Jay Clark | Forester
“If you love it, you’ll do what it takes to hang in there and find a place for yourself. Master as many disciplines as possible to make this happen!”
Jay Clark didn’t start out his career intending to become a forester. He was 3 years into college, first studying engineering, then computer science. He recounts: “Approximately 1 ½ years from completing a degree in computer science, I realized I would be much happier with a job that had an outdoor emphasis. Michigan Technological University happened to have a first rate forestry program, which I happily transferred into.”
Now a forester with Hancock Forest Management, Jay is very satisfied with his decision to get outside. Hancock Forest Management is one of the largest private forest land managers in the United States and currently is managing over 4 million acres nationwide.
As part of Hancock Forest Management’s silviculture team, Jay helps to decide where and how to harvest and/or replant an area of forestland. He enjoys the variety of tasks and the outdoor emphasis, plus the challenge of the four seasons.
My work days are very busy,” Jay states. “I organize and maintain projected budget expenditures, but the majority of my work is in the woods. I oversee harvest sale preparation, which includes ribbon- or paint-marking harvest boundaries, stream buffers, property lines, etc. I also plan and execute site recovery activities like slashing, burning, chemical applications, tree planting, plantation survival and growth tracking. I also manage any contractors who may be working on these tasks.”
Like most foresters, Jay has had some good mentors. “I met a forester out here in Idaho that had gone to Michigan Tech 20 years before me and thought he comported himself very honorably,” he laughs.
Jay enjoys working in the woods, but acknowledges that the job can have some challenges.
Sometimes you have to try and figure out why certain practices work in some areas and not others,” he states. “You may also have to figure out alternative approaches when the tried-and-true doesn’t work. And, of course, we have to be able to do things within the budgets set for us.”
Although he chose to switch from computer science at college, Jay does still rely heavily on computer technology in order to do his job.
“Foresters use computer mapping heavily to track the different tasks we do,” describes Jay. “We also use different software to provide maps to contractors. We also have GPS units which we use for various tasks, compasses for locating corners and determining cutting boundaries, clinometers for slope determination, relascopes for taking sample plot data to determine standing volume of potential product to the mill, distancing lasers for helping to efficiently ribbon in stream buffers, Excel spreadsheets to maintain complex data sets, and lots and lots of email.”
There is a lot to learn in order to become a forester. “A 4-year forestry degree is almost essential,” Jay states. “You have to have a broad base of information and skills to absorb in math, especially statistics, geometry, polar coordinates, as well as in biology, botany, chemistry, and wildlife. Then, you would do well to study more specific fields related to forestry, such as: land surveying, dendrology (tree identities), mensuration (measuring trees), log scaling, forestry economics, fire behavior, forest road engineering, tree growth modeling, etc.”
“Many of the hobbies that I enjoy—running, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, fishing, camping, hunting—involve being outside,” Jay concludes. “If you are looking for a career path that won’t always have you sitting behind a desk, forestry may be right up your alley!”