Conservation Scientists and Foresters

by Kate Williams

What Conservation Scientists and Foresters Do

Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCAudFo7Eo4

Work Environment

Conservation scientists and foresters work for governments (federal, state, and local), on privately owned lands, or in social advocacy organizations.

How to Become a Conservation Scientist or Forester

Conservation scientists and foresters typically need a bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related field.

Pay

The median annual wage for conservation scientists was $62,660 in May 2019.

The median annual wage for foresters was $61,790 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of conservation scientists and foresters is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. The continued need for wildfire prevention and suppression services will help drive demand for conservation scientists and foresters.

Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.

Duties

Conservation scientists typically do the following:

  • Oversee forestry and conservation activities to ensure compliance with government regulations and habitat protection
  • Negotiate terms and conditions for forest harvesting and for land-use contracts
  • Establish plans for managing forest lands and resources
  • Monitor forest-cleared lands to ensure that they are suitable for future use
  • Work with private landowners, governments, farmers, and others to improve land for forestry purposes, while at the same time protecting the environment

Foresters typically do the following:

  • Supervise activities of forest and conservation workers and technicians
  • Choose and prepare sites for new trees, using controlled burning, bulldozers, or herbicides to clear land
  • Monitor the regeneration of forests
  • Direct and participate in forest fire suppression
  • Determine ways to remove timber with minimum environmental damage

Conservation scientists manage, improve, and protect the country’s natural resources. They work with private landowners and federal, state, and local governments to find ways to use and improve the land while safeguarding the environment. Conservation scientists advise farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers on how they can improve their land for agricultural purposes and to control erosion.

Foresters have a wide range of duties, and their responsibilities vary with their employer. Some primary duties of foresters are drawing up plans to regenerate forested lands, monitoring the progress of those lands, and supervising tree harvests. Another duty of a forester is devising plans to keep forests free from disease, harmful insects, and damaging wildfires. Many foresters supervise forest and conservation workers and technicians, directing their work and evaluating their progress.

Conservation scientists and foresters evaluate data on forest and soil quality, assessing damage to trees and forest lands caused by fires and logging activities. In addition, they lead activities such as suppressing fires and planting seedlings. Fire suppression activities include measuring how quickly fires will spread and how successfully the planned suppression activities turn out.

Conservation scientists and foresters use their skills to determine a fire’s impact on a region’s environment. Communication with firefighters and other forest workers is an important component of fire suppression and controlled burn activities because the information that conservation scientists and foresters provide can determine how firefighters work.

Conservation scientists and foresters use a number of tools to perform their jobs. They use clinometers to measure the heights of trees, diameter tapes to measure a tree’s circumference, and increment borers and bark gauges to measure the growth of trees so that timber volumes can be computed and growth rates estimated.

In addition, conservation scientists and foresters often use remote sensing (aerial photographs and other imagery taken from airplanes and satellites) and Geographic Information System (GIS) data to map large forest or range areas and to detect widespread trends of forest and land use. They make extensive use of hand-held computers and Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to study these maps.

The following are examples of types of conservation scientists:

Conservation land managers work for land trusts or other conservation organizations to protect the wildlife habitat, biodiversity, scenic value, and other unique attributes of preserves and conservation lands.

Range managers, also called range conservationists, protect rangelands to maximize their use without damaging the environment. Rangelands contain many natural resources and cover hundreds of millions of acres in the United States, mainly in the western states and Alaska.

Range managers may inventory soils, plants, and animals; develop resource management plans; help to restore degraded ecosystems; or help manage a ranch. They also maintain soil stability and vegetation for uses such as wildlife habitats and outdoor recreation. Like foresters, they work to prevent and reduce wildfires and invasive animal species.

Soil and water conservationists give technical help to people who are concerned with the conservation of soil, water, and related natural resources. For private landowners, they develop programs to make the most productive use of land without damaging it. They also help landowners with issues such as dealing with erosion. They help private landowners and governments by advising on water quality, preserving water supplies, preventing ground-water contamination, and conserving water.

The following are examples of types of foresters:

Procurement foresters buy timber by contacting local forest owners and negotiating a sale. This activity typically involves taking inventory on the type, amount, and location of all standing timber on the property. Procurement foresters then appraise the timber’s worth, negotiate its purchase, and draw up a contract. The forester then subcontracts with loggers or pulpwood cutters to remove the trees and to help lay out roads to get to the timber.

Urban foresters live and work in larger cities and manage urban trees. These workers are concerned with quality-of-life issues, including air quality, shade, and storm water runoff.

Conservation education foresters train teachers and students about issues facing forest lands.

Conservation scientists held about 24,500 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of conservation scientists were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 28%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 21
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 21
Social advocacy organizations 13
Professional, scientific, and technical services 4

Foresters held about 11,600 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of foresters were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 30%
Forestry and logging 15
Federal government, excluding postal service 12
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 10
Support activities for agriculture and forestry 3

In the western and southwestern United States, conservation scientists and foresters usually work for the federal government because of the number of national parks in that part of the country. In the eastern United States, they often work for private landowners. Social advocacy organizations employ foresters and conservation scientists in working with lawmakers on behalf of sustainable land use and other issues facing forest land.

Conservation scientists and foresters typically work in offices, in laboratories, and outdoors, sometimes doing fieldwork in remote locations. When visiting or working near logging operations or wood yards, they wear a hardhat and other protective gear.

The work can be physically demanding. Some conservation scientists and foresters work outdoors in all types of weather. They may need to walk long distances through dense woods and underbrush to carry out their work. Insect bites, poisonous plants, and other natural hazards present some risk.

In an isolated location, a forester or conservation scientist may work alone, measuring tree densities and regeneration or performing other outdoor activities. Other foresters work closely with the public, educating them about the forest or the proper use of recreational sites.

Fire suppression activities are an important aspect of the duties of a forester or conservation scientist. Because those activities involve prevention as well as emergency responses, the work of a forester or conservation scientist has occasional risk.

Work Schedules

Most conservation scientists and foresters work full time and have a standard work schedule.

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of conservation scientists and foresters.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2019

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.

Bachelor’s degree $65,160

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Environmental science and protection technicians monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution and contamination.

Associate’s degree $46,540

Firefighters

Firefighters control and put out fires and respond to emergencies where life, property, or the environment is at risk.

Postsecondary nondegree award $50,850

Forest and conservation workers

Forest and Conservation Workers

Forest and conservation workers measure and improve the quality of forests.

High school diploma or equivalent $31,770

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems.

Bachelor’s degree $63,270

For more information about conservation scientists and foresters, including schools offering education in forestry, visit

Society of American Foresters

For information about careers in forestry, particularly conservation forestry and land management, visit

Forest Stewards Guild

Society for Range Management

U.S. Forest Service

CareerOneStop

For a career video on conservation scientists, visit

Conservation scientists

O*NET

Conservation Scientists

Foresters

Park Naturalists

Range Managers

Soil and Water Conservationists


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Conservation Scientists and Foresters,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/conservation-scientists.htm (visited ).


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