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Out Standing in Left Field: Disciplinary Boundaries in Undergraduate Forestry & Natural Resources Education

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  • “Left field” implies something far from mainstream. In forest and natural resources education, biophysical science is the mainstream discipline. Biophysical sciences provide the knowledge to achieve desired forest and natural resource management goals. But an education that prepares students for successful careers must also provide understanding of the social context of forestry and natural resources management. Social sciences and humanities are out— standing in the left field of forestry. A preliminary analysis of one hundred and eighteen accredited undergraduate forestry curricula at forty-four institutions revealed that there are few upper division requirements in the social sciences and humanities. Sixty one percent of curricula require only one or two courses, usually in economics and/or policy. Just one fourth of curricula require an upper division course in the humanities. Law, history, ethics, conflict management, sociology, and human dimensions are relevant topics that encompass the broader context of forestry and natural resources; but courses in these topics are seldom required. To further investigate, I researched the upper division requirements in undergraduate curricula in both forestry and in natural resources management programs. I analyzed course and credit requirements in the categories of biophysical science, social science, mathematics, humanities, management, and communications. A comparison of ninety three forestry curricula and seventy four natural resources management curricula revealed small differences in the ranges of requirements across categories. More notable differences were observed when comparing the mean number of courses or credits as a percentage of the upper division. Natural resources management programs showed greater percentages in the humanities and communication categories. Still, social science and humanities requirements are slight relative to biophysical science requirements. Undergraduate education in natural resources should embrace the variety of disciplines rather than designating some to left field. It is not only knowledge from biophysical science, but also from other disciplines that will empower forest and natural resource managers deal with people and grow into leaders with broader visions of their professional and societal roles.
  • Keywords: curricular requirements, natural resource management, forestry, humanities, social science
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  • Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA
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