Conservation Scientist or Forester

Those who love the outdoors may find a career as a conservation scientist or forester rewarding, as these individuals manage the use and development of our natural resources such as forests, rangelands and waterways. Lands that supply the population with wood products, livestock, minerals and water serve as recreational lands for humans and habitats for the animal population. For as long as there are forests and national parks that need protecting, foresters and conservation scientists will be needed.

Several specialized career paths are available to conservation scientists and foresters, specifically procurement foresters, conservation scientists and water conservationists. Generally, foresters oversee our nation’s woodlands; as such, they brainstorm and implement plans to keep our forests sustainable and free from disease. Additionally, foresters are often consulted when an individual or business is looking to clear land while continuing to protect forests for future generations by replenishing timber that has been cut. Foresters may also oversee controlled burning and the use of herbicides or bulldozers to clear logging debris, weeds or brush.

Procurement foresters specialize in purchasing timber for wood product manufacturers; this area of forestry involves more middle management and orchestration of inventory counts, negotiating contracts and drafting contracts. A large number of foresters serve this function. A much smaller segment of the forestry careers is focused on urban forestry and conservation education.

As the term “conservation” indicates, conservation scientists work to educate, manage, improve and protect rangelands as people continue to build and develop the land they inhabit. Oftentimes, these scientists are found advising farmers and ranchers as to how they can increase the productivity of their land while protecting it from erosion.

Because the United States is made up of millions of acres of rangelands, a specialized field has emerged among the conservation scientists – that of the range manager. These managers are primarily found in Alaska and the western half of the United States. Range managers perform a variety of tasks, from preventing and mitigating natural wildlife disasters to taking soil inventories and developing resource management plans. Similarly, soil and water conservationists provide technical assistance to individuals and entities concerned with the conservation of soil and water.

The minimum educational requirement for a career in forestry or conservation is a bachelor’s degree; however, this will generally only allow you to work in an entry-level position; to research or teach, a professional is advised to seek a Ph.D. The Society of American Foresters accredits approximately 50 different degree programs throughout the United States, with curricula focusing on forest ecology and biology, measurement of forest resources, management of forest resources and public policy.

Sixteen of the 50 states have mandatory registration statutes for foresters, while four have voluntary statutes. Licensing and registration requirements often mandate the completion of a 4-year degree in forestry coupled with several years of work experience. Advancement in this area of the life sciences is often obtained after becoming certified by The Society of American Foresters or The Society for Range Management.

Recent forestry and conservation science graduates typically work under the supervision of their more experienced counterparts and are eventually awarded additional duties and responsibilities as they gain experience. At the federal level, experienced foresters may manage an entire ranger district, eventually working their way up to a top management position at the national level working on issues related to forest policy.

Nearly three-quarters of conservation scientists work for the government on a state, local or federal level. If working at the federal level as a soil conservationist, expect to report to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service. Range managers traditionally work in the USDA’s Forest Service, the United States Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, or the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Nearly every state needs soil conservationists, while range managers are focused in the western United States.

Approximately 60 percent of foresters work for the government across all levels and report to the USDA’s Forest Service. They can be found in every state across the country but are heavily concentrated in the southern and western parts of the country.

In recent years, the threat of wildfires has become increasingly obvious and the prevention and mitigation of this problem is at the forefront of this career. With climate change, there is little end in sight to the problems which foresters and conservation scientists work to eradicate, and, therefore, the employment outlook for this group is good. Salaries for this group range from the mid-30s to the upper-70s depending on experience, area of specialty and employer.