If you’re considering a career in the forestry profession, you may envision spending your workday in blue jeans and hiking boots, managing wild lands and protecting nature for future generations. The reality of forestry careers, however, is somewhat different. While there are many people whose main goal is to protect forests and other natural resources for the future, a career in forestry encompasses much more.
Forestry and forestry-related jobs can be found in every sector of the employment market. And while the majority of employment opportunities exist with state and federal governments, there are also many jobs available with private businesses such as the timber industry. Also, much of the work in the forestry business is done inside. In fact, forestry professionals may spend weeks at a time working from an office desk. And when they do get out of doors, they often encounter harsh weather and difficult wilderness working conditions.
The majority of forestry jobs today require some form of postsecondary education. It’s not uncommon for individuals to earn a bachelor’s, master’s or even a doctoral degree in pursuit of a professional forestry career.
Employment experts will tell you that forestry is among the most misunderstood industries out there. Below you will find a wealth of information about the forestry profession, including facts and data on employment prospects, educational requirements and options, and more. You may find the realities of a career in forestry are more interesting than you imagined them to be.
Who is Best Suited for Forestry Work?
People pursuing careers in forestry will generally need to undergo a thorough background check and pass a drug test. Required knowledge, skills, and abilities will vary from job to job, but in general, forestry career candidates should:
Types of Jobs Available
- Have excellent communication skills
- Be in good physical health
- Have good analytical and problem-solving skills
- Possess good time management skills
- Be able to apply scientific rules to solve problems
- Be able to manage personal resources and budgets
- Continue to learn and keep up-to-date on changing occupational practices
- Enjoy working outdoors.
The types of jobs available in forestry vary significantly depending on the area of employment and the specific employer. In general, they can be categorized into three groups:
Career Prospects and Outlook
- Public Resource Management: These are the forestry jobs found mostly with local, state, and federal government agencies. Federal government employment generally involves the management of public lands such as parks and national conservation, scenic, and recreational areas. Major federal employers include the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Similar jobs can be found on the state government level. State jobs may also include positions geared toward the assistance of private industry in the conservation and management of their timber assets and other natural resources.
- Private Industry: The vast majority of employment opportunities for foresters in the private sector are found in the paper, lumber, and energy industries. Foresters survey public and private forest lands, and estimate the commercial value of the timber located there. They may also oversee the construction of temporary roads and facilities, supervise logging operations, and implement conservation and restoration programs.
- Consultation Work: Consulting work in forestry is a large and growing field. Consulting foresters are independent contractors typically hired by private landowners to manage forest resources. Specifically, consulting foresters plan and implement the planting and monitoring of seedlings, supervise tree harvesting, manage timber sales, and design courses of action for the conservation of forest and other natural resources.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of conservation scientists and foresters is expected to increase by only 5% between 2010 and 2020, slower than the average for all occupations. Nevertheless, there are a number of areas in the forestry field that may experience growth in the near future. The BLS predicts that most job growth for conservation scientists and foresters will be found in federally owned forest lands, particularly in the southwest. Heightened use of lumber and wood pellets, as well as the need to restore lands affected by a slew of devastating fires, should increase job prospects.
The following is a sampling of positions that fall under the heading of forestry, their salaries and job prospects.
Foresters generally oversee the land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources. Specific job duties depend on the forester’s employer, but can include: designing and establishing plans for the management of forests and their resources; monitoring forest lands and protecting them from disease, harmful insects and fires; supervising tree harvests; and overseeing forest and conservation workers. According to 2012 BLS estimates, there are approximately 9,500 persons currently employed as foresters in the United States. Annual wage totals for foresters range from $36,380 (bottom 10% average) to $78,490 (top 10% average) with the average mean annual wage at $57,140. The top paying states for foresters are New Jersey, Illinois, Alaska, Connecticut and California.
Forest and Conservation Technicians
Forest and conservation technicians, in general, are responsible for the measurement and improvement of forests, rangeland, and other natural resources. They gather data on soil and water quality, check for insect damage to trees and foliage, inspect for fire hazards, supervise seasonal workers, enforce environmental laws and regulations, and more. Forest and conservation technicians earn a mean annual salary of $37,030. Growth in this job title over the decade is expected to be approximately 2%, slower than the overall job market.
Forest and Conservation Workers
This job title is often applied to entry-level positions in the forestry field. Forest and conservation workers commonly work under the supervision of foresters and forest and conservation technicians on labor-intensive tasks such as planting seedlings, clearing brush and debris, identifying and removing diseased trees, and spraying trees with insecticides. Employment in this field typically requires a high school diploma and workers generally receive most of their training on the job. Forest and conservation worker’s annual mean salary, according to 2012 BLS estimates, is $28,600.