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A Day In the Life of A Forester
A Sampling of Real Michigan Foresters and the Wide Diversity of Career Paths


Dr. Dana Richter

Forest Mycologist
Michigan Technological University

Mostly unnoticed, fungi interact with all phases of the forest--from seedlings to trees, in the mill and forest products, finally to wood in use. Sometimes along the way fungi are a benefit, sometimes a detriment. Mycology is the study of fungi. One who deals with the fungi in the forest and fungi in wood is a forest pathologist, although only part of the job deals specifically with tree diseases.

As a forest pathologist I find myself with a wide range of tasks. Principally I operate a forest microbiology laboratory, since the fungi are essentially microbes and they do their work microscopically. Using very basic techniques with Petri plates, agar, and microscopy, fungi can be isolated from trees or wood in the lab to diagnose disease or the cause of decay or other wood defect. A large part of the lab work involves wood products testing and evaluation of new wood preservatives to prevent decay and stain. This involves maintaining an extensive fungus culture collection with which to do the testing. All new wood composite products and wood preservatives must meet certain standards before they can be marketed. My lab is a link in that chain.

Field work for a forest pathologist is usually conducted in the warmer months when trees and fungi are active. Usually this involves examination of a tree or stand to diagnose a disease, or collect samples for lab analysis. Diseases are natural in forest systems, but those that are destructive often have some sort of human connection. For example, oak wilt involves wounding trees in spring and early summer, Armillaria root rot and maple sapstreak involve root compaction or buttress root damage. I can advise if your tree is going to survive or what to do to enhance its chances of survival.

Knowledge of the wild mushrooms is another aspect of forest pathology, because fruiting bodies of fungi are used to diagnose disease or indicate the health of a forest. I end up doing a lot of mushroom identification for people especially interested in eating them. One of the most popular events is the annual Edible and Poisonous Mushroom Workshop held at the Ford Forest Center in L’Anse since 1984. When there is time I freely conduct field trips and give presentations to advance the knowledge of fungi in ecosystems.


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This website is maintained by Bill Cook, Michigan State University Extension Forester in the Upper Peninsula.  Comments, questions, and suggestions are gratefully accepted. 
Last update of this page was 4 May, 2006