SAF Task Force Report on Forester Registration and Licensing 2001


The Licensing/Registration Task Force was chartered in June, 2000 to evaluate the role SAF should play in supporting forester licensing and registration initiatives. Sixteen states currently have some form of voluntary or mandatory registration or licensing. Several other states are in various stages of examining some form of credentialing, ranging from studying the concept to having legislation under consideration.

There were several issues the Task Force explored. One was whether there is any evidence linking forester registration or licensing to better forest practices. Research has demonstrated a link between using a professional forester and better outcomes, but empirical evidence related to registered or licensed foresters is not available.

A second issue was how SAF can assist states that want to pursue registration and licensing legislation. In many places there is a general lack of understanding among the public and politicians about the importance of forestry and the need for consumer protection in the realm of forest management. In addition, foresters who want to advocate for such legislation may need assistance in maneuvering through the political process.

Another issue is how SAF’s Certified Forester® (CF) program fits with state level registration or licensing. The CF program has enjoyed modest success, and changes are being planned to strengthen the program and make it more appealing to a broader array of foresters. The task force considered how best to integrate the CF program with state level registration and licensing.

Finally, for states that want to pursue legislation, the task force explored whether there are some guidelines that can be used to develop appropriate registration or licensing standards. In states that have registration or licensing, there are some fairly common categories of requirements (e.g., education, experience, continuing education) that appear. However, the specific requirements within a category (e.g., how much education or how many years of experience) vary considerably among states.

The remainder of this report explores these ideas, and concludes with some recommendations to Council about the role SAF should play in supporting forester licensing and registration.



Much confusion and imprecision surrounds the understanding of various types of credentialing approaches that are used by both public and private entities. An important preface to recommendations made by the task force is to establish the definitions and characteristics of certification, registration and licensing. For the purpose of this report, the following definitions are used.


Certification is voluntary in nature and is the recognition or identification of individuals by a non-governmental organization. Certification, as in the Certified Forester credential, signifies that an individual is qualified or competent in some specialty and has the knowledge and skills necessary to perform at some minimum level. Certification requires the adherence to standards of professional practice, appropriate academic preparation, professional experience, and continuing education/professional development. Certification, as in Certified Forester, may only be used by individuals who meet the certification requirements. Lack of certification does not necessarily restrict one from engaging in a given type of work, but it does restrict the use of the "Certified" title to those who have a certificate based on a certain set of criteria.


Registration is a credentialing program where individuals are allowed by state government to list their names on official rosters, and to use the term "Registered" if they desire to participate in a particular practice or vocation. Registration may have lax or stringent requirements, depending on the state, the overseeing entity, the vocation, or other factors. In the strictest definition, registration is a voluntary credentialing program.


The most restricting form of governmental enforced standards is licensing. It is the practice of states granting the privilege of performing certain activities to individuals who have successfully met specified requirements of training, education, apprentice or internship, formal examination or any combination thereof. It is a compulsory procedure through which one demonstrates competency to carry out the work for which he/she is licensed. A state that regulates the practice of a profession through licensing prohibits individuals from practicing without a license. Licensing is usually granted and enforced by a state licensing board that can decline to renew or revoke the license of an individual who has failed to comply with the standards required by the license.

Current Status

SAF currently supports forester registration, licensing, and certification. Besides offering the Certified Forester® program, SAF has an official position statement supporting the establishment of state programs to credential foresters. The position statement is scheduled to expire at the end of 2001.

Sixteen states currently have some form of forester credentialing. Seven states (Alabama, California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire) have licensing statutes, five (Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina) have mandatory registration statutes, and four (Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia) have voluntary registration statutes. Florida had a registration law put in place for consumer protection that was allowed to sunset because there were not enough consumer complaints to justify retaining it.

A summary of state forester licensing and registration statutes is provided below. It should be noted that state regulations often impose additional requirements to the actual statutes. Readers who want detailed information about a particular state program are encouraged to consult both the statute and the applicable state regulations.

Certified Forester® Program

Separate from registration and licensing programs at the state level, SAF operates the Certified Forester® Program (CF), which is a voluntary program developed to recognize excellence in professional forestry and assure the public of an individual's commitment to provide quality resource stewardship. Currently, one becomes a CF based on an accredited degree or equivalent, five years of professional experience, and a commitment to remaining current in the profession.

Enrollment in SAF’s CF program has been modest, and changes in the program are planned to strengthen it and broaden its appeal to professional foresters. SAF is in the initial stages of developing a written examination to test professional core copetence in forestry, and the exam will become a mandatory part of the CF program. Certification in specialized disciplines (e.g., urban forestry, forest recreation, etc.) is also likely to be included in the CF program.

Benefits of credentialing

Registration and licensing laws are intended to assure the public that only competent people are providing a service or practicing a profession. They are generally meant to protect individuals from harm (physical, mental, or financial) or to protect the public good (e.g., public health). In the case of forestry, using competent individuals (professionals) can cause a substantial improvement in the outcome of management activities such as reforestation (Royer 1985), harvest quality (Cubbage et al 1987), post-harvest stand structure (Cubbage et al 1985), and economic value (Cubbage et al 1985, Jackson 1985). In the Cubbage study, landowners assisted by professional foresters received as much as 87 percent more for their timber than those not assisted. In a Minnesota study, landowners who used a service forester received 40 percent more for their stumpage than landowners who did not (Henly et al 1988).

When benefits such as these occur, they accrue at several levels. The first to benefit is the specific landowner (public or private) on whose property the forest management activity is conducted. The landowner's investment (financial and perhaps emotional) is protected, and in fact may be enhanced.

A second beneficiary is society at large, which benefits in a variety of ways from well-managed forests. These benefits accrue from the combination of goods and services provided to all citizens (e.g., clean air and water, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, pleasing aesthetics, recreational opportunities, fiber, soil protection, etc.) from both public and private lands.

The forest itself, including all the physical and biological components that constitute a forest ecosystem, can also be a beneficiary of decisions made by competent individuals. In well managed forests, plant and animal species are retained, soils and riparian areas are protected, and a functioning ecosystem remains intact over the long term.

Finally, foresters themselves benefit from credentialing programs. On one hand, such programs often require some level of continuing education, helping foresters to remain current with newly developing science. Credentialing programs also prevent individuals with inadequate training or skills from presenting themselves to prospective clients as possessing skills that only a qualified forester can offer. All foresters, and the forestry profession, suffer when an individual client or the public is adversely affected by the actions of an individual who is not qualified to practice forestry.

It is important to note that the beneficial outcomes described in the literature came as the result of using professional foresters, which can be an important goal for registration and licensing laws. In most states with registration or licensing laws, landowners are not required to use the services of a registered or licensed forester, or for that matter, even a professional forester. However, to the extent such laws raise the awareness level of landowners so they are more likely to use a professional forester, and to the extent they prevent individuals who are not professional foresters from practicing forestry, they help provide the benefits noted earlier.

Barriers to credentialing

There are several factors working against passage of registration and licensing laws. One factor is divided support for such laws among the profession itself. While some individuals are strong advocates, others view registration or licensing as an additional cost and bureaucracy with little or no added benefit. They view their accredited professional degree and accumulated experience as sufficient evidence that they can manage forests well. When viewed in the context of state registration and licensing statutes that often rely heavily on education and experience for acceptance, this is not an unreasonable opinion. If periodically passing a test is added as a criterion (presumably to ensure the individual has a grasp of current forest management practices) this point of view is weakened.

As part of this factor, there is often limited incentive for large organizations and agencies that hire many foresters (e.g., state and federal agencies, industry) to advocate for registration or licensing. They are able to manage their own staffs and thus can set hiring standards, provide continuing education, assign individuals, and take other steps to ensure they have qualified individuals making decisions for the forests they manage. In some states where credentialing laws exist, industry and the state forestry agency were often mentioned as key proponents. One positive note is that the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) requires at least one professional forester (as defined by SAF) or licensed forester to be part of any third-party verification team for lands certified under its Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

A second factor working against registration and licensing laws is that there are few if any interest groups that are consistently (across states) identifiable proponents and supporters of such laws. There are also some groups that outright oppose such laws (loggers are often mentioned). Considerable attention is currently being paid to certifying forest management (e.g., SFI, FSC, ISO 14000), but little of that attention is being directed toward foresters themselves. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) offers certification for individuals, allowing the lands they manage to be certified under the FSC system. That, though, is different than state level forester registration or licensing.

A third factor is the apparent reluctance of state legislatures to enact registration or licensing legislation when there is no perceived public protection issue, or when a profession is perceived to be excluding "legitimate" practitioners. Also, some legislatures simply don't want to add another occupation to the long list of those already regulated.

Finally, as with many issues of this nature, it is very possible for a generally positive idea to have negative or unintended consequences. For individual foresters, there are direct costs (e.g., testing and/or license fees), and indirect costs (preparing for tests, paper work, etc.). It is also possible for foresters to lose (or never have) control of the licensing or registration administering body (e.g., licensing board). There may also be frivolous or obstructionist complaints that credentialed foresters must deal with.

While all these barriers may seem reasonable, it can be strongly argued they represent a somewhat narrow point of view. If well managed forests provide benefits beyond the individual landowner, it would seem that a societal goal should be that all forests are well managed, regardless of ownership or the specific objective of the owner. If that is true, it then follows that all landowners, including individual private forest land owners who own approximately 50 percent of the forest land in the United States, should be encouraged to, and given the opportunity to, use the services of a professional forester. One way to do that is to have licensing laws that require certain levels of expertise to practice forestry, and restrict the practice of forestry to those who are licensed.

Pursuing legislation

If a state is pursuing registration or licensing, both "political" and "legal" issues must be addressed. From a political standpoint, any group promoting passage of a registration or licensing statute must understand the politics of their state. Specific issues include determining which interest groups support the effort and which oppose it, understanding the legislative process, identifying key Politicians (for and against), knowing the general political climate regarding regulation, and others. These issues vary dramatically from state to state, making a full discussion of them beyond the scope of the report. Ellefson’s (1992) text on forest policy provides a thorough examination of the policy making process, and all the actors and factors involved. It is important to note that political conditions change with time, making passage of registration or licensing laws more likely at some times than at others.

On the legal side, states interested In enacting a forester licensing or registration statute must make decisions about the type of program to enact, the administration of the program, and the licensing/registration requirements and terms. The following section describes some of the options used by states with licensing/registration statutes. It is designed to inform those interested in enacting a statute about some of the important decisions they need to make.

Model legislation

Registration or licensing is done at the state level, and issues relating to registration or licensing vary from state to state. Therefore, it is difficult or impossible to select From among all the options the "ideal" model legislation. However, existing legislation provides ample information about the elements that should be addressed in statute, and the range of alternatives for each element.

Before discussing specific provisions, it should be pointed out that the elements described relate to state licensing/registration statutes, not licensing/registration regulations. Statutes are laws enacted by legislatures and signed by the governor. Regulations are laws made by administrative agencies that implement or interpret statutes. Agencies enacting regulations must provide the public with notice of the regulation and often the opportunity to comment on proposed regulations. Amendments to statutes or regulations require states to follow the same procedures used to enact the original statute or regulation. While this means that it is easier to amend a regulation, it does not mean that all licensing/registration provisions need to be specified in a statute. In some situations the flexibility of Regulations is desirable, in other situations the relative rigidity of a statute is desirable.

Foresters interested in fully understanding a state’s licensing/registration program should consult both the state’s statute and regulations. Specifics on state statutes, including citations, can be found in Appendix A. We found three state statutes, Maryland, Georgia, and South Carolina, particularly easy to read, yet comprehensive. Additional information about what is contained in various state statues is described below.

Type of Statute

The first choice a state must make is whether to adopt a forester licensing or forester registration statute. As noted earlier, seven states have opted for licensing, five for mandatory registration, and four for voluntary registration. The task force strongly recommends that the definitions provided in this report be used, and that statutes provide either for voluntary registration or licensing (not mandatory registration).

Maryland provides an example of a licensing statute, stating simply an individual shall be licensed by the Board before the individual may practice forestry in the State.

Mississippi has mandatory registration, its statute saying "No person in either public or private capacity shall practice or offer to practice forestry, unless he shall first have submitted evidence that he is qualified so to practice and shall be registered by the board …". As mentioned earlier, mandatory registration is basically the equivalent of licensing. Voluntary registration, on the other hand is optional, and not required to practice forestry. Michigan's law states "A person shall not use the title ‘registered forester’ unless he or she is registered …"

The concern about using accepted definitions is illustrated by the Oklahoma statute, which reads "No person shall use in connection with his name or otherwise assume, use, advertise any title or description that he is a registered forester, unless he shall be licensed …"

Practices Covered

Few state statutes define "forestry" or what practices it includes. The task force recommends that this should be done either in statute or in regulations, because it determines which practices those who are not registered or licensed may not do. For example, one practice that could be included is final approval on forest management plans. Other practices that states feel should remain in the realm of professional foresters should also be included in statute or regulation.

Licensing or Registration Administrator

All forester statutes designate a board or committee to administer the statute. The statute can designate the composition of the board. Some states have created boards that require most board members to be foresters (AL, AR, CA, GA, MD, ME, MS, NC, NH, OK, SC, and WV). Connecticut and Massachusetts have boards on which foresters are a minority. Some state statutes also define how some or all board appointments are made (AL, CT, MA, and MS).

Licensing or Registration Requirements

State statutes define the qualifications required to be licensed or registered. These often include passing "an examination", and sometimes specify education and/or experience licensing/registration criteria.

Examinations: State statutes often require potential licensees or registries to pass a written and/or oral examination (AL, AR, CA, CT, GA, ME, MS, NC, NH, NJ, and SC). Maine and South Carolina have "grandfather clauses" that waive examination requirements if a forester meets certain requirements on the effective date of the statute or by some designated time.

Education Only Requirements: Some states require potential licensees to have obtained their degrees from SAF accredited institutions (AL) or a board approved and SAF equivalent institution (MS).

Experience Only Requirements: Arkansas and New Jersey require potential licensees and registries to have practiced forestry for a specified period of time. These states waive experience requirements for potential licensees/registries that possess particular forestry degrees and give experience credit to potential licensees or registries with specified education.

Education and Experience Requirements: Some states require potential licensees/registries to have a forestry degree and experience (CA, GA, ME, MD, MI, NC, NH, SC, OK, and WV). Some of these states give experience credit to potential licensees/registries that have specified degrees (CA, GA, ME, NC, NH, SC and WV). Maryland requires potential licensees/registries to have an SAF-accredited degree.

License or Registration Terms

Length of License: Most states specify the term of the licensee in their statute. Usually these are for one year (AL, AR, MA, ME, NC, SC, OK, and WV) or two years (CA, GA, MD, MS, and NH), although Connecticut licenses its foresters for five years.

Continuing Education Requirements: Some states allow the licensing/registration administrator to define continuing education requirements (AL, CT, and GA). Others specify continuing education requirements in the statute (AR, MD, NC, and NH).

Reciprocity: Most states specify that they provide reciprocity to foresters licensed/registered in other states, as long as the forester's original licensing/registration requirements were equivalent to the new state (AL, AR, CT, GA, ME, MD, MI, MS, NC, NH NJ, SC, OK, and WV).

Other Provisions

As noted earlier, individual states include specific provisions in their statutes that address local issues. California allows licensees to be certified as a specialist in one or more fields of forestry. South Carolina requires registered foresters to set up a "forester’s escrow account" for clients’ funds. Georgia denies or suspends foresters’ registrations if they fail to comply with orders for child support or fail to repay student loans.

Recommendations to Council


SAF has the opportunity to be influential in state level legislation, both by setting a positive tone for the discussion about registration and licensing, and by supporting efforts to enact appropriate legislation. The Task Force believes that, if done properly, state level registration or licensing provides benefit to land owners, the general public, the nation’s forests, and to professional foresters. As such, SAF should be a strong supporter of efforts to enact registration and licensing legislation, providing advice on both process and content.

As a first step, Council should revise the existing position statement to more strongly support state level legislation, based on the benefits outlined in this report. The report’s call for using appropriate credential language (definitions) should be part of the position statement.

SAF should work with organizations that represent major employer groups (e.g., National Association of State Foresters, The Association of Consulting Foresters, American Forest & Paper Association, federal agencies) to help bring thoughtful discussions about registration and licensing to individual states. At a minimum, these organizations (and the organizations and agencies they represent) should not act as opponents to state level registration or licensing.

A common request among individuals involved with registration or licensing efforts at the state level is that SAF serve as a clearinghouse for information. The task force recommends that a "How to" section be set up on SAF's website that would provide information about current state legislation, contacts, and process. Suggested topic headings include:

Defining Forester Credentials

Working with Legislatures

  • Helpful hints in bullet form

Creating a Forester Licensing Law

  • Helpful hints

  • Who should be licensed

  • Including forestry specialists (e.g., urban forestry)

  • Requirements

  • Terms

  • Creating a Forestry Board

Landowner Benefits

Public Benefits

Forester Benefits

Employer Benefits

Current Legislation in Place

Certified Forester program

Beyond efforts it can make in working with individual states, SAF can provide much stronger leadership in the forester credentialing arena through its Certified Forester program. The task force concurs with ideas being considered for the CF program, including addition of a test and inclusion of specialty disciplines. The task force also encourages a strong tie between the CF program and accreditation, supporting recommendations made by the Task Force on Forestry Education Accreditation.

In states that have no registration or licensing law, the requirements to become a Certified Forester should be considered as an excellent option to follow. The new CF requirements are being constructed to insure both core competence and when appropriate, disciplinary expertise. Some states have gone so far as to automatically license individuals who are Certified Foresters. SAF should assist states that want to blend registration/licensing with the CF program so the CF program is used appropriately. Care must be taken by SAF to retain the CF program as an independent credential, defined and administered by the profession, not by politicians.

Finally, the task force encourages Council to consider how the CF program can be incorporated in a forest management certification program. There are several certifying organizations that use professional foresters as part of their certification process. SAF should enter into discussions with these groups to determine if the Certified Forester program can bring value to their processes. For example, could an SAF Certified Forester automatically qualify to be certified in other programs? The task force is uncertain of all the implications of this recommendation, but believes it is an important idea to explore. If SAF wants the CF program to represent the highest standard possible in the forestry profession, it is a standard that must be accepted unequivocally.

Literature Cited

Cubbage, F.W., T.M. Skinner, and C.D. Risbrudt. 1985. An economic evaluation of the Georgia Rural Forestry Assistance program. Res. Bull. 322, Jan. 1985. Ag. Ex. Sta., Univ. of Georgia, Athens. 59 p.

Cubbage, F.W., C.D. Risbrudt, and T.M. Skinner. 1987. Evaluating public forestry assistance programs. A case study in Georgia. Evaluation Review 11(1):33-49.

Ellefson, P.V. 1992. Forest Resources Policy; Process, Participants, and Programs. New York: McGraw Hill.

Henly, R.K., P.V. Ellefson, and M.J. Baughman. 1988. Minnesota's private forestry assistance program: An economic evaluation. Misc. Publication 58-1988. St. Paul: University of Minnesota, Agricultural Experiment Station.

Jackson, D.H. 1985. An investigation of some physical effects of private forestry assistance in Montana. Report to State and Private Forestry. Washington, DC: USDA Forest Service.

Royer, J.P. 1985. Influence of professional foresters on pine regeneration in the South. Southern Journal of Applied Forestry 9(1):48-52