Northwest Lichenologists

NWL Certification Details

Certified scientists are frequently called on to provide information on issues pertaining to issues of public concern. For example:

  • consulting for industry and forestry
  • advising government agencies
  • giving expert witness testimony
  • providing valid information to the media

Professional standards are needed for those whose activities affect the well-being of the general public. Professional standards have been recognized in such professions as medicine, law, engineering, and accounting. Problem solving in land-use, forest management, range management, environmental monitoring, and management of endangered species create a need for the services of professionals in lichenology. Such professionals must be able to show evidence of their qualifications. A certification program that identifies professionals for educational, scientific and service activities with public and private agencies is within the public interest.

The Certification Program

Certification is based on examination. Individuals certified by the NWL have passed the examination, subscribe to the CODE of ETHICS.

Certification is for individuals only. The designation of "NWL Certified" may not be used in such a manner as to indicate that a business, firm, or agency is a certified entity. Further, the NWL certification may not be used in any way to connote NWL endorsement of a business, firm, agency, consulting service, product, or program.

Certification is for competency with a group of organisms in a particular region (in this initial case macrolichens in the Pacific Northwest). Applicants will demonstrate competency by a combination field and laboratory practical examination. Skills could be obtained in any manner, including self taught. The certification program is financially supported solely by applicants fees. Oversight is provided by the Board of Directors of NWL.

The NWL certification program was derived from the following considerations:

  • The sponsoring body should be the professional organization representing the discipline being certified, not a government agency. This avoids any potential conflict of interest.
  • Credentials based on academic transcripts or other representations of experience on paper are a poor expression of field skills.
  • Certification should be separated from training, since the amount of training and practice needed far exceeds what can be done in a course.
  • Skills can be obtained without formal training in botany; similarly, formal training in botany does not necessarily result in the competency being certified.
  • It is necessary to separate the evaluation of skills with crustose lichens and macrolichens, since competency is often gained in one but not the other.
  • Short courses have limited potential for developing expertise. They can be a nice start, but whatever the subject of a short course, the students do not emerge as experts. Expertise comes with persistence and lots of work outside of classrooms.


Oversight is provided by the five-person NWL Board of Directors. Duties include appointing examiners, reviewing financial accounts, maintaining a file of certification results. Certifications will be posted on a public web site.

Geographic Scope

Certification will initially be for the west slope of the Pacific Northwest, from coastal Alaska to northern California, inland to the crest of the Cascade Range. Other regions can be added as interest arises.

Taxonomic Scope

The initial certification program will be for macrolichens (foliose and fruticose species). As interest arises other taxa may be added (crustose lichens; bryophytes). Other combinations of taxa and regions of western North American can also be added, for example biotic crusts in the intermountain steppe.

Financial Support

The certification program will be supported by applicant fees of $100 per exam. Costs will include paying for the examiners time and expenses (copying, phone, supplies, and mailing). Facility rentals will be covered by an additional charge to participants, (typically $20), depending on the location. The examiner's time will be contracted on a yearly basis. Any excess income generated from certification (income from applicant fees less expenses for examination) will be retained in the NWL accounts and held to defray future deficits in that certification program. The Board will examine an annual accounting so that the application fees can be adjusted up or down as needed.


The examiner for a given taxonomic group and region will be nominated by any NWL Board member or NWL certified person. The examiner will normally be subject to reappointment by the Board each year. The examiner should have an intimate working field knowledge of the species in that region and be widely accepted as a regional authority.

The NWL will maintain a file of names and addresses of all certified people in the region and make the list available by request.


Certification expires after 10 years, at which time recertification would be required.

Certification Procedures and Standards


Any person is eligible to apply for certification. There is no formal educational requirement.


Applicants must submit a fee at the time of application. The fee is refundable up until one week before the examination. The fee is $100 for the exam. Additional costs may include facility rental and accommodations. You can take the field test as often as you like, but fees for the field test must be paid by each participant, every time they take it, in order to cover the examiner's costs. If retake is for the written part only, and the retake is done at the next opportunity, there will be a charge of $20 plus the applicant's share of any facility rental or housing.  Retakes later than that will be for the whole exam. 

Certification Exam

Exams will be scheduled once a year. The date and place will be set by the examiner.

The goals of the exam are to evaluate (1) skills at finding and identifying species within the designated taxonomic group and (2) knowledge of taxonomic characters and habitats of species from the region that are listed as rare, threatened, or endangered.

The exam will consist of two parts, a field test and a written test.

The field test will consist of surveying a 0.38 hectare plot (radius = 34.7 m) for as many macrolichen species as possible, subject to a 3-hour time limitation. Samples will be collected of all species detected. Twenty-four hours later, having worked independently, the applicants will submit their named collections to the examiner. Applicants should bring their own equipment, books, and reagents as needed. To pass the field test the applicant must find and name correctly at least 70% of the total number of species found by the examiner in the same plot in the same amount of time. Applicant scores will be calculated as score = 100(R-W/2)/T, where R is the number of species correctly identified, W is the number wrong, and T is the target value, based on 70% of the examiner's total for that plot.

Applicants should try to be current with species concepts. Please see our page listing recent taxonomic papers and keys of particular relevance to macrolichens in the Pacific Northwest.

The written test will consist of a one-hour indoor exam. Topics included in the written exam will include characters and habitats of listed species, ethics of collecting and vouchering, and comparisons of rare species and similar but more common species. A list of all such rare species in the region will be available from the examiner at least 3 months in advance of the exam. To pass the indoor exam requires a score of 80% or better. Results will be promptly reported to the oversight Board. Successful applicants will receive a certificate signed by the examiner on behalf of the NWL.

Example examination schedule:

  • 11-12 AM -- Indoor exam
  • 1-4 PM -- Field Plot
  • 4 PM next day -- Turn in collection.
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