Monday, January 18, 2010

Compare and Contrast: Two Ranger Schools

Michael R. Bridgen (1), SUNY ESF Ranger School, Wanakena, NY and David McDonald (2), Maritime College of Forest Technology, Fredericton, NB


There are about twenty-five colleges in the United States and Canada which offer academic programs in forest technology. Scattered across the continent, each school offers educational programs directed at training technicians for employment in forestry or other natural resource industries. Each school also offers a unique perspective on the industries, molded by the interests and expertise of their faculty members and the regional demands of the profession.

The Maritime College of Forest Technology at Fredericton, New Brunswick (prior to 2003 known as the Maritime Forest Ranger School), was established in April 1946, as a co-operative effort of the provincial governments of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and the wood-using industries of the two provinces. Its program was originally modeled on the facilities and teaching methods used at the (SUNY ESF) Ranger School in Wanakena, NY. Hans Meissner, RS'31, joined the Maritime Forest Ranger School's faculty in 1947, and became its acting Director in 1948.

Unfortunately, since the creation of the School, there has been little professional interaction between members of the two faculties. During this past year, we expressed mutual interest in comparing our programs, perhaps sharing teaching methodologies, and providing our students with a bit of an international experience in the classrooms.

The Hugh John Flemming Forestry Centre, Fredericton, NB

The Visit:

At the invitation of, and facilitation by, David McDonald, an instructor of silviculture, botany, biology, and entomology at MCFT, Michael Bridgen, a professor at SUNY ESF Ranger School attended the campus of the MCFT. During the three-day visit (October 19-21, 2009) the guest faculty member had the opportunity to:

  1. Participate in a four-hour silviculture lab, in the field,
  2. Present a one-hour lecture on "The Natural History and Silviculture of Black Ash", to the second-year forest technology students,
  3. Observe a lecture in roads (2nd year),
  4. Participate in a four-hour field lab in fish and wildlife,
  5. Observe a lecture in ecology (1st year),
  6. Attend the weekly faculty meeting,
  7. Visit two forest properties used by the College, and
  8. Visit the physical facilities plant.

Bridgen also stayed in the residence hall and had meals with the 1st and 2nd year students, and discussed with students their perspectives on the MCFT program.

SUNY ESF Ranger School, on the shores of the Oswegatchie River in Wanakena, NY

Comparisons between the two schools:

* Class size - MCFT enrolls about 50 students in the 1st year. The number of applicants is higher than the College can accept, and many applicants are rejected. By the second year, there are about 30-40 students in the program, the rest having been dismissed from the program. The Wanakena campus currently enrolls 40 to 50 second year students, who have already completed their first year courses at another institution.

* Faculty members - MCFT has twelve faculty members, including the Executive Director, titled "instructor" or "field instructor". Faculty members have professional degrees and certifications for their respective professions. Each of the faculty members has had some professional experiences prior to joining the faculty. Some instructors have had formal training in teaching. Like the Wanakena program, most teaching development mostly occurs "on the job".

Also like the Wanakena program, faculty members are very passionate about their teaching responsibilities, present excellent material using effective methods, and are personally concerned about the success of their students.
One significant difference between our two programs is the absence of tenure at MCFT. Also, the academic ranks at Wanakena range from Instructor to Professor.

In addition to the faculty, MCFT also has a full-time recruitment officer. This individual meets with prospective students in various schools throughout the region, describes the program at MCFT, and encourages good quality students to attend the College.

* Location - The MCFT campus is immediately adjacent to Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick. It is quite literally within walking distance to a Walmart, and much of downtown Fredericton. First-year students are required to live in residence. Second-year students, however, may live off campus if they choose. Social interactions with other colleges or the nearby community are very great.

In contrast, the Wanakena campus is within walking distance of one of the largest wilderness regions in the eastern United States. Its remoteness makes it very difficult, if not inadvisable, for students to live off-campus. Social interactions for our students are highly dependent on in-house activities provided by the school or by the student class structure.

* School Forest - MCFT has two forest laboratory locations, the Noonan Woodlot and the UNB Forest. The Noonan property is about a twenty-minute drive from campus, while the UNB Forest is immediately adjacent to the College, within walking distance for the students. Neither property is directly owned or controlled by MCFT, making them subject to changing management plans. The UNB property is open to the public, and is undergoing significant land-use changes. This situation contrasts with the Dubuar Forest in Wanakena, which is dedicated to use by Ranger School students and which is under strong management control by the Ranger School faculty.

MCFT is currently in negotiations to acquire rights (degree of exclusivity is being negotiated) to a property (referred to as Kingsclear, part of the provincial tree nursery lands) that is being returned to Crown land ownership.

* Forest types - The New Brunswick forests are significantly composed of softwoods, principally spruce and fir. Local softwood-dominated industries affect the choices of silviculture and forest management practices. This is in contrast to the forest types and silviculture practices on the Dubuar Forest, which include a balance of natural hardwood silviculture, artificial softwood plantations, and a small percentage of spruce-fir wetland forests.

* Facilities - The MCFT campus is associated with the Hugh John Flemming Forestry Centre, which also includes offices for the Canadian Forest Service, the University of New Brunswick's Tweeddale Center for Forest Industrial Research, and the New Brunswick Provincial Department of Natural Resources. Professional contacts are almost "built into" the MCFT program, due to its proximity to other agencies. The ESF Ranger School, by contrast, is the principle user of the Wanakena Campus and Dubuar Forest. At Wanakena, offering the conference and lecture rooms, computer facilities, extra dormitory space, and other facilities to external agencies for their occasional use encourages professional contacts.

Additionally, the MCFT campus itself rents office space to the New Brunswick Maple Producers Association, The Tree House (non profit entity that supports environmental education efforts such as Envirothon), Infor which is a provincially funded private land extension service and the New Brunswick Blueberry Association head office.

Classroom space - MCFT has two main classrooms, approximately equal in size, which are dedicated for either the first-year students or second-year students. As at Wanakena, lectures are offered during the morning hours to each class, while field labs are held in the afternoon. MCFT also has a number of specialized indoor laboratories, (dendrology; wildlife), approximately twice the capacity of the Wanakena Campus.

MCFT has a large-equipment storage facility, similar to Wanakena's Maintenance Shop, housing skidders, other large equipment, chainsaws, brush cutters, herbicide sprayers, etc. This facility, too, is approximately twice the size the one at Wanakena.

* Academic program - The main degree offered at MCFT is a "Forest Technologist Diploma (3)", corresponding with the A.A.S. degree offered at Wanakena. Another option which students may pursue is the "Advanced Diploma" in Fish and Wildlife Technology. To complete the Advanced Diploma, students must satisfactory complete requirements for the Forest Technology Diploma AND achieve a minimum grade in a number of fish and wildlife courses, AND complete a Fish and Wildlife practicum during the summer, AND complete a number of certifications offered outside of the College (4). This advanced diploma is earned by completing a body of work above and beyond the work that's expected for a standard diploma.

The Fish and Wildlife degree fits well with the forestry program at MCFT probably because fisheries (and wildlife) are also major industries in New Brunswick. As land management practices may have an impact on the fisheries industry, forest management practices are also regulated for their effects on fishing and wildlife. This provincial-wide (actually, regional-wide) interdependence between the forestry industry and the fishing industry almost necessitates a fish and wildlife Advanced Diploma. Industries in New York, having a similar mutual dependence, may include land surveying, recreation, arboriculture, and environmental conservation.

All MCFT students also have to complete a faculty-approved Work Practicum during the summer following their first year. This is a pass-fail requirement. The work requirement for students at Wanakena is built into the academic program and is evaluated as part of the students' grades.

MCFT has a very well established, highly respected and extremely successful Continuing Education department. Its original intent was to provide follow up training to graduates of the "old Ranger school". The courses put on by CE are directly in response to the expressed needs of its graduates and their employers. The Wanakena campus does not have a formal continuing education component.

MCFT currently has in place an articulation agreement with the University of New Brunswick Faculty of Forestry in Fredericton. By way of this agreement students from MCFT may enter into the four year BScF program at UNB and can receive up to the equivalent of two years of course credits. Each year between 10 and 15 graduates from MCFT continue their studies at UNB. The Wanakena Campus has a similar agreement with SUNY ESF, Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management, in Syracuse, New York. Many FNRM students enter the B.S. program with the expectation of attending the Wanakena Campus as their sophomore-year training.

* Alumni structure - There is not a strong alumni organization at MCFT, which greatly contrasts with significant alumni interactions at Wanakena. However, there is a New Brunswick Forest Technicians Association ( and a Nova Scotia Forest Technician Association ( both of which seem to fit a similar niche. In addition to providing scholarship money and professional contacts for the students, these organizations also serve as mechanisms for continuing education in the Province.

Insightful Differences:

Other than geographic locations, perhaps the most significant difference between these two institutions is in the number of years students attend their respective programs. The SUNY ESF Ranger School program only offers the second year of a two-year program, requiring students to attend another institution as freshmen. MCFT currently offers a two-year program, having both first- and second-year students at its campus. (Prior to 2003, the Maritime Forest Ranger School offered a one-year program, with the additional requirement of a minimum 12 months work experience in forestry.) Now, having had six years experience with a two-year program, MCFT demonstrates how effective a two-year model might also work at Wanakena.

Some of the advantages of offering both first- and second-year programs at the same facility are:

1. Greater control of the course contents of the academic curricula (elective courses, for example, supplement material offered in the required courses)

2. Immediate assessment and quality control of course content and presentation (all course instructors engage in discussions of effectiveness and impact on student learning)

3. Reinforcement of basic skills learned during the first year (such as tree identification) with applied field labs held in the second year.

4. Support of the 1st year students from the 2nd year students (2nd year students, knowing how challenging the 1st year was, assist their classmates complete their work)

5. Continuity of traditions and discipline between classes (2nd year students, knowing the discipline from the 1st year, the loss of classmates due to poor grades, etc. expect that the same treatment will be imposed on incoming classes)

6. Continuity of student body leadership

7. Richer professional interactions between 2nd year students and the faculty

8. New student orientation facilitated by 2nd year students

9. Students demonstrate greater pride in the quality of their work, resulting in increased loyalty to the school as alumni.


The visit to the Maritime College of Forest Technology at Fredericton resulted in renewed professional ties between two very similar schools. The visitor was cordially received, both by the faculty and by the students (Go Swamp Donkeys!). It gave us the opportunity to brag about our successes, complain about our problems, and share with each other our thoughts about teaching, the roles of forest technicians (technologists), and other issues affection our professions. A "turn-about-is-fair-play" reciprocal visit will occur later this year when David McDonald visits the Wanakena campus and gets for himself some first-hand experience in comparing institutions.

This was a valuable experience. It resulted in personal development for the visitors, a greater appreciation of the value of their education by students, and a stronger perspective for everyone of the role of forest technology education in the modern professional world.

(1) 257 Ranger School Road, Wanakena, NY 13695; 315-848-2566;

(2) 1350 Regent Street, Fredericton, NB E3C 2G6; 506-458-5124;

(3) In order to graduate as a Forest Technologist, students must maintain a cumulative grade point average of 65%. Failure to do this results in dismissal from the program. Students can graduate from the 2 year program carrying one failed credit (some restrictions apply) as long as their cumulative average is 65% or greater.

(4) ADVANCED DIPLOMA Students who choose to pursue the Advanced Diploma in Forest and Fish & Wildlife Technology must meet the following academic conditions:

A. Successful completion of all requirements of the Forest Technology program

B. Achieve a grade of 65 percent or better in the following Fish & Wildlife courses:

  1. Non-MCFT delivered courses (see below)
  2. Fish & Wildlife Techniques I (Mid-August)
  3. Fish & Wildlife Techniques II
  4. Fish & Wildlife Techniques III
  5. Wildlife Winter Field Camp

C. Maintain a minimum cumulative weighted average of 65 percent in all Fish & Wildlife courses.

D. Successfully complete a Fish & Wildlife field project to be completed during the summer practicum.

E. Obtain certification in the following non-MCFT delivered courses: Firearm Safety, Restricted Firearm Safety, Hunter Education, Trapper Education, Bowhunter Education, and Nuisance Wildlife Operator


Shawn Prosser said...

Great article! As a graduate of MCFT '08 I enjoyed your perspective on the school. My experience at MCFT was memorable to say the least. The two year program allowed students to interact well with the instructors and gain highly valuable experience. The fish and wildlife program aids in the understanding of interactions between the forest and its inhabitants. This program has allowed me to secure the career I desired, working outdoors managing natural resources.

I look forward to hearing the report from David McDonalds visit to Wanakena Ranger School.

Elaine Bourne said...

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