Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.
Conservation scientists typically do the following:
Foresters typically do the following:
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.
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.
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 analyses.
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.
Decisionmaking 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.
Several states have some type of credentialing process for foresters. In some of these states, foresters must be licensed; check with your state for more information. Conservation workers do not need a license.
Although certification is not required, conservation scientists and foresters may choose to earn it because it shows a high level of professional competency.
The Society of American Foresters (SAF) offers certification to foresters. Candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an SAF-accredited program or from a forestry program that is substantially equivalent. Candidates also must have qualifying professional experience and pass an exam.
The Society for Range Management offers professional certification in rangeland management or as a range management consultant. To be certified, candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree in range management or a related field, have 5 years of full-time related work experience, and pass an exam.
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 farm or ranch management advisor or land appraiser.
The median annual wage for conservation scientists was $64,020 in May 2020. 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 $39,230, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,350.
The median annual wage for foresters was $63,980 in May 2020. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,500, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $93,060.
In May 2020, the median annual wages for conservation scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$78,960|
|Social advocacy organizations||63,520|
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||62,070|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||58,530|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||55,120|
In May 2020, the median annual wages for foresters in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$68,280|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||61,610|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||58,850|
Most conservation scientists and foresters work full time and have a standard work schedule.