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Conservation Scientists and Foresters - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
Over time, many conservation scientists and foresters advance to take on managerial duties. They also may conduct research or work on policy issues, often after gaining an advanced degree.

One option for advancement in these occupations is to become certified. The Society of American Foresters certifies foresters who have at least a bachelor's degree from one of the 50 forestry programs accredited by the Society or from a forestry program that, though not accredited by the Society, is substantially equivalent. In addition, the candidate must have 5 years of qualifying professional experience and pass an examination.

The Society for Range Management offers two types of certification: one as a certified professional in rangeland management and another as a certified range management consultant. Candidates seeking certification must have at least a bachelor's degree in range science or a closely related field, a minimum of 6 years of full-time work experience, and a passing score on an exam.

Recent forestry and conservation scientist graduates usually work under the supervision of experienced foresters or scientists. After gaining experience, they may advance to positions with more responsibilities. In the Federal Government, most entry-level foresters work in forest resource management. Experienced Federal foresters may supervise a ranger district and may advance to forest supervisor, regional forester, or a top administrative position in the national headquarters, where they may work on issues related to forest policy.

In private industry, foresters start by learning the practical and administrative aspects of the business and by acquiring comprehensive technical training. Then they are introduced to contract writing, timber harvesting, and decisionmaking. Some foresters work their way up to top managerial positions. 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. After gaining several years of experience, some foresters may become consultants, working alone or with one or several partners. They contract with State or local governments, private landowners, private industry, or other forestry consulting groups.

Soil conservationists usually begin working within one county or conservation district and, with experience, may advance to the area, State, regional, or national level. Also, soil conservationists can transfer to related occupations, such as farm or ranch management advisor or land appraiser.

Employment
Conservation scientists and foresters held about 29,800 jobs in 2008. Conservation scientist jobs are heavily concentrated in government, where 74 percent are employed. At the Federal level, soil conservationists are employed primarily in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service. Most range managers work in the USDA's Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management, or the Natural Resource Conservation Service. A small number are self-employed and others work for nonprofit organizations or in consulting firms.

About 60 percent of all foresters work for Federal, State and local governments. Federal Government foresters are concentrated in the USDA's Forest Service. A few foresters are self-employed, generally working as consultants or procurement foresters. Others work for sawmills, wood products manufacturers, logging companies, and the forestry industry.

Although conservation scientists and foresters work in every State, employment of foresters is concentrated in the western and southeastern States, where many national and private forests and parks, and most of the lumber and pulpwood-producing forests, are located. Range managers work almost entirely in the western States, where most of the rangeland is located. Soil conservationists, are employed in almost every county in the country. Some foresters and conservation scientists hold positions in colleges and universities.

Job Outlook
Employment is expected to grow about as fast as average. In addition to job openings from growth, many openings are expected as today's conservation scientists and foresters retire.

Job Growth
Employment of conservation scientists and foresters is expected to grow by 12 percent during the 200818 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. A majority of conservation scientists and foresters are employed by Federal, State, and local governments, and a large percentage of new jobs will be found in these areas. In recent years, the prevention and mitigation of wildfires has become the primary concern for government agencies managing forests and rangelands. The development of previously unused lands, in addition to changing weather conditions, has contributed to increasingly devastating and costly fires. Increases in funding and new programs will create new opportunities for foresters and range managers. Workers will be needed to manage lands in order to minimize the risk of fires and mitigate their impact should they occur. Restoring lands affected by fires also will be a major task, particularly in the southwestern and western States, where such fires are most common.

Beyond wildfire management, several other factors will influence demand on the part of governments for conservation scientists and foresters. New city-planning and urban revitalization initiatives will increase the need for workers with expertise in urban forestry. Demand for soil and water scientists, whose main function is providing technical expertise to farmers and ranchers, will increase as the safety and sustainability of the food supply becomes more of a concern.

In addition, increased investments in conservation programs will contribute to job growth for conservation scientists and foresters. The use of forests to sequester carbon emissions will create a need for foresters with expertise in this area. The desire to develop renewable forms of energy will increase the need for wood and other biomass products; consequently, more workers will be needed to manage those resources. Many of these jobs will be in the private-sector consulting industry, although government workers will be needed as well to manage these activities on Federal and State lands.

Growth in other private-sector jobs is expected to vary among different types of employers and specific occupations. Companies involved in natural-resource exploration and land development need to manage the use of soil and water systems while complying with environmental regulations. Growth in these companies will create new opportunities for consultant range managers and soil and water scientists. Procurement foresters will see the fewest new jobs, as a result of overall slow growth in the timber and logging industry. Recent large-scale sales of forestlands by industry has resulted in a loss of jobs within the traditional forest industry while creating limited opportunities with timber investment management organizations and real estate investment trusts. Self-employed foresters, who advise private landowners on a contract basis, will see modest growth.

The Federal Government and some State governments expect a large number of their workers to retire over the next decade. As a result, there is likely to be a large number of job openings for foresters and conservation scientists in government. In general, workers with a 4-year degree from an accredited university program, along with good technical and communication skills, should have the best opportunities for entry-level work.

Earnings
Median annual wages of conservation scientists in May 2008 were $58,720. The middle 50 percent earned between $45,320 and $73,280. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,190, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $86,910.

Median annual wages of foresters in 2008 were $53,750. The middle 50 percent earned between $42,980 and $65,000. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,710, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $78,350.

For Federal Government workers in forestry, the average annual salary was $71,558 in March 2009. For Federal workers in rangeland management, it was $64,564, and for soil conservation workers it was $69,483.

Conservation scientists and foresters who work for Federal, State, and local governments, and those who work for large private firms, generally receive more generous benefits than do those working for smaller firms. Governments usually have good pension, health, and leave plans as well.

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Academic Programs of Interest

Conservation Biology
Conservation biology is the science of analyzing and protecting Earth's biological diversity. Conservation biology draws from the biological, physical and social sciences, economics, and the practice of natural-resource management. The term "conservation biology" refers to the application of science ...more
Environmental Science
Environmental science is the study of interactions among physical, chemical, and biological components of the environment. It is an interdisciplinary science overlapping the categories in Natural sciences, Engineering sciences and Social sciences. In nature, Environmental science focuses on pollution ...more
Natural Resource Conservation
Conservation authorities are mandated to ensure the conservation, restoration and responsible management of water, land and natural habitats through programs that balance human, environmental and economic needs. Most management programs occur in parks known as conservation areas. ...more