets you the job you want. Be sure the on-line degree from the university you describe would suffice.

   I'd bet you 2 pick up loads of sawdust that once you meet the requirements and get your accreditation and a little experience under your belt your customers aren't going to care which route you took to get there.

    Good luck.
Howard Green
WM LT35HDG25(2015) , 2011 4WD F150 Ford Lariat PU, Kawasaki 650 ATV, Stihl 440 Chainsaw, homemade logging arch (w/custom built rear log dolly), JD 750 w/4' wide Bushhog brand FEL

Dad always said "You can shear a sheep a bunch of times but you can only skin him once


Thanks WV Sawmiller. That sounds like sensible advise. My thought process is, that even if I could forgo working and go back to our SAF college (Purdue), it would cost a fortune. To me it doesnt seem sensible to pay that much money in tuition when the salary of a Forester isnt terribly high (or so Ive been told). Dont get me wrong, a solid education is a very big deal to me, but in the age of the internet most information is already accessible 


Pete, what aspects of being a Forester did you love. Also, you say varied career; what other trades have you been a part of?

Ron Wenrich

I have a 4 yr degree and I worked as a consultant both in PA and MD.  But, when I became a consultant, I had 4 yrs of experience as a log scaler and procurement forester, with a bit of logging experience.  I went into business with another procurement forester who had over 6 yrs experience.  It was still a tough row to hoe.  The underlying economy of the late 70s and early 80s were really tough.

I think you have to examine why you want to be a consulting forester, what you think a consulting forester does, and why it is a good match for you.  The primary income maker for most consultants is selling timber.  Many charge a percentage of the sales to pay for services.  I don't like that method, as it puts too much burden on sales and less on mgmt.  Most consulting work involves finding work, not the actual woods work.

I didn't like that aspect of the profession.  I preferred to write mgmt plans, do timber inventory and appraisals.  Unfortunately, my experience has been that landowners are more interested in the money aspect instead of the mgmt aspect.  Its really hard to make a living just marketing mgmt services.  I opted to go to the sawmill side and help in establishing mill operations and provide milling services.  A lot less headaches.

I don't know how practical a stand alone wildlife degree will get you in the field.  There are associates degrees in Forest Technology, but they are more for harvesting.  Not a bad option, if you're so inclined. 

We don't have a licensing of foresters in PA.  As such, anybody can call themselves a forester.  But, you'll be torn apart on a witness stand for a timber trespass case.  Some people with lesser degrees have gone out and called themselves timber agents.  They mark timber, and sell them for a commission.  Some of these guys will feed loggers timber.  Some will buy timber, have someone log it and then market the logs. 

There's options, but I think you need to get grounded in the forest products business before hanging a or no degree.  My grounding started with working in a sawmill stacking lumber.  I then went on to be a choker setter in west coast logging.  Then, back to the sawmill.  Learning how to accurately cruise timber is the biggest obstacle that most guys have starting out. 
Never under estimate the power of stupid people in large groups.

Texas Ranger

Ron Wenrich said.  " Many charge a percentage of the sales to pay for services.  I don't like that method, as it puts too much burden on sales and less on mgmt.  Most consulting work involves finding work, not the actual woods work."

I agree to a certain extent, but, that may be the first initial contact with a client.  Hopefully you can change the land owners views, if not, I gave the best honest clear cut you can find.  Usually if you can show and explain what management can do you convert the landowner, but not always.

It comes down to the individuals ethics, I would be in a much better condition if those darn ethics would have left me alone.
The Ranger, home of Texas Forestry


Thanks for the feedback Ron. Very interesting to hear that you turned back to Milling. I had been kind of excited about the proposition of milling, until I heard enough concerns about the safety side of it. Evidently my dad's friend cut a chunk of finger off working the mill for the summer. I got a hold of a local "urban sawyer" and asked about a job. He was a nice guy, but gleefully told me that he had no need for help, even in his older years: could do everything fine by himself and he loves what he does. Can't help but be very curious about the prospects of independently running a small scale mill like that. Fascinating stuff. Ron, do you work for a larger milling company? Sounds like you are a mill technician of sorts

Ron Wenrich

I've been retired for the past 12 yrs.  When I was working, I worked with small to medium sized commercial operations.  I didn't work with large operations.  They usually had things figured out, and had a lot of debt.  The smaller operations usually had a limited debt and were actually more stable and easier to work with.

Sawmills have hazardous working operations.  But, you learn where not to put your fingers pretty quick.  Safety is more common sense than anything else.  It seems you get more common sense with experience. 

Before you jump into even a small scale operation, you have to know your markets.  If you think you'll cut dimension stock like they have at Lowe's or Home Depot, you'll go broke as you can't get down to their prices.  If you think you'll build pallets, they better be specialty pallets, as the normal pallet building is highly mechanized.  Small operations need to have a niche market that larger operations can't address.  It may be portable milling, specialty timbers, slabs, etc. 

The hardest part is to source logs.  I worked with mills that had either logging crews or access to loggers.  You might be able to get urban timber, but usually the species are off for building furniture, or they're loaded with trash metal.  

I worked with a guy that had a decent business plan, but had poor follow through with his help.  He sourced logs for free, but got swamped with logs when a hurricane came through.  And, a lot of the logs were of lengths too short to use.  It was where a lot of people had no idea what they were doing, including the owner. 

There are other options in the industry that can prove to be profitable.  I had one guy that started out cutting firewood, then moved to a small mill, built pallets, then went to building doors and windows.  He had a really good local business and had a good local market.  Another guy made specialty flooring.  Another had a steamer and bent lumber for table skirts.  He didn't have a mill, and bought green lumber. 

You just have to figure out what you're good at, what you enjoy doing, find a market, and write a business plan. 
Never under estimate the power of stupid people in large groups.


Fascinating. It really is a game of doing something the "big man" isn't. Even the idea of doing specialty windows and doors scares me, even though I feel that the quality of conventional industrial window sashes these days is trash. Guess you can't really know if anyone would be interested in buying something of higher quality like that without testing the waters. Thanks for sharing your life experiences with us Ron, I and others are all ears!

Ron Wenrich

I had one client that had 2 separate businesses.  He succeeded to an extent in one and failed in the other.  The one he failed at was trying to install a sawmill in an urban area.  It wasn't because his business plan was faulty, it was carrying it out that was dismal.  Instead of growing a business, he wanted to start big.  He also had an unrealistic idea of his marketplace.  He couldn't control his log source and had markets too far away to generate a decent cash flow.  Even though the log cost was free, it was a big expense due to handling.

His successful business was marketing black locust lumber.  He sold it for a high dollar.  Some of it is on the exterior of the George W Bush Library.  He had a log buyer that covered the East Coast looking for locust logs.  They would then be sent to a mill in PA and sawn up.  He sold that lumber for what walnut was fetching at the time. 

Your success is only as good as your marketing ability.  As one logger told me "They sell manure in plastic bags at the hardware store.  Its all in the marketing".
Never under estimate the power of stupid people in large groups.


Sounds like he invested to heavily in fancy milling equipment before he had a market to support that investment.

Holy smokes that last quote is gold. 

All things considered, do you feel that working for a mill is a good idea now days?

Ron Wenrich

The thing is that he invested in old equipment that was shot.  The mill was 50 yrs old.  It took too long to install (over 9 months).   The mill layout was very bad.  He borrowed heavily.  His labor force was untrained and not very reliable.

Should you work in a mill?  I think you'll get more of an education about that aspect of the industry right there.  It depends what your end game is. 

I started out stacking lumber at a medium sized mill.  I worked with lumber graders and learned lumber grades, how to stack lumber and run loaders.  From there, I started to scale and grade logs.  Then, I advanced to sawing.  At each of those positions, I got hands on experience to gain skills.  I worked there for 4 yrs before moving on to being a consultant.  I already had my BS in Forest Science.  Schools give knowledge, workplaces give you skills.

Your original post was about becoming a forester in northern Indiana.  That probably requires a bachelor's degree.  At mill level, you become a procurement forester.  That means you go out and look for timber, mark and tally, and handle landowners.  Seeing logs being broke down into lumber helps in figuring out what timber is worth.  Working with loggers helps you recognize logging challenges.  Many guys will over estimate usable tree volume until they see what actually is harvested and what breaks up.

As a consultant, you would do the same, but you would be representing the landowner, not the mill.  But, you also have other services to offer like timber appraisals, forest mgmt plans, etc.

The other outlet would be as a govt forester.  That could mean working for a municipality, county, state or federal.  I found those jobs hard to get.  There is less work with landowners, but more work with the general public. 

Wildlife Mgmt is not very useful for commercial milling.  A large paper company may have one on board if they're buying stumpage from landowners.  I don't think there is a large amount of private landowners that use wildlife managers as their primary consultant.  The only thing left is govt or some environmental organization. 

So, a lot depends on what you want to do, and what you can afford.  Going to school while working is a big undertaking.  A 2 yr degree can get your foot in the door, but has limitations in some instances.   Working in a mill will tell you if that part of the industry appeals to you.
Never under estimate the power of stupid people in large groups.


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