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What Conservation Scientists and Foresters Do About this section

Conservation scientists and foresters
Conservation scientists and foresters study forest and soil quality.

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.

Work Environment About this section

Conservation scientists and foresters
Conservation scientists and foresters typically work in offices, in laboratories, and outdoors, sometimes in remote locations performing fieldwork.

Conservation scientists held about 24,600 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of conservation scientists were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 31%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 22
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 19
Social advocacy organizations 14
Professional, scientific, and technical services 5

Foresters held about 15,000 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of foresters were as follows:

Support activities for agriculture and forestry 29%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 21
Federal government, excluding postal service 9
Forestry and logging 9
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 7

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.

How to Become a Conservation Scientist or Forester About this section

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

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

Education

Conservation scientists and foresters typically need a bachelor's degree in forestry or a related subject, such as agriculture, rangeland management, or natural resources.

Bachelor’s degree programs are designed to prepare conservation scientists and foresters for their career or a graduate degree. Alongside practical skills, theory and education are important parts of these programs.

Bachelor’s and advanced degree programs in forestry and related fields typically include courses in ecology, biology, and forest resource measurement. Scientists and foresters also typically have a background in Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, remote sensing, and other forms of computer modeling.

In 2017, more than 50 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in forestry, urban forestry, and natural resources and ecosystem management were accredited by the Society of American Foresters.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Conservation scientists and foresters must evaluate the results of a variety of field tests and experiments, all of which require precision and accuracy. They use sophisticated computer modeling to prepare their analyses.

Critical-thinking skills. Conservation scientists and foresters reach conclusions through sound reasoning and judgment. They determine how to improve forest conditions, and they must react appropriately to fires.

Decisionmaking skills. Conservation scientists and foresters must use their expertise and experience to determine whether their findings will have an impact on soil, forest lands, and the spread of fires.

Management skills. Conservation scientists and foresters need to work well with the forest and conservation workers and technicians they supervise, so effective communication is critical.

Physical stamina. Conservation scientists and foresters often walk long distances in steep and wooded areas. They work in all kinds of weather, including extreme heat and cold.

Speaking skills. Conservation scientists and foresters must give clear instructions to forest and conservation workers and technicians, who typically do the labor necessary for proper forest maintenance. They also need to communicate clearly with landowners and, in some cases, the general public.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Several states have some type of credentialing process for foresters. In some of these states, foresters must be licensed; check with your state for more information. Conservation workers do not need a license.

Although certification is not required, conservation scientists and foresters may choose to earn it because it shows a high level of professional competency.

The Society of American Foresters (SAF) offers certification to foresters. Candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an SAF-accredited program or from a forestry program that is substantially equivalent. Candidates also must have qualifying professional experience and pass an exam.

The Society for Range Management offers professional certification in rangeland management or as a range management consultant. To be certified, candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree in range management or a related field, have 5 years of full-time related work experience, and pass an exam.

Advancement

Many conservation scientists and foresters advance to take on managerial duties. They also may conduct research or work on policy issues, often after getting an advanced degree. Foresters in management usually leave fieldwork behind, spending more of their time in an office, working with teams to develop management plans and supervising others.

Soil conservationists usually begin working within one district and may advance to a state, regional, or national level. Soil conservationists also can transfer to occupations such as farm or ranch management advisor or land appraiser.

Pay About this section

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Median annual wages, May 2021

Life scientists

$80,140

Foresters

$64,110

Conservation scientists

$63,750

Conservation scientists and foresters

$63,750

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for conservation scientists was $63,750 in May 2021. 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 $38,670, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,440.

The median annual wage for foresters was $64,110 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $98,330.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for conservation scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $77,560
State government, excluding education and hospitals 62,980
Professional, scientific, and technical services 61,910
Social advocacy organizations 60,400
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 54,930

In May 2021, the median annual wages for foresters in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $67,660
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 64,010
State government, excluding education and hospitals 63,400

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

Job Outlook About this section

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Life scientists

11%

Foresters

7%

Conservation scientists and foresters

5%

Total, all occupations

5%

Conservation scientists

3%

 

Overall employment of conservation scientists and foresters is projected to grow 5 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 3,800 openings for conservation scientists and foresters are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Projected employment of conservation scientists and foresters varies by occupation (see table).

Both changing weather conditions and the development of previously unused lands have contributed to increasingly devastating and costly fires. In recent years, prevention and suppression of wildfires have become the primary concern for managing forests and rangelands. With increasing numbers of forest fires and as more people live on or near forest lands, foresters and conservation scientists will be needed to mitigate growing humanitarian and environmental impacts of forest fires.

Employment projections data for conservation scientists and foresters, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Conservation scientists and foresters

19-1030 39,600 41,400 5 1,800 Get data

Conservation scientists

19-1031 24,600 25,300 3 700 Get data

Foresters

19-1032 15,000 16,100 7 1,100 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

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

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Conservation Scientists

Foresters

Park Naturalists

Range Managers

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