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Nature of the Work
* About 2 out of 3 work for Federal, State, or local governments.
* A bachelor's degree in forestry, range management, or a related field is generally the minimum educational requirement.
* Projected average employment growth will stem from continuing emphasis on environmental protection and responsible land management.
Forests and rangelands serve a variety of needs: They supply wood products, livestock forage, minerals, and water; serve as sites for recreational activities; and provide habitats for wildlife. Foresters and conservation scientists manage, develop, use, and help protect these and other natural resources.
Foresters manage forested lands for a variety of purposes. Those working in private industry may procure timber from private landowners. To do this, 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 timber's worth, negotiate the purchase of timber, 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 subcontractor's workers and the landowner to ensure that the work meets the landowner's requirements, as well as Federal, State, and local environmental specifications. Forestry consultants often act as agents for the forest owner, performing the above duties and negotiating timber sales with industrial procurement foresters.
Throughout the process, foresters consider the economics of the purchase as well as the environmental impact on natural resources, a function which has taken on added importance in recent years. To do this, they determine how best 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 decide on the best course of treatment to prevent contamination or infestation of healthy trees.
Foresters who work for State and Federal governments manage public forests and parks and also 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 heights, diameter tapes measure the diameter, and increment borers and bark gauges measure the growth of trees so that timber volumes can be computed and future growth estimated. Photogrammetry and remote sensing (aerial photographs and other imagery taken from airplanes and satellites) often are used for mapping large forest areas and for detecting widespread trends of forest and land use. Computers are used extensively, both in the office and in the field, for the storage, retrieval, and analysis of information required to manage the forest land and its resources.
Range managers, also called range conservationists, range ecologists, or range scientists, 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 the 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 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, they 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 conservationists provide technical assistance to farmers, ranchers, State and local governments, and others concerned with the conservation of soil, water, and related natural resources. They develop programs designed to get the most productive use of land without damaging it. Conservationists visit areas with erosion problems, find the source of the problem, and help landowners and managers develop management practices to combat it.
Foresters and conservation scientists often specialize in one area such as forest resource management, urban forestry, wood technology, 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 work regular hours in offices or labs. Others may split their time between field work and office work, while someespecially independent consultants or less experienced workersspend the majority of their time outdoors overseeing or participating in hands-on work.
The work can be physically demanding. Foresters and conservation scientists who work outdoors do so in all kinds of weather, sometimes in isolated areas. Some 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 in to prevent erosion after a forest fire, and they provide emergency help after floods, mudslides, and tropical storms.
Foresters and conservation scientists held about 37,000 jobs in 1996. Nearly 3 out of 10 salaried workers were in the Federal Government, mostly in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Foresters were concentrated in the USDA's Forest Service; soil conservationists in the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service. Most range managers worked in the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management or in the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service. Nearly another 3 out of 10 foresters and conservation scientists worked for State governments, and nearly 1 out of 10 worked for local governments. The remainder worked in private industry, mainly in the forestry industry, logging and lumber companies and sawmills, and research and testing services. Some were self-employed as consultants for private landowners, State and Federal governments, and forestry-related businesses.
Although foresters and conservation scientists work 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.
A bachelor's degree in forestry is the minimum educational requirement for professional careers in forestry. 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.
Fifteen States have mandatory licensing or voluntary registration requirements which a forester must meet in order to acquire the title "professional forester" and practice forestry in the State. Licensing or registration requirements vary by State, but usually entail completing a 4-year degree in forestry, a minimum period of training time, and passing an 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 bachelor's or higher degrees in forestry; 48 of these programs are accredited by the Society of American Foresters. Curriculums stress science, mathematics, communications skills, and computer science, as well as technical forestry subjects. Courses in forest economics and business administration supplement the student's scientific and technical knowledge. Forestry curricula increasingly include courses on best management practices, wetlands analysis, water and soil quality, and wildlife conservation, in response to the growing focus on protecting forested lands during timber harvesting operations. Prospective foresters should have a strong grasp on policy issues and on the increasingly numerous and complex environmental regulations which 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 bachelor's degree in range management or range science is the usual minimum educational requirement for range managers; graduate degrees generally are required for teaching and research positions. In 1996, about 30 colleges and universities offered degrees in range management or range science or in a closely related discipline with a range management or range science option. A number of other schools offered some courses in range management or range science. Specialized range management courses combine plant, animal, and soil sciences with principles of ecology and resource management. Desirable electives include economics, forestry, hydrology, agronomy, wildlife, animal husbandry, computer science, and recreation.
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 generally include 30 semester hours in natural resources or agriculture, including at least 3 hours in soil science. The Soil and Water Conservation Society sponsors a certification program based on education, experience, and testing. Upon completion of the program, individuals are designated as Certified Professional Erosion and Sediment Control specialist.
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 must also work well with people and have good communications 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, 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 decision making. Some foresters work their way up to top managerial positions within their companies. Foresters in management usually leave the field work 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 foresters and conservation scientists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2006. Growth should be strongest in State and local governments, where demand will be spurred by a continuing emphasis on environmental protection and responsible land management. For example, the nationwide Stewardship Incentive Program, funded by the Federal Government, provides money to the States to encourage landowners to practice multiple-use forest management. Foresters will continue to be needed to help landowners manage their forested property. However, job opportunities are expected to be best for soil conservationists as government regulations, such as those regarding the management of stormwater and coastlines, has created demand for persons knowledgeable about erosion on farms and in cities and suburbs. Soil and water quality experts will also be needed as States attempt to improve water quality by preventing pollution by agricultural producers and industrial plants.
Fewer opportunities for foresters and conservation scientists are expected in the Federal Government, partly due to budgetary constraints. Also, Federal land management agencies, such as the Forest Service, are de-emphasizing their timber programs and increasingly focusing on wildlife, recreation, and sustaining ecosystems, thereby increasing demand for other life and social scientists relative to foresters. However, a large number of foresters is expected to retire or leave the Government for other reasons, resulting in some job openings between 1996 and 2006. In addition, the need for range and soil conservationists to provide technical assistance, through the Natural Resource Conservation Service, to owners of grazing land may lead to a small number of new jobs.
The recent 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. Rising demand for timber on private lands will increase the need for forest management plans which maximize production while sustaining the environment for future growth. Salaried foresters working for private industrysuch as paper companies, sawmills, and pulp wood millsand consulting foresters will be needed to provide technical assistance and management plans to landowners.
Research and testing firms have increased their hiring of foresters and conservation scientists 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 1996-2006 period, though at a slower rate.
In 1997, most graduates entering the Federal Government as foresters, range managers, or soil conservationists with a bachelor's degree started at $19,500 or $24,200 a year, depending on academic achievement. Those with a master's degree could start at $24,200 or $29,600. Holders of doctorates could start at $35,800 or, in research positions, at $42,900. Beginning salaries were slightly higher in selected areas where the prevailing local pay level was higher. In 1997, the average Federal salary for foresters in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions was $47,600; for soil conservationists, $45,200; for rangeland managers, $43,100, and for forest products technologists, $62,000.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, graduates with a bachelor's degree in natural resources received an average starting salary offer of $24,800 in 1997.
In private industry, starting salaries for students with a bachelor's degree were comparable to starting salaries in the Federal Government, but starting salaries in State and local governments were generally lower.
Foresters and conservation scientists who work for Federal, State, and local governments and large private firms generally receive more generous benefits than those working for smaller firms.
Foresters and conservation scientists manage, develop, and protect natural resources. They are aided by range, soil conservation, and forestry technicians. Other workers with similar responsibilities include agricultural scientists, agricultural engineers, biological scientists, environmental scientists and engineers, farm and ranch managers, soil scientists, and wildlife managers.
For information about the forestry profession and lists of schools offering education in forestry, send a self-addressed, stamped business envelope to:
Society of American Foresters, 5400 Grosvenor Ln., Bethesda, MD 20814. Homepage: http://www.safnet.org
For information about career opportunities in forestry in the Federal Government, contact:
Chief, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, P.O. Box 96090, SW., Washington, DC 20090-6090.
For information about a career in State forestry organizations, contact:
National Association of State Foresters, 444 N. Capitol St. NW., Suite 540, Washington, DC 20001.
Information about a career as a range manager as well as a list of schools offering training is available from:
Society for Range Management, 1839 York St., Denver, CO 80206.
Information about a career in conservation science is available from:
Soil and Water Conservation Society, 7515 Northeast Ankeny Rd., RR #1, Ankeny, IA 50021-9764.
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