Terry Cundy (Forest Hydrologist)


Terry Cundy knows more than most how essential water is to life. As a forest hydrologist he appreciates the important role forests play in protecting our watersheds that people plants and animals need to survive. 

Despite growing up a city kid in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Terry loved the outdoors. He  especially enjoyed hunting and fishing and most of all, the water. A 9th grade aptitude test indicated that his talent for number crunching and analysis, along with his interest in the outdoors, made him a good candidate for a water resources career. 

He entered the University of Minnesota’s College of Forestry where his interest in water became a passion while working out in the field on a project for a professor of Forest Hydrology. He learned about water quality, ground water storage, streams and rivers, water movements, soil moisture, fish habitat and snow measurement. Inspired, he continued with graduate work in the field, earning his Ph.D. from Utah State University in Watershed Science.

“The work is extremely diverse and we do lots of measuring which is why I encourage anyone
interested in the field to take lots of math and science classes,” advises Terry. “We might quantify
the amount and quality of water in the ground, or gauge the quantity flowing in streams or assess how cutting trees or building roads can change the patterns of water in streams.”

In addition to his formal education Terry learned through on-the-job-training or ‘pounding the ground.’ “These days I spend much more time analyzing data and research from my office, so I would say business classes are important too, depending on your goals,” he adds.

In recent years, technology has totally changed the job. “With today’s high tech tools, we can determine the specific direction and patterns of individual fish movement which helps us dramatically improve fish passage. We’re always analyzing and designing improvements to stream systems and fish habitat areas,” stresses Cundy. “For instance, placing large woody debris in streams and being able to more accurately monitor levels of shade and temperature and sediment have significantly improved Idaho’s watersheds.”

Career opportunities are varied. Forest hydrologists may work with private companies, consulting firms, research groups, universities or governmental agencies. Terry taught at the University of Washington’s College of Forest Resources for eleven years and now works for Potlatch Corporation as the Manager of Silviculture, Wildlife and Environment. 

“Idaho has excellent forest practice rules and they’re very well enforced,” explains Terry. “I have a lot of interaction with the state’s forest practices people and they do a first-rate job of monitoring
harvesting jobs.” One of the favorite parts of his work is the interaction between public policy and science. “It’s a complex process and there’s always compromise. Forests protect watersheds, and they need to be carefully managed and that includes harvesting. It’s a good feeling knowing that I’m helping determine how to best manage our forests to provide safe and adequate water for multiple needs.”

Did you know?
Most of Idaho’s municipal water systems use water that originates from forestlands, including
those managed for wood production. The quality of this source water is among the best in the nation.

Want to know more?

º US Geological Survey
º Bureau of Labor Statistics
º USDA Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Careers
º Potlatch Corporation
º Idaho Department of Environmental Quality