Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Summary

conservation scientists image
Conservation scientists and foresters manage and monitor overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.
Quick Facts: Conservation Scientists and Foresters
2012 Median Pay $59,060 per year
$28.40 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 34,200
Job Outlook, 2012-22 3% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 900

What Conservation Scientists and Foresters Do

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

Work Environment

Conservation scientists and foresters work for governments (federal, state, or 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

In May 2012, the median annual wage for conservation scientists was $61,100. The median annual wage for foresters was $55,950 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of conservation scientists and foresters is projected to grow 3 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Heightened demand for American timber and wood pellets will help increase the overall job prospects for conservation scientists and foresters.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of conservation scientists and foresters with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about conservation scientists and foresters by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Conservation Scientists and Foresters Do About this section

Conservation scientists and foresters
A soil and water conservationist is a type of conservation scientist who may provide advice on water quality.

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

Duties

Conservation scientists typically do the following:

  • Monitor forestry and conservation activities to assure compliance with government regulations and habitat protection
  • Negotiate terms and conditions for forest harvesting and 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, farm managers, and ranchers 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 depending on their employer. Some primary duties of foresters include drawing up plans to regenerate forested lands, monitoring the progress of those lands, and supervising tree harvests. They also come up with plans to keep forests free from disease, harmful insects, and damaging wildfires.

Foresters may choose and direct the preparation of sites on which trees will be planted. They advise on the type, number, and placement of trees. When the trees reach a certain size, foresters decide which trees should be harvested and sold to sawmills.

Many foresters supervise forest and conservation workers and technicians, directing their work and evaluating their progress. For more information, see the profiles on forest and conservation workers and forest and conservation technicians

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 fire suppression 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 systems (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 systems (GPS) to study these maps.

The following are examples of types of conservation scientists:

Conservation land managers work for land trusts or other conservation organization 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 groundwater 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.

Restoration planners study issues facing forests and related natural resources. They may study issues such as tree improvement and harvesting techniques, global climate change, improving wildlife habitats, and protecting forests from pests, diseases, and wildfires.

Urban foresters live and work in larger cities and manage urban trees. They 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 and foresters held about 34,200 jobs in 2012.

The industries that employed the most conservation scientists in 2012 were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service34%
State government, excluding education and hospitals21
Local government, excluding education and hospitals14
Social advocacy organizations9

The industries that employed the most foresters in 2012 were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals29%
Federal government, excluding postal service13
Local government, excluding education and hospitals11
Sawmills and wood preservation5
Logging4

Conservation scientists and foresters work for governments (federal, state, or local), on privately owned lands, or for social advocacy organizations. In the western and southwestern United States, they 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 work with lawmakers on behalf of sustainable land use and other issues facing forest land. They are concerned with the long-term impact of carbon emissions on forests worldwide.

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

The work can be physically demanding. Some conservation scientists and foresters work outdoors in all types of weather, occasionally in isolated areas. 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, regeneration, or 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 their duties, which involve prevention as well as emergency response. Therefore, their work has occasional risk.

Work Schedules

Most conservation scientists and foresters work full time and have a standard work schedule. Responding to emergencies or fires may require conservation scientists and foresters to work longer hours.

How to Become a Conservation Scientist or Forester About this section

Conservation scientists and foresters
Employers seek applicants who have degrees from programs that are accredited by the Society of American Foresters (SAF) and other organizations.

Conservation scientists and foresters typically need a bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related field. Employers seek applicants who have degrees from programs that are accredited by the Society of American Foresters (SAF) and other organizations.

Education

Conservation scientists and foresters typically need a bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related field, such as agricultural science, rangeland management, or environmental science. Although graduate work is not generally required, some conservation scientists and foresters get a master’s degree or Ph.D.

Most forest and conservation technology programs are accredited by the Society of American Foresters. There are accredited programs in every state.

Many colleges and universities offer degrees in forestry or a related field. 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.

Courses for bachelor’s and advanced degree programs in forestry and related fields typically include ecology, biology, and forest resource measurement. Scientists and foresters also typically have a background in a geographic information systems (GIS) technology and other forms of computer modeling.

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 analysis.

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.

Decision-making 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

Sixteen states sponsor some type of credentialing process for foresters. Alabama, California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire have licensing laws. Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina have laws requiring registration. Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia have laws about voluntary registration.

Licensing and registration requirements both usually require a 4-year degree in forestry and several years of forestry work experience. Candidates who want a license also may be required to pass an exam.

The Society for Range Management offers a professional certification in rangeland management or as a range management consultant.

The Society of American Foresters certifies foresters who have at least a bachelor's degree from one of the 50 forestry or natural resources degree programs accredited by the society or from a forestry program that is substantially equivalent. The candidate also must have qualifying professional 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 a farm or ranch management advisor or a land appraiser.

Pay About this section

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Median annual wages, May 2012

Conservation scientists

$61,100

Conservation scientists and foresters

$59,060

Foresters

$55,950

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for conservation scientists was $61,100 in May 2012. 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 $38,350, and the top 10 percent earned more than $90,870.

The median annual wage for foresters was $55,950 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,380, and the top 10 percent earned more than $78,490.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for conservation scientists in the top four industries in which these scientists worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service$71,110
State government, excluding education and hospitals53,310
Social advocacy organizations52,820
Local government, excluding education and hospitals51,230

In May 2012, the median annual wages for foresters in the top five industries in which these foresters worked were as follows:

Logging$64,180
Federal government, excluding postal service61,680
Sawmills and wood preservation56,430
Local government, excluding education and hospitals54,290
State government, excluding education and hospitals49,610

Most conservation scientists and foresters work full time and have a standard work schedule. Responding to emergencies or fires may require conservation scientists and foresters to work longer hours.

Job Outlook About this section

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Foresters

6%

Conservation scientists and foresters

3%

Conservation scientists

1%

 

Employment of conservation scientists and foresters is projected to grow 3 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

Heightened demand for American timber and wood pellets will help increase the overall job prospects for conservation scientists and foresters. Most growth from 2012 to 2022 for conservation scientists and foresters is expected to be in federal- and state- owned forest lands, particularly in the western United States. Jobs in private forests will grow alongside demand for timber and pellets, and governments are likely to hire more foresters as the number of forest fires increases and more people move into forest lands.

In recent years, preventing and suppressing wildfires has become the primary concern for government agencies managing forests and rangelands. The development of previously unused lands, in addition to changing weather conditions, has contributed to increasingly devastating and costly fires.

Job Prospects

Increases in funding, more retirees, and new programs should create opportunities for foresters and range managers. Restoring lands affected by fires also will be a major task, particularly in the southwestern and western states, where fires are most common. Job prospects are highest for conservation scientists and foresters who have a strong understanding of geographic information systems (GIS).

Employment projections data for conservation scientists and foresters, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Conservation scientists and foresters

19-1030 34,200 35,000 3 900 [XLS]

Conservation scientists

19-1031 22,100 22,300 1 100 [XLS]

Foresters

19-1032 12,000 12,800 6 700 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

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 Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Agricultural and food scientists

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and food scientists work to ensure that agricultural establishments are productive and food is safe.

See How to Become One $58,610
Environmental science and protection technicians

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Environmental science and protection technicians do laboratory and field tests to monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution, including those affecting public health. Many work under the supervision of environmental scientists and specialists, who direct the technicians’ work and evaluate their results.

Associate’s degree $41,240
Firefighters

Firefighters

Firefighters control fires and respond to other emergencies, including medical emergencies.

Postsecondary non-degree award $45,250
Forest and conservation technicians

Forest and Conservation Technicians

Forest and conservation technicians measure and improve the quality of forests, rangeland, and other natural areas.

Associate’s degree $33,920
Forest and conservation workers

Forest and Conservation Workers

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.

High school diploma or equivalent $24,340
Zoologists and wildlife biologists

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems. They study the physical characteristics of animals, animal behaviors, and the impacts humans have on wildlife and natural habitats.

Bachelor’s degree $57,710
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Conservation Scientists and Foresters,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/conservation-scientists.htm (visited April 20, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014