Walking in the forest Credit: Photo by Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash

By Mary Ann Kroehn Buenzow

After you read about Mary Ann, try the Tools of the Trade Quiz or go along with Terri, a forester for the Plum Creek Timber Company  |LS|VIDEO Length 4:41|RS| as she shows you what a forester does.

Planting the seeds…

Even though I grew up as a “city kid” in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I always loved the outdoors. I would play outside all summer, climbing trees, picking dandelions, catching worms and checking out ant nests. I loved to make tents out of lawn furniture and blankets to pretend I was camping. One breezy spring day, I noticed thousands of tan-colored whirligigs spinning down from my neighbor’s tree. I picked them up by the handfuls and threw them into the air to watch them twist and twirl. The neighbor lady saw me and came out from her house. “Do you know what those are?” she asked. I had no idea. “Those are the seeds from this silver maple tree,” she pointed.

Mary Ann Buenzow and her trusty dog Oakley
Mary Ann Buenzow and her trusty dog Oakley

“Seeds?” I asked. “You mean like the kind we plant in the garden?”

“Yes, that’s right. Let me know when you want to help me sweep them all up!" she laughed.

She went back inside. I picked up another handful, but this time I examined them closely. There was a hard, oval shaped pod with a delicate wing attached to one end. I glanced to be sure the neighbor wasn’t looking and ran back to my yard with the stash of seeds. I kneeled down in front of my mother’s flower bed, and carefully poked a row of holes a few inches apart into the soil with my index finger. I pushed a seed, wing up, into each hole, and filled them back with soil.

I checked the garden every day for several weeks, but nothing happened. I had almost forgotten about my experiment when I heard my mom grumbling about all of the weeds that had sprouted where she was trying to plant flowers. I ran to find a neat row of identical seedlings, whose leaves looked suspiciously like those on the neighbor’s tree. And that was when the seeds for my career in forestry were planted!

So you think you'd like to be a forester…

Here are a few tips.

First of all, you need to love trees! Trees are the most fascinating and miraculous plants on our earth! There’s so much to know that I’m still learning new and wonderful things about trees every day. Besides knowing about trees, you need to learn about all of the other parts of the forest ecosystem. We wouldn’t have trees without soil (DON’T call it dirt!), so I studied soil science. And we wouldn’t have soil without rocks and wind and rain and ice, so I also studied geology and meteorology. And we wouldn’t have pollination if it weren’t for birds and insects, so I learned about those, too. And I learned about the animals of the forest so I could help protect and improve their home. I also needed to study math, so that I could measure the trees. I need to know how big around and how tall and how old and how crowded the trees are in a forest. That information helps me to make management decisions, like is it time to cut some trees? (It IS okay to do that sometimes!) Do we need to prune the trees so they grow straight and tall? Do we need to plant more trees? Do we need to take action against an insect or disease that threatens the trees? These are all decisions a forester helps to make.

Most professional foresters have at least a bachelor’s degree in forestry. Many also have a Master’s Degree. So if you want to be a forester, you should plan to go to college. While you’re in high school, take lots of science, math and English classes. Summer jobs or volunteer work in natural resource management give you valuable real-life experiences!

Some foresters work for the government including Federal, State, County or City. Other foresters work for companies like lumber companies or paper companies. Some foresters are private consultants, who work for themselves or a consulting company. Some foresters specialize in urban forestry. An “arborist” is trained to care for individual trees, usually in an urban setting.


  • I can wear bluejeans and boots to work almost every day!
  • I get to spend time outdoors all year round!
  • I get to work with landowners who want to learn about and care for their forests!
  • I get to talk to children about how wonderful trees and forests are!
  • I show people how to properly plant and care for tree seedlings.
  • I help to decide when the time is right to cut trees down.


  • When I meet people who think forests are a waste of land.
  • When I see a forest that is not cared for.
  • When I see forest products being wasted.
  • When I see a forest destroyed by fire, insects, disease or human development.

For more information about becoming a forester or to learn more about trees and forests, you can surf the Web site for the organization of professional foresters, the Society of American Foresters, www.safnet.org (Leaves EEK!)

Did you give the Tools of the Trade Quiz a try?

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