Forest and conservation workers measure and improve the quality of forests. Under the supervision of foresters and forest and conservation technicians, they develop, maintain, and protect forests.

Duties

Forest and conservation workers typically do the following:

  • Plant seedlings to reforest land
  • Clear away brush and debris from trails, roadsides, and camping areas
  • Count and measure trees during tree-measuring efforts
  • Select or cut trees according to markings, sizes, types, or grades
  • Spray trees with insecticides and fungicides to kill insects and fungi and to protect the trees from disease
  • Identify and remove diseased or undesirable trees
  • Inject vegetation with insecticides and herbicides
  • Help prevent and suppress forest fires
  • Check equipment to ensure that it is operating properly

Forest and conservation workers are supervised by foresters and forest and conservation technicians, who direct their work and evaluate their progress.

Forest and conservation workers perform basic tasks to maintain and improve the quality of the forest. They use digging and planting tools to plant seedlings and power saws to cut down diseased trees.

Some work on tree farms or orchards, where they plant, cultivate, and harvest many different kinds of trees. Their duties vary with the type of farm and may include planting seedlings or spraying to control weed growth and insects.

Some forest and conservation workers work in forest nurseries, where they sort through tree seedlings, discarding the ones that do not meet standards. Others use handtools or their hands to gather woodland products, such as decorative greenery, tree cones, bark, moss, and other wild plantlife. Some may tap trees to make syrup or chemicals.

Forest and conservation workers who are employed by or are under contract with state and local governments may clear brush and debris from trails, roads, roadsides, and camping areas. They may clean kitchens and restrooms at recreational facilities and campgrounds.

Workers with a fire protection background help to suppress forest fires. For example, they may construct firebreaks, which are gaps in vegetation that can help slow down or stop the progress of a fire. In addition, they may work with technicians to determine how quickly fires spread and how successful fire suppression activities were. For example, workers help count how many trees will be affected by a fire. They also sometimes respond to forest emergencies.

Forest and conservation workers held about 13,900 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of forest and conservation workers were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 26%
Support activities for agriculture and forestry 12
Self-employed workers 12
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 12
Forestry 10

Forest and conservation workers work mainly in the western and southeastern areas of the United States, where there are many national and state forests, and on private forests and parks.

Forest and conservation workers work outdoors, sometimes in remote locations and in all types of weather. Workers use proper safety measures and equipment, such as hardhats, protective eyewear, and safety clothing.

Most of these jobs are physically demanding. Forest and conservation workers may have to walk long distances through densely wooded areas and carry their equipment with them.

Injuries and Illnesses

Forest and conservation workers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. The work may be especially dangerous for those whose primary duties involve fire suppression. To protect against injury, forest and conservation workers must wear special gear and follow prescribed safety procedures.

Work Schedules

Many forest and conservation workers are employed full time and work regular hours. Responding to an emergency may require workers to work additional hours and at any time of day.

Forest and conservation workers typically need a high school diploma before they begin working. Most workers receive training on the job.

Education

Forest and conservation workers typically need a high school diploma and a valid driver’s license before they begin working. Some vocational and technical schools and community colleges offer courses leading to a 2-year technical degree in forestry. The programs typically offer courses in forest management technology, wildlife management, conservation, or timber harvesting. Programs that include field trips to watch and participate in forestry activities provide particularly good background knowledge.

Training

Entry-level forest and conservation workers generally get on-the-job training as they help more experienced workers. They do routine labor-intensive tasks, such as planting or thinning trees. When the opportunity arises, they learn from experienced technicians and foresters who do more complex tasks, such as gathering data. Workers also learn safety procedures, including how to operate equipment safely and how to maintain safety gear.

In addition, some states require that crews and individuals receive training, and sometimes a license, in the use of commercial pesticides. For more information, consult states’ Departments of Agriculture.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Forest and conservation workers must convey information effectively to technicians and other workers.

Decisionmaking skills. Forest and conservation workers must make quick, intelligent decisions, especially when they face dangerous conditions.

Detail oriented. Forest and conservation workers must watch gauges, dials, or other indicators to determine whether equipment and tools are working properly. Workers must follow safety procedures with precision.

Listening skills. Forest and conservation workers must give full attention to what their superiors are saying. They must understand the instructions they are given before performing tasks.

Physical stamina. Forest and conservation workers plant trees and repeatedly perform a variety of physical tasks. They also must be able to walk long distances through densely wooded areas and carry heavy equipment with them.

Advancement

To advance their careers and become forest and conservation technicians or foresters, forest and conservation workers usually need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related field.

The median annual wage for forest and conservation workers was $27,460 in May 2018.

The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $48,220.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for forest and conservation workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals $32,670
State government, excluding education and hospitals 23,310

Many forest and conservation workers are employed full time and work regular hours. Responding to an emergency may require workers to work additional hours and at any time of day.

Forest and Conservation Workers

Median annual wages, May 2018

Forest, conservation, and logging workers

$38,770

Total, all occupations

$38,640

Forest and conservation workers

$27,460

 

Employment of forest and conservation workers is projected to decline 3 percent from 2018 to 2028. Although demand for forestry products and services will likely be steady, it is expected to be counteracted by the automation of much of the work that these workers do.

New technologies, such as remote sensing, allow fewer workers to perform certain tasks, such as tree counts and tree identifications. As the automation of manual forest tasks continues, fewer of these workers will be needed to perform the same amount of work.

Despite heightened international demand for U.S. timber and wood pellets that will continue to demand forest and conservation workers, improved technology will also lessen the need for workers to perform certain tasks.

There is likely to be an increase in wildfires caused by unpredictable climate conditions and overgrown vegetation on forest lands. This rise in the number of wildfires would in turn increase demand for the fire suppression activities of forest and conservation workers. Most employment activities for forest and conservation workers is likely to be in state-owned forest lands. As more people continue to build homes in western forests, there will be need for workers to protect those areas from fires. 

Job Prospects

Workers who follow standard safety procedures, remain physically fit, and work well on teams will have the best job opportunities.

Employment projections data for forest and conservation workers, 2018-28
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Forest and conservation workers

45-4011 13,900 13,500 -3 -400 Get data

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

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2018

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

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

Bachelor’s degree $61,340

Firefighters

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

Postsecondary nondegree award $49,620

Logging Workers

Logging workers harvest forests to provide the raw material for many consumer goods and industrial products.

High school diploma or equivalent $40,650

Cartographers and Photogrammetrists

Cartographers and photogrammetrists collect, measure, and interpret geographic information in order to create and update maps and charts for regional planning, education, and other purposes.

Bachelor’s degree $64,430

For information about forestry careers and about 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

National Association of State Departments of Agriculture

U.S. Forest Service

O*NET

Forest and Conservation Workers


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Forest and Conservation Workers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/farming-fishing-and-forestry/forest-and-conservation-workers.htm (visited ).