Who deals with these issues? Who informs decision makers about the impact of human actions on the environment? Who can suggest ways of protecting our environment from practices that threaten or damage our ecological system?

As the world’s population grows, accompanied by continued industrialization, generation of waste, and depletion of farmland and non-renewable energy resources, concerns regarding the environment have become more focused and, at the same time, more global. What impact do these influences have on our workplaces, homes, lifestyles, health, forests, and animal populations?

What information do regulatory and government agencies need to effectively plan, coordinate, and direct programs that preserve our environment and protect our health? Researchers, teachers, and other professionals with the skills, training, and understanding to solve problems related to our environment are desperately needed.

Environmental science is a field of study that provides professionally trained individuals needed to address these questions and provides recommendations to municipalities, industries, utilities, social scientists, and governmental agencies.

It is a multidisciplinary field that correlates human health issues to environmental biology, chemistry, toxicology, geology, forestry, industrial hygiene, and other public and environmental issues. Professionals who are trained to identify problems, collect and interpret data, project potential impact of certain practices on the physical and human environment, and develop solutions to today’s complex and challenging environmental problems are needed.

Forestry is an important component of the environmental sciences. Forests are an integral part of the culture and heritage of the United States, especially in the southern part of the country. Although only 14% of Texas is forested, timber consistently ranks among the top five cash crops. More than 80,000 Texans are employed by the wood-based industry in manufacturing, construction, and printing. Worldwide demand for timber and other forest products has escalated by 90% during the past 30 years and is projected to increase by an additional 45% by the year 2020.

An increasingly urban society demands that forests provide more opportunities for wilderness, aesthetic, and recreational experiences. When coupled with concerns for threatened and endangered plants and animals, these activities have effectively reduced the forest landbase available for growing timber. Improved forest management on private non-industrial woodlands holds the key to providing society’s increased demands for forest products.

Yet much of this land is either not being managed or is being degraded by poor harvest practices. In the face of a shrinking forest landbase and growing pressure to reduce timber production on public forests, it is imperative that the management and productivity of industrial private woodlands also be improved.

Who can understand the impact of industrial practices, farming, timber harvesting, recreation, public laws, and population growth on our natural resources better than those who are educated in the best practices for use, renewal, and preservation of these resources? Birds, wildlife, fish, and creatures of all sizes and forms rely on our natural resources for their existence. Humans, too, depend on proper management of these resources for their existence and quality of life.

Stephen F. Austin State University’s College of Sciences and Mathematics and the Arthur Temple College of Forestry, along with the University of Texas Health Center at Tyler, are working together to offer students a unique program in environmental science involving a large number of faculty trained to cover the total spectrum of quality of life and the environment.

Academic courses provide learning experiences that encourage and inspire students to approach natural resources as well as social and environmental issues in a critical yet creative manner, identify and analyze key elements, and articulate ethical solutions. Field-based and laboratory learning experiences, including basic and applied research programs, reflect an interdisciplinary approach to probing and solving environmental and ecological problems.

Natural outdoor laboratories are being utilized for teaching and research, complemented by the modern campus facilities that include well-equipped laboratories, offices, classrooms, computer facilities, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) hardware and software, satellite and other remote sensing systems, libraries, greenhouses, and Internet technology. Depending upon a student’s specific area of interest, research endeavors might range from analysis of pollutants in water to ecophysiological studies of the natural and work environment, or social and behavioral aspects of community health.

Collaborative programs may begin with an undergraduate major in environmental science, forestry, or one of the natural or physical sciences. Following their undergraduate experience, students may then select from a master of science in environmental science (with five different areas of specialization), a master of science in forestry, or a doctor of philosophy in forestry.

A doctor of philosophy in environmental science will also soon be possible. At the graduate level, the student in environmental science is provided with a base of core requirements in the fields of chemistry, biology, geology, toxicology, industrial hygiene, and public health. They can then use a comprehensive elective program to build in-depth knowledge for a specific area of interest. The students in forestry also undergo a study of core subjects and then focus their attention on developing knowledge and skills in a specific area, such as forest management and economics, hydrology, forest entomology, soils, wood science, wildlife management, and spatial analysis.

Graduates in one of these environmental science fields may serve in specialized positions in industry or as consultants to numerous environmental and health groups, conservation organizations, research groups, and governmental agencies.

Who is dealing with the tough questions? Who is up to the challenge of balancing the economy and the needs of our growing population with the protection of our natural resources? Who is looking out for our future? It could be you…you could start now!

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