Rooted in Passion: Shasta College Program Taps New Generation of Forestry Workers

Shasta College Forestry and Natural Resources Program


When you think of clocking into work in the morning, you probably aren’t imagining lacing up a pair of thick work boots, zipping up a lightweight waterproof jacket, and dousing yourself in mosquito repellent. For Kyra Lierly, this is the ideal nine-to-five. 

“I would say my biggest education has been out in the woods,” says the proud Shasta College Forestry and Natural Resources student. “Honestly, I learn the most when I’m out there.” 

With a dynamic educational background in fire, and a plethora of work experience through her CRAFT (California Registered Apprenticeship Forest Training) Apprenticeship at Creekside Logging in Redding, Lierly is positioning herself to thrive in an evergreen career. She chose Shasta College’s associate degree program to bolster her already impressive résumé and set herself apart. The ultimate goal? To put her unique skillset to work for Sierra Pacific or Cal Fire. 

“In doing this program, I felt like it gave me a little bit of an edge,” says Lierly. “I’ll be more competitive on paper compared to other people entering forestry.” 

Whether in the classroom or out among the trees, Lierly is putting down roots in an essential California industry. Not only is she gaining experience as a forester through her apprenticeship, she’s growing as a student thanks to the guidance of her industry-expert instructors.

“I think this program expedited my career goals,” says the future forester. “I mean, I’m literally getting it all.”

Shasta College offers associate degree pathways in Forest Science and Technology and Natural Resources, as well as a certificate in Natural Resources. The curriculum gives nature-loving students a diverse background in topics like wildlife management, environmental policy and regulations, ecology, and more. 

“Those two associates [degrees] in science and Forestry and Natural Resources … transfer nicely to Cal Poly Humboldt,” explains Janis Logan, Forestry Program Coordinator for Outreach and Recruitment at Shasta College. “They are being set up to transfer to a four year, if that’s what they choose to do.” 

It’s a growth industry, and with 33 million acres of forest covering a third of California’s total area, career pathways are always plentiful. Beyond firefighters and foresters, Shasta College grads can land outdoor-oriented positions like California park rangers (average annual salary: $75,570) or environmental planners ($95,100).  

Shasta’s unique program combines valuable hands-on experience with first-hand knowledge from professionals in the field. Thanks to help from Strong Workforce Program funding, the department recently welcomed Karine Hunt, a full-time Forestry and Natural Resources instructor who is a registered professional forester (RPF). 

“Pretty nice to have as one of our faculty members,” comments Logan. “It’s not easy to become a registered professional forester.”

Registered professional foresters are required to pass the RPF exam to obtain a forestry license in California. They also must complete three to seven years of field experience while under the supervision of another RPF. 

“The licensing process to become an RPF is rigorous, and I think oftentimes students are not made aware of exactly how that process works,” explains Hunt. “During my field experience, I was lucky to work under some of the best RPFs and the information learned during that time has been invaluable.

“Now I can pass on that information to the students I teach.” 

Among Hunt’s goals is to highlight the impact of her students’ future profession on the environment. It’s an essential aspect of the industry, according to Shasta’s resident RPF, with long-term implications for the health and happiness of Californians.

“There is a major responsibility that comes with forestry,” begins Hunt. “As foresters, we have an ethical and moral obligation to practice forestry in a manner that best benefits our environment while also balancing the needs of our communities for wood products, clean air, clean water, and recreational opportunities.” 

Because the stakes are so high, she suggests, it’s especially important for students to comprehend the full scope of their career calling:

“I find that when students understand the importance – that the work they will be doing fulfills a purpose – they are better able to commit to the work that needs to be done and think critically about the choices they will be making.” 

Shasta College’s newly hired RPF brings along an expertise that’s hard to match, especially as the demand for a new generation of forestry professionals continues to grow. A recent California Nature Conservancy Market Lab report found that the state’s forestry workforce has declined by approximately 38 percent over the last two decades. 

But thanks to affordable, accessible programs like Shasta College’s, a new generation of forestry workers is bending toward the light. Dedicated students like Lierly, who understand the vitality of forestry in the state, are committed to shining a light on these essential forestry career pathways. 

“I just want to put a major emphasis on this program, because if anyone at all is interested in forestry, I think this is the best route to take to get an education and get your work experience at the same time,” pitches the passionate student. 

“These are my years to make a mark and to obtain as much information as I can. So, making connections and jumping on opportunities are so important at this stage of my career.”

For Hunt, working with students like Lierly provides a fresh perspective, not to mention confidence in the future of the industry. Thanks to the high quality of graduates entering the profession, Hunt is convinced that institutions like Shasta College are making an impact.

“There have been numerous people who have gone above and beyond to help me in pursuing my dreams and now I hope to do the same in my position teaching at Shasta College,” concludes the RPF. “I am thoroughly enjoying all the wonderful, intelligent students that I have been working with. 

“It gives me so much hope for the future of forestry.” 


April 2024