Tree Foundation of Kern

Forest Pathologist

To diagnose and recommend treatment for sick trees

A towering Monterey Pine that once stood majestically on the California coast has turned brown and is covered with large swathes of pitch that flow down its trunk signaling its ultimate demise. The surrounding forest, still heavy with the scent of pine needles and sea breezes, stands threatened and dying.

Forest pathologists, with all the dedication of a physician, work to isolate the causes of tree disease and find cures for even the most virulent illnesses that threaten forests.

David Adams, Ph.D., is the sole pathologist working for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. One of his current projects is finding a treatment for the pitch canker that now threatens 80 percent of the Monterey Pines near Cambria, California.

Although forest pathologists rarely receive public glory, successful treatment of forests can have widespread ramifications.

The picturesque Monterey Pines of Cambria, the largest remaining stand on the West Coast, brought tourism and economic strength to the community. The town is rallying to save its vital and beautiful natural resource aided by forest pathologists such as Adams.

"Forest pathology is a science that takes some time to get results," Adams said. "Treatment of diseases is a long time in coming."

Adams is now studying pines which are resistant to the pitch canker that may provide answers for saving the species in its native habitat.

"Pitch canker will always be here," Adams said. "We have to learn to live with it. But we can genetically propagate pines that are resistant to pitch canker. If we don't, the ecosystem will be lost."

Adams combines his love of the outdoors with a love of laboratory science in his career and travels extensively across California studying diseased forests and pursuing remedies in a team effort with forest geneticists.

"Being a pathologist is being a biologist," Adams said. "It's the complete knowledge of biology that's important. You have to understand botany, fungi, insects, ecology, soils and types. You have to be well-rounded and understand the environment in which trees grow."

In addition to field work, tree pathologists also use computer modeling to study the progression of tree diseases.

Opportunities within private industry such as nurseries and lumber companies are beginning to increase, but most jobs in the field are with government agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and state departments of forestry and agriculture.

Requires: Graduate degree