University Series Issue #7

The University of Kentucky: Department of Forestry and Natural Resources


The Department of Forestry and Natural Resources in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the University of Kentucky (UK) fulfills the university’s land-grant mission through its three focus areas: Instruction, Research, and Extension/Outreach. Together, these three areas provide solutions to address critical forestry and natural resources issues germane to Kentucky, the region, and the nation, with implications for addressing pressing global issues. We offer an undergraduate forestry degree and M.S. and Ph.D. graduate degrees in forest and natural resource sciences as well as leadership for UK’s Natural Resources and Environmental Science undergraduate degree program. Our instructors are also engaged in research and extension, geared at identifying challenges and providing a mix of traditional and cutting-edge solutions to improve conservation and wise use of forests and aligned resources to improve the quality of life in the commonwealth and across the globe.   

Teaching and Professional Development

UK’s undergraduate forestry degree program is the only Society of American Foresters accredited forestry degree program in Kentucky. We aim to produce a society-ready workforce with the capacity to understand, manage, and wisely use forest and aligned resources. This objective is accomplished through comprehensive formal training and providing students with a wide range of professional development opportunities via internships, summer employment, and extracurricular activities during the school year. Our curriculum is experientially based, including field labs in several courses. During the spring of their junior year, students have a field practicum semester where they take forestry courses devoted to building field skills in measurements, silviculture, forest operations, hydrology, and wildlife management. This field semester allows us to integrate a number of forestry, wildlife, and natural resource professionals, including state and federal agency personnel, forest industry members (including logging), and private consultants, into our curriculum. We use UK’s 15,000-acre Robinson Forest and its associated Wood Utilization Center in addition to providing trips throughout Kentucky and the U.S. South to provide exposure to a range of forest types and site-specific management challenges. This experiential environment focuses on field evaluation and analysis of forests, hydrology and water quality management, and wildlife populations. It builds their prowess in silviculture prescription development and forest operation implementation. It also allows students to increase their knowledge of forest product utilization through the entirety of the supply chain, from the stump to a range of primary and secondary forest products. The combination of the Robinson Forest and the Wood Utilization Center allows students to measure and value trees, fell and skid them, buck and estimate log value, cut the logs into lumber, grade, and estimate lumber value, and manufacture a finished wood product.

Throughout this coordinated educational program, students assess wood use efficiency and value additions throughout the entire supply chain. Trips to logging operations, mills, and secondary industries allow them to see the supply chain in action, strengthening their understanding of wood utilization. Students successfully completing the field semester earn their designation as a Kentucky Master Logger and are provided with the skill set necessary to succeed in a wide range of internships and jobs the following summer before graduation. We also work hard to support our student’s professional development through extracurricular activities. Examples include the Fire Cats, where students trained in wildlife suppression work as emergency wildland firefighters with the Kentucky Division of Forestry to aid in wildfire suppression during the fall and spring fire seasons. Our students attend regional and national Society of American Foresters’ meetings and local Kentucky Forest Industry Association functions, including working at the Wood Expo, Kentucky’s premier outdoor timber harvesting and utilization show.


Our department’s research efforts, directed by Research and Extension faculty, are expansive. We cover a breadth of focus areas, including silviculture and stand dynamics, climate change and adaptive forest management, forest ecology and ecophysiology, forest health, landscape ecology, economics, hydrology, and wildlife and conservation biology. While the majority of our research enterprise focuses on temperate broadleaf forests and aligned resources of the eastern U.S., we also have international projects in landscape ecology, ecophysiology, conservation biology, and climate adaptation. All of our projects focus on developing solutions to critical issues associated with forest and wildlife resources. Collectively, our research and our award-winning Extension team allows us to efficiently and effectively put our science to use to address critical issues. One example is our long-term work on water quality and forest operations, specifically our work on best management practices (BMPs) for use in water quality management associated with timber harvesting. At Robinson Forest, we have, since 1972, monitored the hydrology and water quality of the largest undisturbed watersheds in the Cumberland Plateau physiographic region ranging from West Virginia to Alabama. In 1983, we conducted our first watershed-level research project to determine the effectiveness of timber harvesting BMPs on water quality, providing the data used to establish the first voluntary BMPs for timber harvesting in Kentucky. In 2004, we initiated a large, six-watershed BMP study that yielded data to modify and inform the state’s mandatory timber harvesting BMPs. The results of this research are being applied to all commercial timber harvests in Kentucky. Annually 3,319 intermittent and perennial streams are protected due to our research. Our silviculture research, particularly in upland hardwood forests, has been used to develop methodologies and silvicultural prescriptions commonly employed across the state and region by forestry agencies and industry. Currently, the most widely prescribed treatment is mid-story removal to enhance oak regeneration. The specifics of this practice are derived from our long-term silvicultural research work and delivered by our Extension team. This type of synergy between our Research and Extension team has resulted in the similar use of our research across all our focus areas.   


One of the strengths of our department is our extension effort, with a team of three faculty, seven associates, and two support staff. Annually the team conducts over 300 programs reaching over 900,000 individuals or businesses. Our programs impact management on over 300,000 acres, resulting in over $250 million in dollars saved or earned. The economic contribution is primarily derived from our forest products and harvesting programs. These efforts annually result in over 100 businesses created or expanded and the addition of 200 jobs in Kentucky. These impacts are the result of three programs. 

First is the state-mandated Kentucky Master Logger (KML) program, housed in our department, a partnership effort with the Kentucky Division of Forestry and the Kentucky Forest Industry Association. The KML program results in 2,500 trained loggers and approximately $160 million in revenues for woodlandowners in the state, and provides the timber used to maintain both our primary forest industry and aligned secondary industries that provide over $6 billion annually to Kentucky’s economy. 

Second is the  Center for Forest and Wood Certification providing American Tree Farm (ATF) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) forest management certification to landowners in Kentucky and surrounding states. The Center for Forest and Wood Certification also has a large FSC chain of custody group that provides $15 million through the sale of certified wood products, the latter extending from the upper peninsula of Michigan to southern Georgia. 

Finally, Extension has training programs focusing on lumber drying and grading, machining, and entrepreneurship, resulting in $20 million in dollars saved or earned.

Our programming in other areas, including wildlife management, forest health, climate change, adaptive management, family forest, and youth education, are similarly robust. We have many award-winning individual programs, and our Extension team won the national award for excellence in family forest educational programming for our comprehensive programming and individual project over the last 12 years. The latter was for our From the Woods Today program, a weekly live educational broadcast that has included over 270 topics to over 160,000 viewers since its inception in 2020. 

The Future

The department is strategically transitioning with the addition of three new faculty and Extension associate hires to ensure that we can deal with emerging issues that will continue to shape forest conservation, locally and globally, for the foreseeable future. We have the ability to address climate change and its impact on forest systems, develop conservation strategies for game and non-game wildlife species and populations, and tackle forest sustainability issues. A good example of the latter is our focus on white oak sustainability through our research and extension efforts supporting the White Oak Initiative, which has the potential to improve forest resiliency and sustainability of oak-dominated forests throughout the eastern U.S. This knowledge and focus is also transferred to our students providing the forestry and natural sectors with a workforce that has been exposed to and can aid in our shared ability to address critical resource issues across the county and the world.   

Figure 1. Teaching: Students spend time with harvesting operations to provide them with first-hand experience with a range of operations from chainsaw felling to cut-to-length systems. 
Photo: Sutton Logging

Figure 2. Research: Our department undertakes a large number of applied research efforts designed to address critical issues in resource management. This photo shows a recent study designed to determine optimal harvest removals to improve habitat for federally listed threatened and endangered forest-dwelling bats. 
Photo: Rob Forest Bat Openings

Figure 3. Extension: Extension plays a key role in applying science to address critical resource issues. Here a Kentucky Master Logger training is conducted on the proper installation of PVC pipe bundles for temporary skidder crossing of ephemeral channels and headwater streams. 
Photo: KML_BMP training

Further Reading
FRA’s University Series
Issue. 6- The University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources
Issue. 5- The Division of Forestry & Natural Resources at West Virginia University
Issue. 4- The School of Forest Resources at the University of Maine
Issue. 3- Department of Forest, Rangeland and Fire Sciences | College of Natural Resources | University of Idaho
Issue. 2- University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UW-Stevens Point) Forestry Program
Issue. 1- The College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment at Auburn University