Understanding the Difference between an Arborist and a Forester: What You Need to Know

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between an arborist and a forester? They both work with trees, but their specialties are quite different. An arborist focuses on the care and maintenance of individual trees, while a forester works with forests as a whole, including tree populations and ecosystems. Understanding their distinctions can help you know who to call when you need help with your trees.

To give you a better idea of the difference between these two professions, think of it like this: an arborist is like a tree doctor, while a forester is like a forest manager. Arborists are experts in diagnosing and treating problems that affect individual trees, such as disease, pests, and structural issues. Foresters, on the other hand, work to manage and maintain entire forests to ensure long-term sustainability and healthy ecosystems.

While both arborists and foresters share a love and understanding of trees, their expertise lies in different areas. If you have a sick tree or want to ensure your trees’ health, an arborist is the person to call. If you’re managing a large area or forest and want to ensure its long-term health, a forester can help you map out a plan to keep the ecosystem healthy for generations to come. Now that you know the difference between an arborist and a forester, you can make informed decisions regarding your tree and forest management needs.

Arborist vs Forester: Understanding the Basics

As someone who is interested in trees and forestry, it is essential to distinguish between arborists and foresters. While they may seem similar in terms of their work, they have some key differences. Understanding these differences is crucial in determining which professional to approach with specific tree-related issues.

Arborist vs Forester: What’s the Difference?

  • An arborist is trained in the cultivation, maintenance, and management of individual trees and shrubs. Arborists specialize in identifying the health issues and diagnosing diseases pests that affect trees and design practices to ensure healthy growth.
  • A forester, on the other hand, is trained to understand and manage forest ecosystems in a macro sense. Foresters are responsible for managing forest resources for the long-term, including conducting appraisals of timber values, developing forest management plans, and implementing sustainable practices.

Education and Training

Both professions require specific education and training. Arborists typically pursue a degree in arboriculture or horticulture and certification from the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). ISA-certified arborists have to demonstrate a high level of knowledge and skills to be able to use specialized equipment safely and perform delicate operations on trees.

Foresters, on the other hand, require a degree in forestry or a related field such as natural resource management, wildlife biology, or environmental science. Depending on their role, they may also require certification from organizations such as the Society of American Foresters or the Forest Stewardship Council.

Work Responsibilities

Arborists and foresters have different work responsibilities depending on their training, expertise, and the type of organization for which they work. Arborists generally work for private landscaping companies or as consultants. Their primary responsibilities include pruning, planting, removing, and diagnosing individual trees. Sometimes they may also work on site preparation, installation, and maintenance of ornamental and landscaping resources in urban areas.

Arborist Responsibilities
Tree pruning, trimmingInstallation and maintenance of trees and shrubs
Diagnosing and treating tree diseases and pestsAdvising clients on tree care and maintenance
Cabling and bracingStump grinding and removal

Foresters, on the other hand, can work for government agencies, non-profit organizations, or private companies dealing with forestry products. Depending on their job responsibilities, they may work on a wide range of projects such as developing forest management plans that include inventory and mapping, planning timber harvests, reforestation, and wildlife habitat restoration. Sometimes they also oversee fire management operations, natural resource surveying, and environmental assessments.

Here you can see how arborists and foresters have different skills, responsibilities, and clients. While they both work with trees, their focus is at different scales, and each requires a distinct set of training and expertise.

Studying Trees: Arboriculture vs Forestry

As tree lovers, we often want to learn more about trees. This is where arboriculture and forestry come into play. While both deal with the study of trees, there are distinct differences between the two disciplines.

  • Arboriculture: Arboriculture is the study of individual trees and their care. It involves the cultivation and management of individual trees with the aim of ensuring their health and safety. Arborists are professionals who are trained in the care of trees. They can assess the health of a tree, prune branches, and remove dead or dangerous limbs. Arborists are often called in to provide advice on tree planting, tree preservation, and management of trees in an urban environment.
  • Forestry: Forestry, on the other hand, is the science and practice of growing, managing, and harvesting trees in a larger area, often called a forest. Foresters are professionals trained in the science of managing forests. They work on the planning, implementing and monitoring of forest ecosystems to ensure they are healthy, productive, and sustainable. Forestry is important for timber production, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration.

While both arboriculture and forestry involve studying trees, the scope of each is quite different. Arboriculture focuses on individual trees, while forestry deals with trees in a larger area.

To summarize the difference between arboriculture and forestry, we can say that arboriculture deals with trees as individuals, while forestry deals with trees as part of a larger ecosystem.

Focuses on individual treesFocuses on trees as part of an ecosystem
Deals with cultivation and management of individual treesDeals with planning and management of forests
Prunes branches and removes dead or dangerous limbsHarvests trees for timber production

While both arboriculture and forestry are essential disciplines for managing trees, it is important to recognize the differences between the two. Whether you are consulting an arborist for advice on tree care or a forester for guidance on managing a forest, understanding the scope of each discipline will help you make informed decisions about tree management.

Educational Qualification: Arborist vs Forester

Both arborists and foresters are professionals who are responsible for managing and caring for trees, but their educational qualifications are quite different. Let’s take a closer look at the educational qualifications required for each profession:

  • Arborist: To become an arborist, you need to complete a post-secondary program in arboriculture or a related field such as horticulture, forestry, or landscape construction. Many colleges and universities offer these programs, which typically take 2-4 years to complete. These programs cover a broad range of topics, including tree biology, care and maintenance, pest and disease management, and safety procedures. Once you have completed the program, you can pursue certification as an arborist through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).
  • Forester: A forester typically requires a degree in forestry or a related field, such as agricultural sciences or natural resource management. Forestry programs usually take 4-5 years to complete and cover topics such as forest ecology, silviculture, forest management, and land use planning. Many foresters also pursue certification through the Society of American Foresters (SAF).

In summary, while both professions require a strong background in tree care and management, an arborist typically receives training through a post-secondary program, while a forester requires a more formal education at the university level.

It’s important to note that these are just the minimum educational requirements for each profession, and many arborists and foresters go on to pursue additional certifications or advanced degrees to further specialize in their field.

Responsibilities of Arborists and Foresters Explained

While both arborists and foresters deal with trees and other forms of vegetation, their areas of focus and responsibilities are quite distinct from each other.


  • Arborists focus on the health and safety of individual trees.
  • They provide tree care services ranging from pruning and enhanced fertilization to complete removal.
  • They assess the condition of trees and provide recommendations to homeowners on how to maintain and preserve them.


Foresters focus on larger-scale forest management and timber harvesting. Their responsibilities include:

  • Overseeing forest management plans to ensure their sustainability and regeneration.
  • Ensuring compliance with local, state, and federal regulations for forest management and timber harvesting.
  • Working with private landowners, government agencies, and timber companies to develop and implement forest management plans.

Arborists and Foresters in Harmony

While their responsibilities differ, arborists and foresters should have a harmonious relationship in terms of overall tree and forest health. They can work together to ensure the proper management of trees on a larger scale, ensuring the growth and regeneration of forests while also sustaining the health of individual trees.

The Importance of Arborists and Foresters in Society

Both arborists and foresters play a critical role in society. Arborists help maintain the beauty and safety of communities by ensuring that trees are healthy and free from damage and disease. Foresters help regulate and manage natural resources for healthy forests, which provide clean air, water, and wildlife habitats, as well as sustainable timber harvesting for various industries.

Focusing on the health and safety of individual treesManaging forest ecosystems and timber resources on a larger scale
Providing tree care servicesEnsuring compliance with local, state, and federal regulations for forest management and timber harvesting
Assessing the condition of treesOverseeing forest management plans

Both professions are important in the management of trees and forests, which play a critical role in the overall health of our environment and society.

Job Prospects as an Arborist or Forester

Both arborists and foresters are in demand for their unique skill sets and expertise. However, the job prospects for each profession may vary depending on factors such as location, industry demand, and education level.

  • Arborist Job Prospects:
    • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of arborists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is due to an increasing demand for tree care services, especially in urban and suburban areas.
    • Arborists with a certified arborist credential or a degree in forestry or a related field may have better job prospects and higher earning potential.
    • Arborists can work for private tree care companies, government agencies, or non-profit organizations. The highest-paying industries for arborists are the federal government, electric power generation, transmission and distribution, and scientific research and development services.
  • Forester Job Prospects:
    • The employment of foresters is projected to decline 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is slower than the average for all occupations. The decline is due to a decrease in the demand for timber and wood products.
    • However, foresters with experience in managing forest ecosystems for multiple uses, such as recreation, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration, may have better job prospects in areas such as urban forestry and conservation management.
    • Foresters can work for federal, state, or local government agencies, private timber companies, or consulting firms. The highest-paying industries for foresters are the federal government, logging, and sawmills and wood preservation.

Salary Range for Arborists and Foresters

The salary range for arborists and foresters varies depending on factors such as experience, education, industry, and location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for arborists was $32,190 in May 2020, while the median annual wage for foresters was $63,330.

IndustryArborist Median Annual Wage (May 2020)Forester Median Annual Wage (May 2020)
Federal Government$56,400$83,880
Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution$52,440N/A
Scientific Research and Development Services$44,990$69,400
State Government$37,230$59,700
Local Government$36,850$58,430

It’s important to note that these salaries are not definitive and can vary widely depending on the region, industry, and individual’s level of experience and education. However, both arborists and foresters can have fulfilling careers with opportunities for growth and specialization within their respective fields.

Arboriculture and Forestry Techniques: Similarities and Differences

Arboriculture and forestry are two related fields that deal with the care and management of trees. While there are some similarities between them, they also have distinct differences in terms of their methodologies and objectives.

  • Arboriculture is the cultivation, management, and study of individual trees, shrubs, and vines that are grown for their aesthetic, ecological, and social values. Arborists work with trees in urban and suburban environments, including parks, gardens, and residential areas. They are trained to diagnose and treat tree diseases, pests, and structural problems, as well as to perform pruning, cabling, bracing, and other maintenance techniques to enhance tree health and beauty.
  • Forestry, on the other hand, is the science and art of managing and using forests for economic, ecological, and social benefits. Foresters work in rural and wilderness areas, including national and state parks, timberlands, and wildlife reserves. They are responsible for designing and implementing forest management plans, conducting timber inventories, monitoring wildlife habitats, and ensuring sustainable forest practices.

Despite these fundamental differences, arboriculture and forestry share some common techniques and tools:

  • Identification and assessment of tree species, age, health, and vigor
  • Pruning, grafting, and other tree surgery techniques
  • Soil preparation, fertilization, and irrigation methods
  • Insect and disease control measures
  • Climbing and rigging equipment, such as ropes, pulleys, and harnesses
  • Chainsaws, pruners, loppers, and other cutting and trimming tools
  • GIS (geographic information system) and other mapping and data analysis software

However, the specific applications of these techniques and tools differ depending on whether the focus is on individual tree care or forest management. For example, while both arborists and foresters may use pruning to shape and improve tree structure, arborists may do so for aesthetic purposes, while foresters may do so to promote tree growth and timber quality. Similarly, while both may use insecticides to control pests, arborists may focus on controlling nuisance insects, such as aphids and scales, while foresters may focus on managing invasive species, such as gypsy moths and emerald ash borers.

Focused on individual tree careFocused on forest management
Works in urban and suburban environmentsWorks in rural and wilderness areas
Deals with aesthetic, ecological, and social values of treesDeals with economic, ecological, and social benefits of forests
Uses pruning, cabling, bracing, and other maintenance techniques to enhance tree health and beautyUses timber inventories, wildlife habitat monitoring, and sustainable forest practices to ensure forest health and productivity

Overall, arboriculture and forestry are complementary fields that require different skills and knowledge. Whether you want to pursue a career as an arborist or a forester, it’s important to appreciate the similarities and differences between them to maximize your potential and impact in the field of tree care and management.

Arborist or Forester: Which Career Path to Choose?

Subsection 7: Key Differences in Education and Training

Although both careers deal with the care and maintenance of trees, the education and training of arborists and foresters differ in terms of focus and depth.

  • Arborists typically complete a two-year associate degree program in arboriculture or a related field. They learn about tree biology, plant health care, pruning and trimming, and pest and disease management. They also acquire skills in climbing, rigging, and proper use of equipment such as chain saws and chippers.
  • Foresters, on the other hand, usually obtain a bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related natural science such as ecology or wildlife management. They gain broad knowledge in forest ecology, silviculture, forest management, and timber harvesting. They also learn about forest economics, policy, and law, as well as environmental and societal issues related to forestry.
  • Both arborists and foresters need to obtain certifications and licenses to practice their professions, but the requirements vary depending on the state or jurisdiction they work in and the specific services they provide. For example, arborists may need to pass a written exam and demonstrate field skills to obtain an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certification, while foresters may need to be licensed by the state board of forestry or pass a Society of American Foresters (SAF) exam to become a Certified Forester.

In terms of continuing education, both arborists and foresters need to keep up with the latest research, technology, and regulations in their fields. This may involve attending conferences, workshops, and training courses offered by industry associations, universities, or government agencies.

What is the Difference Between an Arborist and a Forester?

Q: What is an arborist?

A: An arborist is a specialist who focuses on the cultivation, management, and study of trees, as well as other woody plants, shrubs, and vines. They are experts in tree care, pruning, planting, and disease diagnosis.

Q: What is a forester?

A: A forester is a professional who works on the management of forests, woodlands, and natural habitats. They specialize in creating sustainable forest management plans, including timber harvesting, conservation, and wildlife habitat restoration.

Q: Is there a difference in education between an arborist and a forester?

A: Yes, there is a difference in education requirements. Arborists typically have a degree in arboriculture, horticulture, or a related field, while foresters have a degree in forestry or a related field.

Q: What kind of services can an arborist provide?

A: Arborists can provide a range of services, including tree pruning, tree removal, tree planting, tree health and risk assessments, and tree disease diagnosis and treatment.

Q: What kind of services can a forester provide?

A: Foresters can provide services such as timber harvesting, forest management planning, wildlife habitat assessment, ecological restoration, and conservation planning.

Thanks for Reading!

We hope this article has helped you understand the difference between an arborist and a forester. While both professions have similarities in their focus on trees and the natural environment, they have different areas of expertise and serve different industries. Thanks again for reading, and check back later for more informative articles.