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, develop, use, and help to protect these and other natural resources.
Foresters manage forested lands for a variety of purposes. Those working in private industry may manage company 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. Foresters then appraise the timberís worth, negotiate its purchase, and draw up a contract for procurement. Next, they subcontract with loggers or pulpwood cutters for tree removal, aid in road layout, and maintain close contact with the subcontractorís workers and the landowner to ensure that the work meets the landownerís requirements, as well as Federal, State, and local environmental specifications. Forestry consultants often act as agents for the forest owner, performing these duties and negotiating timber sales with industrial procurement foresters.
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.
Through a process called regeneration, foresters also supervise the planting and growing of new trees. They choose and prepare 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 forest pest management specialists to decide on the best course of treatment. Foresters who work for Federal and State governments manage public forests and parks and work with private landowners to protect and manage forest land outside of the public domain. They may also design campgrounds and recreation areas.
Foresters use a number of tools to perform their jobs. Clinometers measure the height, 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 Satellite (GPS), and World Wide Web-based applications are used extensively.
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 about 1 billion 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 topicsspecifically, issues of water quality, preserving water supplies, groundwater contamination, and management and conservation of water resources.
Foresters and conservation scientists often specialize in one area, such as wildlife management, urban forestry, wood technology, 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 work.
The work can be physically demanding. Some foresters and conservation scientists work outdoors in all types of weather, sometimes in isolated areas. Other foresters 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.
Conservation scientists and foresters held about 33,000 jobs in 2002. Nearly one-third of all workers were employed by the Federal Government, many in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Foresters were concentrated in the USDAís Forest Service; soil conservationists were employed primarily in the USDAís Natural Resource Conservation Service. Most range managers worked in the U.S. Department of the Interiorís Bureau of Land Management, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, or the Forest Service. Another 20 percent of conservation scientists and foresters worked for State governments, and about 10 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 businesses.
Although conservation scientists and foresterswork 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 universities. (See the statement on teacherspostsecondary elsewhere in the Handbook.)
A bachelorís degree in forestry, range management, 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.
Sixteen States have mandatory licensing or voluntary registration requirements that a forester must meet in order to acquire the title ďprofessional foresterĒ and practice forestry in the State. Of those 16 States, 7 have mandatory licensing; 5 have mandatory registration, and the remaining 4 States have optional 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 must pass a comprehensive written exam.
Foresters who wish to perform specialized research or teach should have an advanced degree, preferably a Ph.D.
Most land-grant colleges and universities offer bachelorís or higher degrees in forestry; about 110 of these degree programs at around 50 educational institutions are accredited by the Society of American Foresters. Curriculums stress four components: Ecology, 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, communications skills, 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 studentís 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 private industry. All schools encourage students to take summer jobs that provide experience in forestry or conservation work.
A bachelorís degree in range management or range science is the usual minimum educational requirement for range managers; graduate degrees usually are required for teaching and research positions. More than 30 colleges and universities offer degrees in range management that are accredited by the Society of Range Management. A number of other schools offer degree programs in range science or in a closely related discipline with 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 certification as a professional rangeland manager (CPRM). Candidates seeking certification must have at least a bachelorís degree in range science or a closely related field, have a minimum of 5 years of full-time work experience, and pass a comprehensive written exam.
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 physically hardy, 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 range management graduates usually work under the supervision of experienced foresters or range managers. 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.
Employment of conservation scientists and foresters is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2012. Growth should be strongest in private sector consulting firms and in scientific research and development services. Demand will be spurred by a continuing emphasis on environmental protection, responsible land management, and water-related issues. 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.
Fewer opportunities for conservation scientists and foresters are expected in Federal and State Government, mostly due to budgetary constraints and the trend among governments toward contracting 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 some job openings between 2002 and 2012. 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.
Reductions in timber harvesting on public lands, most of which are located in the Northwest and California, also will dampen job growth for private industry foresters in these regions. Opportunities will be better for foresters in the Southeast, where much forested land is privately owned. Salaried foresters working for private industrysuch as paper companies, sawmills, and pulpwood millsand 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 2002-12 period, although at a slower rate than over the last 10 years.
Median annual earnings of conservation scientists in 2002 were $50,340. The middle 50 percent earned between $39,300 and $61,440. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,630, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $70,770.
Median annual earnings of foresters in 2002 were $46,730. The middle 50 percent earned between $36,330 and $56,890. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,690, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $69,600.
In 2003, most bachelorís degree graduates entering the Federal Government as foresters, range managers, or soil conservationists started at $23,442 or $29,037, depending on academic achievement. Those with a masterís degree could start at $35,519 or $42,976. Holders of doctorates could start at $51,508. Beginning salaries were slightly higher in selected areas where the prevailing local pay level was higher. In 2003, the average Federal salary for foresters in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions was $59,233; for soil conservationists, $57,084; and for rangeland managers, $53,657.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, graduates with a bachelorís degree in conservation and renewable natural resources received an average starting salary offer of $29,715 in 2003.
In private industry, starting salaries for students with a bachelorís degree were comparable with starting salaries in the Federal Government, but starting salaries in State and local governments were usually lower.
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.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition,
Conservation Scientists and Foresters, on the Internet at
(visited July 09, 2004).