About two thirds of salaried conservation scientists and foresters
work for Federal, State, or local governments.
A bachelor’s degree in forestry, range management, or a related
discipline is the minimum educational requirement.
Slower than average job growth is projected; most new jobs
will be in State and local governments and in private sector
forestry and conservation consulting.
Nature of the Work
Forests and rangelands supply wood products, livestock forage,
minerals, and water; serve as sites for recreational activities;
and provide habitats for wildlife.
Conservation scientists and foresters manage their use and development
and help to protect these and other natural resources, and for
this reason are becoming known as natural resource managers.
Foresters manage forested lands for a variety of purposes.
Those working in private industry may manage company-owned forest
land or procure timber from private landowners. Company forests
usually are managed to produce a sustainable supply of wood for
company mills. Procurement foresters contact local forest
owners and gain permission to take inventory of the type, amount,
and location of all standing timber on the property, a process
known as timber cruising. These foresters then appraise the timber’s
worth, negotiate its purchase, and draw up a contract for procurement.
Next, they subcontract with loggers or pulpwood cutters for tree
removal and aid in laying out roads to access the timber. Throughout
the process, foresters maintain close contact with the subcontractor’s
workers and the landowner to ensure that the work meets the landowner’s
requirements, as well as Federal, State, and local environmental
specifications. Forestry consultants often act as agents for forest
owners, monitoring the growth of the timber on the owners’ property
and negotiating timber sales with industrial procurement foresters.
Foresters, referred to as land management foresters, work
for both government and private industry and manage and protect
the forests and supervise harvests. These foresters supervise
the planting and growing of new trees, called regeneration. They
choose and direct the preparation of the site using controlled
burning, bulldozers, or herbicides to clear weeds, brush, and
logging debris. They advise on the type, number, and placement
of trees to be planted. Foresters then monitor the seedlings to
ensure healthy growth and to determine the best time for harvesting.
If they detect signs of disease or harmful insects, they consult
with specialists in forest pest management to decide on the best
course of treatment. They may also design campgrounds and recreation
areas on public lands.
Throughout the forest management and procurement processes, foresters
consider the economics as well as the environmental impact on
natural resources. To do this, they determine how to conserve
wildlife habitats, creek beds, water quality, and soil stability,
and how best to comply with environmental regulations. Foresters
must balance the desire to conserve forested ecosystems for future
generations with the need to use forest resources for recreational
or economic purposes.
Foresters use a number of tools to perform their jobs. Clinometers
measure the height of trees, diameter tapes measure the diameter,
and increment borers and bark gauges measure the growth of trees
so that timber volumes can be computed and growth rates estimated.
Remote sensing (aerial photographs and other imagery taken from
airplanes and satellites) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
data often are used for mapping large forest areas and for detecting
widespread trends of forest and land use. Once the map is generated,
the data are digitized to create a computerized inventory of information
required to manage the forest land and its resources. Moreover,
hand-held computers, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and World
Wide Web-based applications are used extensively.
Conservation scientists manage, improve, and protect the
country’s natural resources. They work with the landowners and
Federal, State, and local governments to devise ways to use and
improve the land without damaging the environment. Although conservation
scientists mainly advise farmers, farm managers, and ranchers
on ways they can improve their land for agricultural purposes
and to control erosion, a growing number are advising landowners
and governments on recreational uses for the land.
Two of the more common conservation scientists are range managers
and soil conservationists. Range managers, also called
range conservationists, range ecologists, or range
scientists, study, manage, improve, and protect rangelands
to maximize their use without damaging the environment. Rangelands
cover hundreds of millions of acres of the United States, mostly
in Western States and Alaska. They contain many natural resources,
including grass and shrubs for animal grazing, wildlife habitats,
water from vast watersheds, recreation facilities, and valuable
mineral and energy resources. Range managers may inventory soils,
plants, and animals, develop resource management plans, help to
restore degraded ecosystems, or assist in managing a ranch. For
example, they may help ranchers attain optimum livestock production
by determining the number and kind of animals to graze, the grazing
system to use, and the best season for grazing. At the same time,
however, range managers maintain soil stability and vegetation
for other uses such as wildlife habitats and outdoor recreation.
They also plan and implement revegetation of disturbed sites.
Soil and water conservationists provide technical assistance
to farmers, ranchers, forest managers, State and local agencies,
and others concerned with the conservation of soil, water, and
related natural resources. They develop programs for private landowners
designed to make the most productive use of land without damaging
it. Soil conservationists also assist landowners by visiting areas
with erosion problems, finding the source of the problem, and
helping landowners and managers develop management practices to
combat it. Water conservationists also assist private landowners
and Federal, State, and local governments by advising on a broad
range of natural resource topics—specifically, issues of water
quality, preserving water supplies, groundwater contamination,
and management and conservation of water resources.
Conservation scientists and foresters often specialize in one
area, such as wildlife management, urban forestry, pest management,
native species, or forest economics.
Working conditions vary considerably. Although some of the work
is solitary, foresters and conservation scientists also deal regularly
with landowners, loggers, forestry technicians and aides, farmers,
ranchers, government officials, special interest groups, and the
public in general. Some foresters and conservation scientists
work regular hours in offices or labs. Others may split their
time between fieldwork and office work, while independent consultants
and especially new, less experienced workers spend the majority
of their time outdoors overseeing or participating in hands-on
The work can be physically demanding. Some conservation scientists
and foresters work outdoors in all types of weather, sometimes
in isolated areas, and consequently may need to walk long distances
through densely wooded land to carry out their work. Foresters
also may work long hours fighting fires. Conservation scientists
often are called to prevent erosion after a forest fire, and they
provide emergency help after floods, mudslides, and tropical storms.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A bachelor’s degree in forestry, biology, natural resource management,
environmental sciences, or a related discipline is the minimum
educational requirement for careers in forestry or conservation
science. In the Federal Government, a combination of experience
and appropriate education occasionally may substitute for a 4-year
forestry degree, but job competition makes this difficult. Foresters
who wish to perform specialized research or teach should have
an advanced degree, preferably a Ph.D.
Seventeen States have mandatory licensing and/or voluntary registration
requirements that a forester must meet in order to acquire the
title “professional forester” and practice forestry in the State.
Of those 17 States, 9 have mandatory licensing; 8 have mandatory
registration. Both licensing and registration requirements usually
entail completing a 4-year degree in forestry and several years
of forestry work experience. Candidates pursuing licensing also
may be required to pass a comprehensive written exam.
Most land-grant colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s
or higher degree in forestry. The Society of American Foresters
accredits about 48 such programs throughout the country. Curriculums
stress four components: Forest ecology and biology, measurement
of forest resources, management of forest resources, and public
policy. Students should balance general science courses such as
ecology, biology, tree physiology, taxonomy, and soil formation
with technical forestry courses, such as forest inventory or wildlife
habitat assessment, remote sensing, land surveying, GPS technology,
integrated forest resource management, silviculture, and forest
protection. In addition mathematics, statistics, and computer
science courses also are recommended. Many forestry curriculums
include advanced computer applications such as GIS and resource
assessment programs. Courses in resource policy and administration,
specifically forest economics and business administration, supplement
the student’s scientific and technical knowledge. Forestry curriculums
increasingly include courses on best management practices, wetlands
analysis, and sustainability and regulatory issues in response
to the growing focus on protecting forested lands during timber
harvesting operations. Prospective foresters should have a strong
grasp of Federal, State, and local policy issues and of increasingly
numerous and complex environmental regulations that affect many
forestry-related activities. Many colleges require students to
complete a field session either in a camp operated by the college
or in a cooperative work-study program with a Federal or State
agency or with private industry. All schools encourage students
to take summer jobs that provide experience in forestry or conservation
Conservation scientists generally hold a minimum of a bachelor’s
degree in fields such as: ecology, natural resource management,
agriculture, biology, environmental science, or related field.
A master’s or Ph.D. degree is usually required for teaching and
Range managers usually have a degree in range management or range
science. Nine colleges and universities offer degrees in range
management that are accredited by the Society of Range Management.
More than forty other schools offer course work in range science
or in a closely related discipline offering a range management
or range science option. Specialized range management courses
combine plant, animal, and soil sciences with principles of ecology
and resource management. Desirable electives include economics,
statistics, forestry, hydrology, agronomy, wildlife, animal husbandry,
computer science, and recreation. Selection of a minor in range
management, such as wildlife ecology, watershed management, animal
science, or agricultural economics, can often enhance qualifications
for certain types of employment.
The Society for Range Management offers two types of certification:
one as a certified professional in rangeland management (CPRM)
and another as a certified range management Consultant. Candidates
seeking certification must have at least a bachelor’s degree in
range science or a closely related field, have a minimum of 6
years of full-time work experience, and pass a comprehensive written
The Society of American Foresters has a Certified Forester Program.
To become certified through this program, a candidate must graduate
with at least a bachelor’s degree from a forestry program accredited
by the Society, or from a forestry program that, though not accredited
by the Society, is substantially equivalent. In addition, the
candidate must have five years of qualifying professional experience
and pass an examination.
Additionally, a graduate with the proper coursework in college
can seek certification as a wetland scientist through the Society
of Wetland Scientists, and certification as a professional wildlife
biologist through the Wildlife Society.
Very few colleges and universities offer degrees in soil conservation.
Most soil conservationists have degrees in environmental studies,
agronomy, general agriculture, hydrology, or crop or soil science;
a few have degrees in related fields such as wildlife biology,
forestry, and range management. Programs of study usually include
30 semester hours in natural resources or agriculture, including
at least 3 hours in soil science.
In addition to meeting the demands of forestry and conservation
research and analysis, foresters and conservation scientists generally
must enjoy working outdoors, be able to tolerate extensive walking
and other types of physical exertion, and be willing to move to
where the jobs are. They also must work well with people and have
good communication skills.
Recent forestry and conservation scientist graduates usually
work under the supervision of experienced foresters or scientists.
After gaining experience, they may advance to more responsible
positions. In the Federal Government, most entry-level foresters
work in forest resource management. An experienced Federal forester
may supervise a ranger district, and may advance to forest supervisor,
to regional forester, or to a top administrative position in the
national headquarters. In private industry, foresters start by
learning the practical and administrative aspects of the business
and acquiring comprehensive technical training. They are then
introduced to contract writing, timber harvesting, and decisionmaking.
Some foresters work their way up to top managerial positions within
their companies. Foresters in management usually leave the fieldwork
behind, spending more of their time in an office, working with
teams to develop management plans and supervising others. After
gaining several years of experience, some foresters may become
consulting foresters, working alone or with one or several partners.
They contract with State or local governments, private landowners,
private industry, or other forestry consulting groups.
Soil conservationists usually begin working within one county
or conservation district and, with experience, may advance to
the area, State, regional, or national level. Also, soil conservationists
can transfer to related occupations, such as farm or ranch management
advisor or land appraiser.
Conservation scientists and foresters held about 32,000 jobs
in 2004. More than 1 in 3 workers were employed by the Federal
Government, mostly in the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA)
and Interior. Foresters were concentrated in the USDA’s Forest
Service; soil conservationists were employed primarily in the
USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. Most range managers
worked in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land
Management, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, or the
Forest Service. Another 21 percent of conservation scientists
and foresters worked for State governments, and about 11 percent
worked for local governments. The remainder worked in private
industry, mainly in support activities for agriculture and forestry
or in wood product manufacturing. Some were self-employed as consultants
for private landowners, Federal and State governments, and forestry-related
Although Conservation scientists and foresters work in every
State, employment of foresters is concentrated in the Western
and Southeastern States, where many national and private forests
and parks, and most of the lumber and pulpwood-producing forests,
are located. Range managers work almost entirely in the Western
States, where most of the rangeland is located. Soil conservationists,
on the other hand, are employed in almost every county in the
country. Besides the jobs described above, some foresters and
conservation scientists held faculty positions in colleges and
Employment of conservation scientists and foresters is expected
to increase more slowly than the average for all occupations through
2014. Growth should be strongest in private sector consulting
firms. Demand will be spurred by a continuing emphasis on environmental
protection, responsible land management, and water-related issues.
Growing interest in developing private lands and forests for recreational
purposes will generate additional jobs for foresters and conservation
scientists. Fire prevention is another area of growth for these
Job opportunities for conservation scientists will arise because
government regulations, such as those regarding the management
of storm water and coastlines, have created demand for persons
knowledgeable about runoff and erosion on farms and in cities
and suburbs. Soil and water quality experts will be needed as
States design initiatives to improve water resources by preventing
pollution by agricultural producers and industrial plants.
Overall employment of conservation scientists and foresters is
expected to decline slightly in Federal Government, mostly because
of budgetary constraints and the trend among all levels of government
toward contracting these functions out to private consulting firms.
Also, Federal land management agencies, such as the USDA Forest
Service, have de-emphasized their timber programs and increasingly
focused on wildlife, recreation, and sustaining ecosystems, thereby
spurring demand for other life and social scientists rather than
for foresters. However, departures of foresters who retire or
leave the Government for other reasons will result in many job
openings. Additionally, State governments are expected to increase
their hiring of conservation scientists and foresters as their
budgetary situations improve. A small number of new jobs will
result from the need for range and soil conservationists to provide
technical assistance to owners of grazing land through the Natural
Resource Conservation Service.
Foresters involved with timber harvesting will find good opportunities
in the Southeast, where much forested land is privately owned.
However, the recent opening of public lands, especially in the
West, to commercial activity will also help the outlook for foresters.
Salaried foresters working for private industry—such as paper
companies, sawmills, and pulpwood mills—and consulting foresters
will be needed to provide technical assistance and management
plans to landowners.
Scientific research and development services have increased their
hiring of conservation scientists and foresters in recent years
in response to demand for professionals to prepare environmental
impact statements and erosion and sediment control plans, monitor
water quality near logging sites, and advise on tree harvesting
practices required by Federal, State, or local regulations. Hiring
in these firms should continue during the 2004-14 period.
Median annual earnings of conservation scientists in May 2004
were $52,480. The middle 50 percent earned between $39,660 and
$65,550. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,740, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $78,470.
Median annual earnings of foresters in 2004 were $48,230. The
middle 50 percent earned between $37,260 and $60,500. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $29,770, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $72,050.
In 2005, most bachelor’s degree graduates entering the Federal
Government as foresters, range managers, or soil conservationists
started at $24,677 or $30,567, depending on academic achievement.
Those with a master’s degree could start at $37,390or $45,239.
Holders of doctorates could start at $54,221. Beginning salaries
were slightly higher in selected areas where the prevailing local
pay level was higher. In 2005, the average Federal salary for
foresters in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions
was $63,492; for soil conservationists, $60,671; and for rangeland
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers,
graduates with a bachelor’s degree in conservation and renewable
natural resources received an average starting salary offer of
$27,950 in 2005.
In private industry, starting salaries for students with a bachelor’s
degree were comparable with starting salaries in the Federal Government,
but starting salaries in State and local governments were usually
Conservation scientists and foresters who work for Federal, State,
and local governments and large private firms generally receive
more generous benefits than do those working for smaller firms.
Information on obtaining a position as a conservation scientist
or forester with the Federal Government is available from the
Office of Personnel Management (OPM) through USAJOBS, the Federal
Government’s official employment information system. This resource
for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed
through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/ or through an interactive
voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978)461-8404.
These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,