Conservation scientists held about 24,600 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of conservation scientists were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||31%|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||22|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||19|
|Social advocacy organizations||14|
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||5|
Foresters held about 15,000 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of foresters were as follows:
|Support activities for agriculture and forestry||29%|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||21|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||9|
|Forestry and logging||9|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||7|
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.
Fire suppression activities are an important aspect of the duties of a forester or conservation scientist. Because those activities involve prevention as well as emergency responses, the work of a forester or conservation scientist has occasional risk.
Most conservation scientists and foresters work full time and have a standard work schedule.
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 subject, such as agriculture, rangeland management, or natural resources.
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.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
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.
Conservation scientists and foresters typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as a conservation scientist and forester, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Conservation scientists and foresters should also possess the following specific qualities:
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 analysis.
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.
Decision-making 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.
The median annual wage for conservation scientists was $63,750 in May 2021. 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 $38,670, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,440.
The median annual wage for foresters was $64,110 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $98,330.
In May 2021, the median annual wages for conservation scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$77,560|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||62,980|
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||61,910|
|Social advocacy organizations||60,400|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||54,930|
In May 2021, the median annual wages for foresters in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$67,660|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||64,010|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||63,400|
Most conservation scientists and foresters work full time and have a standard work schedule.
Overall employment of conservation scientists and foresters is projected to grow 5 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
About 3,800 openings for conservation scientists and foresters are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Projected employment of conservation scientists and foresters varies by occupation (see table).
Both changing weather conditions and the development of previously unused lands have contributed to increasingly devastating and costly fires. In recent years, prevention and suppression of wildfires have become the primary concern for managing forests and rangelands. With increasing numbers of forest fires and as more people live on or near forest lands, foresters and conservation scientists will be needed to mitigate growing humanitarian and environmental impacts of forest fires.
For more information about conservation scientists and foresters, including schools offering education in forestry, visit
For information about careers in forestry, particularly conservation forestry and land management, visit