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Forest canopies contribute significantly to global forest biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, yet are declining and understudied. One reason for a knowledge gap is that accessing forest canopies can be difficult and dangerous. Thus, lack of relevant canopy access skills may compromise knowledge gain and personal safety. We assessed skill levels in canopy access methods and self-perception of skills amongst ecologists worldwide via a web-based survey, available in four languages. We obtained responses from expert arborists as a control group. From 191 respondents who said canopy access is relevant to their research (of 1,070 total responses), we found that ecologists are not attaining the full potential provided by existing methods of canopy access. Specifically, most respondents are unable to access much of the forest canopy, especially areas away from the trunk and between trees. The survey further revealed the common use of unsafe and inefficient practices among ecologists and that few are adequately equipped with aerial rescue skills. Importantly, ecologists with the lowest skill levels overestimate their expertise the most. Proper field techniques are key components of good science: they can improve study design, increase potential for data collection, and ultimately reveal greater knowledge on canopy organisms and processes. By safely allowing greater access to the forest canopy, proper techniques can reduce bias in our scientific understanding of forest ecology. To facilitate safe and effective canopy access for ecological research, we recommend increasing instruction and collaboration, implementing certification programs, and conducting audits of canopy research programs. With increased access to such opportunities, ecologists will acquire improved skills in accessing forest canopies, develop a greater appreciation for the full breadth of possibilities among methods of canopy access, and more safely and effectively gather the data needed to better understand forest ecosystems.