Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.
What they do
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.
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.
How to become a Conservation Scientist and/or Forester
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, such as agricultural science, rangeland management, or environmental science.
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
The median annual wage for conservation scientists was $62,660 in May 2019. 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 $39,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $98,060.
Employment of conservation scientists and foresters is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.
Most employment growth is expected to be in state and local government-owned forest lands, particularly in the western United States. In recent years, the prevention and suppression of wildfires has become the primary concern for government agencies managing forests and rangelands. State and local governments are likely to hire more foresters as the number of forest fires increases and more people live on or near forest lands.
Similar Job Titles
Area Forester, Chief Unit Forester, Environmental Protection Forester, Fire Prevention Forester, Forest Practices Field Coordinator, Forester, Regional Forester, Resource Forester, Silviculturist, Urban Forester, Conservationist, Environmental Analyst, Erosion Control Specialist, Land Manager, Land Reclamation Specialist, Land Resource Specialist, Resource Conservation Specialist, Resource Conservationist, Soil Conservationist, Watershed Program Manager, Education Specialist, Environmental Education Specialist, Environmental Educator, Interpretive Naturalist, Naturalist, Park Activities Coordinator, Park Interpretive Specialist, Park Naturalist, Park Ranger, Program Production Specialist
Fish and Game Warden, Environmental Compliance Inspector, Energy Engineer, Range Engineer, Environmental Scientist and Specialist including Health, Hydrologist, Zoologist and Wildlife Biologist, Soil and Water Conservationist
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Forest Resource Council
- American Forests
- American Tree Farm System
- Council on Forest Engineering
- International Society of Arboriculture
- National Association of State Foresters
- National Woodland Owners Association
- Northeastern Loggers Association
- Society of American Foresters
- American Society of Agronomy
- American Society of Mining and Reclamation
- EnviroCert International
- Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission
- International Erosion Control Association
- National Association of Conservation Districts
- National Association of State Conservation Agencies
- Society of Soil Scientists of Northern New England
- Society of Wetland Scientists
Magazines and Publications
- Science Magazine
- The Scientist Magazine
- New Scientist
- Environmental Science and Engineering Magazine
- American Forests Magazine
When today’s farmers and ranchers need help with their farmland, they count on conservation scientists. To help resolve problems with soil conservation or range management, working in this field often means literally working in a field! Conservation scientists usually start by analyzing how land use patterns contribute to problems identified by farmers, such as overgrazed rangeland, soil erosion, or a shortage of water reservoirs for cattle. These scientists review the results of lab work on soil samples. They record, analyze and map data to formulate plans that will correct problems without endangering the environment, for example using better plowing and planting methods. They must consider laws, costs, and the time required to achieve improvement. They may put their plan into action and monitor progress, or they may follow up with others who implement their plan. Like most jobs in scientific research, these scientists need to possess a healthy degree of curiosity, detailed knowledge of their field, and the discipline required for a trial-and-error approach to problems. While most conservation scientists hold a bachelor's degree, often in a natural science, a doctorate is required to lead research projects or to teach. Conservation scientists enjoy the challenge of giving nature a little extra help.
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Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org