Jim studied forestry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He worked for the USDA Forest Service from 1979 until 2009. While working there he served as a forestry technician, a federal law enforcement officer, a helicopter manager, a realty specialist, a supervisory forester, and a lands program manager.
He began appraising in 1981. Upon retiring from the USDA Forest Service in 2009, he went in business for himself and established Jim Barker Appraisal. As a certified general appraiser, he specializes in woodland, recreational land, agricultural land, residential land, and institutional land. Most of his work has been to the Federal standards using the Yellow Book.