The University of Maine at Fort Kent has renamed and revamped its forest technology program to better reflect what prospective students are looking for in post-secondary education, as well as for employers in the job market, looking for professionally-trained foresters.
And while the program has renamed itself — Applied Forest Management – to more accurately reflect terminology that reverberates with high school sophomores, juniors and seniors, the primary market for the University’s recruiters, the changes go much deeper.
The revamped program now includes a concentration in Wildland Firefighting. With its addition, UMFK will be the only college or university in the Northeast to offer a degree in the skill.
The Wildland Firefighting concentration was added to the existing program with the encouragement and assistance from the Maine Forest Service (MFS), and members of the forestry-products industry. Each plays a significant role in employing UMFK graduates.
“I approached the Maine Forest Service because I heard that they were having difficulty in filling positions,” says Dave Hobbins, UMFK professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “I asked, ‘What if we had a program in wildland firefighting?’ They jumped at the idea, and immediately expressed an interest in helping us develop the concentration’s curriculum,” Hobbins adds.
Graduates of the wildland firefighting concentration will be able to safely and proficiently operate basic firefighter equipment such as chainsaws and pumps, and will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the basic tenants of wildfire science; fire origin or cause, and, incident command and its operation.
According to Alan W. Hammond, state planning and training coordinator for the Maine Forest Service, “When Dave Hobbins spoke to me and Bill Williams, director of the Maine Forest Service’s Forest Protection division; we were very excited about it. We worked together on the curriculum to incorporate those skills and knowledge that we would want for any entry-level forest ranger to come to us with.”
Hammond believes it is an excellent curriculum that UMFK has adopted for the Applied Forest Management program in general, and in the Wildland Firefighting concentration in particular.
“If people came to us with all of the skills and knowledge they will receive in the Wildland Firefighting concentration at UMFK, they would be excellent candidates for forest ranger positions within the Maine Forest Service,” Hammond added.
In a classic win-win situation for students and for the MFS alike, UMFK now will provide students with the fire suppression skills previously provided to new hires by the MFS, as part of the Wildland Firefighting curriculum. Future graduates of the Applied Forest Management program now will have those skills under their belts, and on their resumes, when they begin their career search.
Another addition to the overall Applied Forestry program is a seminar in conflict resolution. This special addition was made in response to comments from alumni, some of whom felt they needed additional training to deal with today’s diverse workforce.
It is very common for young, forest management graduates supervising older workers, or those from different cultural backgrounds. The conflict resolution seminar will give the young graduates the skills needed to deal with conflict, and to defuse it, whenever possible.
The Applied Forest Management program at UMFK is conservation-based curriculum, promoting the wise and sustainable use of natural resources through an understanding of science. That theme is emphasized throughout the Applied Forest Management curriculum.
The program nurtures its students to become responsible individuals and skilled forestry professionals, capable of performing all technical field tasks. It also promotes students to understand the tenets of good forestry and personnel management; good communication and problem solving skills; an awareness of the ethical dimensions of their actions; and, who are prepared to further their education at the University, and/or as life-long learners.
The Applied Forest Management program is designed to prepare students for careers in forestry. Students study basic forestry, such as tree identification, tree measurement, forest ecology and silviculture. They then choose a concentration in either forest management or wildland firefighting.
UMFK’s faculty works closely with forestry professionals in industry, forest management, and the Maine Forest Service, to develop curriculum that satisfies the needs of employers.
UMFK graduates provide skills that are the foundation of good forestry and conservation in Maine’s forest. Some of those skills include boundary surveying; forest inventory and mapping; and the supervision of harvesting, thinning, and planting crews; as well as fire suppression, emergency management and other skills.
Forestry graduates from UMFK receive a broad forestry education, and graduate with many marketable skills. Graduates find work as forest technicians, foresters, and forest rangers. Many are working in forest operations, and several are Geographical Information System (GIS) specialists.
Potential employers include consulting foresters; land management companies; forest industry; and the forestry, conservation, and agriculture departments of the state and federal governments.
Presently, the job-to-student ratio is very high. A number of UMFK students receive permanent job offers prior to graduation. Summer internships also are plentiful.
According to Professor Hobbins, the addition of the Wildland Firefighting concentration can only expand a graduate’s marketability.
“By working with the Maine Forest Service in establishing our curriculum, we are following federally-prescribed standards. That allows our graduates to find work across the country with many federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service, in addition to here at home with the Maine Forest Service,” Hobbins says.