CSU launches new graduate certificate in silviculture

Silviculture isn’t a word you hear often, unless you’re in the field of forestry. The term is commonly described as both the art and science of maintaining the growth, structure and quality of forests.

Colorado State University now offers forestry professionals a new opportunity to expand their expertise and knowledge, with a new Graduate Certificate in Advanced Silviculture for the Practicing Forester, now available through CSU Online. This program offers additional training to people with a forestry or natural resources degree and related work experience, and is designed to be accessible for working professionals.

Linda Nagel, professor and head of the Forest and Rangeland Stewardship Department, oversees the new program. She said the certificate’s purpose is to help foresters prepare for what lies ahead for forest management. Nagel said the practice applies knowledge that requires creativity to develop scientifically sound and practical solutions.

“We’ve approached building the certificate with an adaptive management framework in mind,” Nagel explained. “It helps professionals think about uncertain conditions and futures while building on foundational ecology and silvicultural principles.”

These topics will be taught within the local context of Colorado, but the certificate is designed to include diverse forest types from across the U.S. Greater demands are being placed upon forests to meet a more diverse society and economy. Learning how to design management plans that achieve a variety of desired conditions, such as maximizing wildlife habitat, sustaining timber harvesting or adapting to climate change, addresses common needs found nationwide.

foresters in a ponderosa pine forest after prescribed burn
In 2018, forestry professionals from northern Colorado gathered for a workshop in a ponderosa pine forest treated with a prescribed burn.

Collaborative design

The certificate was designed through a partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) after leaders from both CSU entities recognized a need and opportunity to offer continuing education to forestry specialists from the local to national level. Several CSFS professionals were engaged in the certificate’s conception and development, providing expertise and insight from a practicing forester’s perspective.

Wilfred Previant, interim associate director for the Science and Data Division at CSFS, said this new program will help those in the field identify which future outcomes a forest management plan needs to achieve.

“The discipline of silviculture is changing rapidly as management goals, objectives and monitoring criteria become more complex,” he added. “The need for continuing education in forest management and silviculture will only increase in the future due to climate change and the need to plan and implement treatments at an ecologically meaningful scale.”

Nagel said the certificate is intended to build a community of practice as students move through the program together, with the intent to serve the needs of a much wider population within the forestry field.

“Creating a flexible online platform was a way to build a robust learning experience that people can access and not have to leave their local place of work to do so,” she said.

Colorado State Forest Service employees piloted the courses last fall. The camaraderie of an online community and flexibility in terms of timing appealed to Scott Johnson, a forester based out of the Montrose Field Office.

CSFS employee stands in a forest
Scott Johnson, works out of the Colorado State Forest Service Montrose Field Office. (Photo courtesy of Scott Johnson)

He had the unique position of identifying priorities during the program’s development, while also completing the first semester course. He said expanding his more than 20 years of silvicultural experience while still remaining in his district allows him to apply new knowledge directly where the trees meet the ground. Silviculture is the foundation for everything he does in forests.

“We, as foresters, need to incorporate new ideas and new science to the silvicultural best practices we’ve established thus far,” Johnson said. “Practitioners like me are learning how to become leaders in silvicultural practices to guide our peers in implementing this new certificate.”