Forest and Conservation Workers

More than 13,000 forest and conservation workers currently hold jobs in the United States. Nearly 60% of all forest and conservation workers are government employees. Most of these work under state or local governments. Some are employed by forest management services and work under contract for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.Only 1% of forest and conservation workers are self-employed. Over the next decade, job growth is projected to be at about 9%, which is average.

The management of our nation’s forests involves many types of work. Forest and conservation workers ensure the continuation of forests by protecting them from disease, insects, and human destruction, reforesting to replace dead or felled trees, and controlling erosion. They maintain campsites, recreational facilities, trails, and roads, mark boundaries, help with controlled burns, measure trees, mark diseased trees, trim branches, and maintain records of trees that are being watched. Some work in nurseries where they plant seeds, discard unacceptable seedlings, and prepare them for planting. Others do similar work on tree farms, where they plant, cultivate, and harvest many different kinds of trees. Some forest and conservation workers, such as those on Christmas tree farms, prune trees to control size or to develop greater limb density. Other workers gather greens, cones, vines, bark, and moss for study, or to sell to retail markets. Forest workers may also tap trees for sap, which is used to make maple syrup, as well as for gum and a variety of chemicals.
Forest and conservation jobs usually require stamina and strength. Most of the work is accomplished outdoors. Some must be done in weather extremes or during storms. Forest and conservation workers have a higher than average rate of work related injury and sickness. Working conditions might be isolated and difficult to get to, or get out of, in an emergency. Some work might require long hikes through difficult terrain. Falling limbs, becoming tangled in vines, slippery ground, poisonous snakebites, or exposure to toxic plants can all cause injury. Safety measures include wearing hardhats and safety clothing such as sturdy boots.

Many forest and conservation jobs require only a high school diploma or GED. The work is often seasonal; forested areas containing camp grounds are busiest during summer months and parks that offer skiing are busiest during winter months. Some states offer training in the field, like the Sustainable Forest Initiative. Some vocational schools and community colleges offer classes in conservation, forest management technology, wildlife management, and harvesting. Employers seek qualities such as maturity, the ability to remain calm and clear-headed in emergencies, strength, coordination, willingness to work as a team member, and for some, CPR training. Without at least a bachelor’s degree in forestry or a similar field, it can be difficult to get promoted.

Forest and conservation workers can be found in every state in parks and other recreational areas. The most jobs are found in the West and Southeast because the majority of national forests and parks and privately owned woods are located in these areas. The greatest number of jobs will become available in the Southeast, Maine, and the Pacific Northwest.

The median hourly salary is under $12 per hour. Workers in the mid- range earn between $9 and just over $15 per hour. Those at the low end earn $8.02, while those at the high end earn $20.04. Forest and conservation workers employed by local governments or for private companies have more job security as well as more benefits than those with other types of forest or conservation jobs.