A new set of degree programs at the University of Idaho seeks to attract and educate young workers in the fields of logging and forest management.

By Dawn Killough | | 11/10/2022

The three new associate degree programs will prepare students for jobs in fire mitigation, forestry operations, and nursery management. The programs combine online learning with practical experience in the university’s Experimental Forest and Pitkin greenhouse.

“There’s a huge demand for this,” said Steven Shook, associate dean in the College of Natural Resources. “We worked directly with industry to develop these degree programs.”

“These new associate of science degrees are critical to meeting our land-grant mission,” said Charles Goebel, department head of Forest, Rangeland and Fire Sciences at the University of Idaho. “Students in these programs utilize our unique resources and expertise to help meet the workforce demands of the growing forestry and wildland fire industries.”

While the programs offer education to students just out of high school, they can also help workers already in the industry advance to higher pay and better opportunities. The hope is that students nationwide will enroll and fill positions at agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, which is actively seeking employees with knowledge of fire and fuel management.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the farmworkers, laborers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse sector will see more than 87,000 job openings annually nationwide. The need for logging workersconservation scientists, and foresters is projected to grow 7 percent in the next decade.

“Programs like this are ideal for recruiting new fire and fuels managers and educating our current professionals,” said Heath Cota, of the U.S. Forest Service’s workforce development program in Twin Falls.

“Learning to operate logging equipment that can cost a half million dollars requires a lot of skill,” said Shawn Keough, the executive director of the Associated Logging Contractors. “If students can acquire those skills on the University of Idaho Experimental Forest, they will have a knowledge base that can put them ahead of other applicants.”

The university’s Experimental Forest has over 10,000 acres of forestland, as well as close to $1 million in harvesting and skidding equipment. Giving students hands-on knowledge of equipment operations and forest and nursery management will be key to filling the labor gap.

“We believe our program is uniquely positioned to support the kinds of hands-on workforce development program that many in Idaho’s forest products sector are requesting,” Shook said.

The degree programs will be offered in three specialties.

Forest operations and technology

Students will work among one of the nation’s top forestry programs, gaining hands-on experience using commercial harvesting equipment and technology. The program also includes classes in ecology, forest policy, administration, and economics.

Forest nursery management and technology

Students will focus on propagation and production of trees, shrubs, and native plants at the university’s Pitkin greenhouse. The program emphasizes practices, technology, and operations that are unique to the North American forest nursery industry. It also includes classes on sales and marketing.

Wildland fuel and fire technology

Students learn from a flexible online program designed to teach them how to be wildland firefighters and fire suppression technicians.

The programs will begin offering classes in the fall of 2022. After completing an associate degree, students can continue their education by completing Idaho’s nationally acclaimed Logger Education and Advance Professionalism (LEAP) program and the Office of Personnel Management Federal Series certification. They may also choose to stay in school to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

For more information about the program, contact the University of Idaho Department of Forest, Rangeland and Fire Sciences.