Northwest Lichenologists

Certification Questions and Answers

Q. Who would want to be certified?
A. Anyone who wishes to establish their credentials in field lichenology. These people include those who prepare contracts and those who fill contracts. Most of the work is floristic taxonomy and ecology, often involving rare species. The work is sponsored by federal and private land management agencies. Much of the work is tied to the Endangered Species Act, the Northwest Forest Plan, the Clean Air Act, and the Forest Health Monitoring Program.

Q. Were there specific concerns that led to the proposal for a certification program?
A. Yes. For example, Federal agencies sponsor a variety of lichen work. We would like to help ensure high quality of this work. Under the Northwest Forest Plan, there are increasing numbers of field surveys of lichens sponsored by the federal government. Much of this takes place under the umbrella of the "survey and manage" needs as described in the Record of Decision on the Northwest Forest Plan. There are quite a few lichen species listed in the Record of Decision. The government must survey and manage these species.

We are concerned that agencies may use people with minimal lichenological training to satisfy their survey-and-manage responsibilities. A certification program could serve a valuable function in better assuring quality in the survey-and-manage efforts under the NW forest plan. Certification would be welcomed as a clarifying step by contractors, contracting agencies, consulting firms, and students of lichenology.

Q. Is it really necessary?
A. It appears that the time has come in the Pacific Northwest. Lichens and bryophytes now have a prominent role in management decisions. Agencies sometimes use unqualified or semi-qualified personnel on hand to provide critical data.

Q. Should certification be just for one region of the country, or national?
A. Few floristic botanists have the detailed knowledge needed to operate effectively in more than one region of the country. Therefore we propose regional certification.

Q. If NWL certifies someone and they are negligent or incompetent on a job, can NWL be sued? Is NWL financially liable if someone that it certified is sued over their work or report? For example, consider a lichen misidentified as an endangered species in a report, holds up a multimillion dollar project - where does the liability lie?
A. McCune spoke with Cleo Tindall of the federation of certifying boards in agriculture, biology, earth, and environmental sciences as a membership service of the American Society of Agronomy. They have tens of thousands of certified people. Liability has not been a problem, since individuals are not endorsed, they are merely represented as having passed the competency examinations. NWL can provide a list of its certified field lichenologists but does not recommend individuals, nor does it certify lichen work on particular projects.

McCune also spoke with Dale Brockway represent the Ecological Society of America’s certification program. He pointed out that certification merely states that a person has met some standards, but certification doesn’t imply endorsement of any specific assertion or conclusion. He also mentioned that the American Medical Association isn’t sued for malpractice, but individual doctors are.

Q. Who will determine who is certifiable? There can be political or personality problems even within our small group. Are we going to give people tests (like engineers and lawyers)?
A. Certification will be done by an examiner appointed by the NWL Board. Using objective criteria (field test and written test – see above) will help avoid personality problems.

Q. In the examination, how will difficult species groups and matters of preference in synonymy be handled?
A. The examiner will expect competent identification only for those species for which it is possible given the circumstance. For example, many Xanthoparmelia species require TLC results for confident identification, so in that case identification to a species group is sufficient. Use of synonymous names in different genera will be accepted (e.g. Tuckermannopsis chlorophylla vs. Cetraria chlorophylla).

Q. Is there be a fee, and if so how much?
A. We believe that a fee is essential to the long-term survival of a certification program. We started with a fee of $100 for a 10-year certification, plus an additional $20 for facilities rental.

Q. In our small community I think it would be a mistake to charge for certification - we don't have enough people to do the work as it is. We want to encourage our group to participate in projects, provide their information and expertise, and gather new information.
A. The community is not as small as some may think; furthermore, it is rapidly growing in some areas of the country. Charging for the service has two functions: (1) It provides a small compensation for the examiner's time spent on a service that otherwise would have little reward. (2) A fee discourages poorly prepared applicants from wasting the examiner’s time.

Q. Does the test only cover epiphytic macrolichens? I noticed some listed species where the substrate was specified as rock.
A. For the field portion, yes. But the written portion covers all of the listed macrolichens species.

Q. or the written portion how much detail do we need to know about the listed species status? Do I need to know which states they are listed in? Do I need to know what number they are in each state, and what their ROD and ROD Am status is?
A. No to both. But it is worth knowing something about the distribution of the species, for example, one that is rare in BC might be common in Oregon or common on the coast but not inland. The idea is that it is good to know what to expect as rare species in a particular area.

Q. Do I need to know all species that are listed on the website under "Listed Macrolichens in the PNW," even if they are only rated as a "4" or "6"?
A. An extirpated species (6) is worth knowing. I suggest giving less emphasis to a species has only a 4 from one state and not rated in the others, in contrast to a species that is definitely rare somewhere, but has a 4 elsewhere.

Q. Do I need to know rarity categories for the listed macrolichens?
A. No. Just and idea of how rare things are and where they are rare.

Q. May I use my hard copy of workshop and other training material for keying?

A. All materials normally at your disposal for lichen IDs are fair game for the ID part of the exam, except for conferring with other lichenologists.

Q. Are laptops ok? I understand that the test is closed book.
A. Laptops are ok for the ID part of the exam, but the written part is closed book and closed laptop.

Q. Are there examples of certification programs in related fields?
A. Several examples are listed below.

Ecological Society of America (ESA) – Board of Professional Certification
Dale G. Brockway, Chair (1995-98; Chair 1998) Rocky Mtn. Experimental Station, USDA Forest Service, 2205 Columbia Dr., SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106 Phone: (505) 766-1044

Professional Plant Pathologist (American Phytopathological Society, APS)
Cindy Ash, Director of Scientific Services and Certified Professional Plant Pathologist, APS, 3340 Pilot Knob Road, St. Paul, MN, 55121-2097. Phone: 612-454-7250, Fax: 612-454-0766, Email:

ARCPACS - A federation of certifying boards in agriculture, biology, earth and environmental sciences is a membership service of the American Society of Agronomy.
Cleo Tindall, Registrar,
Sponsors the following certification programs: agronomy, crop science, soil science, soil classification, horticulture, plant pathology, and weed science.

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