Forest Science Major

Oak Seedling

What is Forest Science?

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The profession of forestry has often been described as a blend of “art and science.” Forest managers rely upon scientific principles and tools to inventory and manage forest resources – trees, wildlife, water and other resources. Forest lands vast or small must be mapped and inventoried, often using technology such as geographic information systems (GIS) and satellite imagery. Using such data bases, a forester must integrate many potential resource values and uses such as wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, endangered resources, and timber production into a management plan while at the same time maintaining biological diversity and environmental quality. A forester might also select trees to harvest to improve existing stands, monitor insect and disease conditions, and advise private landowners on tree planting and forest management practices.

Check out this article in the U.S. News to learn more about earning a degree in forestry and what it means to be a professional forester!

Our students are given numerous options for professional development through classes, interactions with advisors and professionals, internships, and the Forestry Club.  Additionally, the Forest Science major is accredited by the Society of American Foresters.

How to Declare

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To declare the Forest Science major students must meet with CALS Transitional Advising and Outreach Services, or Allee Hochmuth, Academic Advising Manager for Russell Labs. If you have questions about the field of Forest Science, please contact Dr. Adena Rissman, chair of the department’s Undergraduate Affairs Committee in Forest Science. For general information on admissions to the University of Wisconsin-Madison please visit the Undergraduate Admissions website.

Looking for more information and resources? Please visit the Russell Labs Hub Student Services page.

Major and Degree Requirements

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Additional information regarding general education requirements and a sample 4-year plan can he found in the UW-Madison Guide.

There may be overlap between University, CALS, and Wildlife Ecology major requirements. Students are strongly encouraged to work with their advisor to strategize and understand how requirements can be met.

Consult with an academic advisor, Course Guide, and Department Course Rotation Schedules for additional information on course sequencing. The Forest & Wildlife Ecology Course Planning Tip Sheet is another valuable resource designed to help students plan for future semesters.

The Forest Science 4-year Plan Example provides an overview of how degree requirements may be met.

Course Exception Requests: students who wish to substitute a course requirement with another course taken at UW-Madison, on study abroad, or another institution must receive permission for the course exception in advance of taking the course. Students should consult with their academic advisor for more information.

Independent Study Credits: Any student completing either F&W ECOL 299 or 699 credits are required to complete the Forest & Wildlife Ecology Independent Study Agreement form with their independent study instructor.  A copy of this form should be kept by both the student and the instructor.

Forest Science Learning Goals

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For a complete list of competencies required for the Forest Science major, please see the Learning Outcomes listed on the UW-Madison Guide page.

Forestry Field Camp at the Kemp Natural Resources Station

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Forest Resources Practicum (F&W ECOL 658) is an intensive 3-week field course conducted ever other summer from mid-May to early June.

Affectionately known as Forestry Camp, F&W ECOL 658 introduces students to the complexities of forest ecosystems.

Through a series of integrated exercises, students learn first hand about forest ecosystem structure, function, processes, and services. Along the way students develop the knowledge necessary to conduct a comprehensive forest resource assessment.

Subject areas include: basic field skills, plant identification, GPS & GIS, timber cruising, forest soils, wildlife identification and survey methods, forest ecology, and forest habitat classification.

Forestry Camp also provides students with opportunities to work closely with faculty and “real world” natural resource professionals in a beautiful north woods setting.

Undergraduate Advising

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All undergraduate students are assigned to a faculty and staff advisor after they declare the major. Staff advisors serve as primary academic advisors, and faculty advisors serve in a mentorship role, especially for students interested in research and advanced study.

Freshman, sophomores, transfer students, and any student who has recently declared the major are required to consult with their staff and/or faculty advisor at least once per semester. This consultation must occur prior to enrollment for the upcoming term. Students may have an enrollment hold placed on their record that can be lifted after consulting with an advisor. Most often, consulting happens through an advising appointment scheduled through Starfish, but can also be done through drop-ins or via email. Students who have built their 4-year plan and have it saved as their “Primary Plan” in Degree Planner are encouraged to meet with an advisor regularly to discuss electives and progress towards degree completion.

Although drop-ins can be accommodated by someone in the department, students are best served through individual advising appointments. See the Russell Labs Student Services web page for up-to-date information on drop-in advising services.


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All Forest Science students are required to complete either an internship or professional work experience for their degree.


  • are encouraged to talk to their advisor about internship possibilities and departmental internship policies.
  • must receive prior approval through the Internship Agreement Form by May 15.
  • have questions about their internship experience can talk to Professor Adena Rissman or another faculty member.

Undergraduate Research

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Many undergraduates work directly with faculty and staff researchers on a variety of projects. Typically, students can work as student hourlies or earn academic credit for their research experience.

Students who participate for credit can enroll in either F&W ECOL 299 or 699 and are required to complete the Forest & Wildlife Ecology Independent Study Agreement form with their independent study instructor:

  • A copy of this form should be kept by both the student and the instructor.
  • This agreement serves as documentation of expectations and requirements between student and instructor.
  • Documentation of this agreement is required prior to enrollment. 

Forestry Club

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The Forest Science undergraduates have a student organization called the Forestry Club.

For more information on the club and their activities, please check out their Facebook page and the bulletin board in the hallway by room 102 in Russell Labs.

Careers and Professional Development

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Students who graduate from our Forest Science program enter a wide variety of natural resource careers in several different sectors.  They can work as foresters, arborists, park rangers, conservation scientists, environmental educators, geospatial analysts, researchers, and more. They also pursue graduate training in forestry, ecology, natural resource policy, or environmental law. Graduates of the program work for many organizations including the U.S. Forest Service, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Society of American Foresters, the Aldo Leopold Foundation, environmental consultants, and private corporations. 

The charts below summarize positions by sector for the first job following BS graduation.

Our alumni reported an average time of 5.16 months from graduation to starting their position.

The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics updates information on a regular basis. Their website provides an overview of the types of jobs related to forestry as well as upcoming trends, and related careers. For information current as of 2023, please visit the Conservation Scientists and Foresters page.

Percent of Alumni by Sector

Breakdown of the Government Organization Sector

The information in the charts is based on input from the 68% of individuals who responded to a survey of alumni 3 years after graduation. The data presented is from the most recent surveys, conducted in 2014-2017. 

For More Information

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