Forest and conservation workers measure and improve the quality of forests. Under the supervision of foresters and forest and conservation technicians, they develop, maintain, and protect forests.

Duties

Forest and conservation workers typically do the following:

  • Plant seedlings to reforest land
  • Clear away brush and debris from trails, roadsides, and camping areas
  • Count and measure trees during tree-measuring efforts
  • Select or cut trees according to markings, sizes, types, or grades
  • Spray trees with insecticides and fungicides to kill insects and fungi and to protect the trees from disease
  • Identify and remove diseased or undesirable trees
  • Inject vegetation with insecticides and herbicides
  • Help prevent and suppress forest fires
  • Check equipment to ensure that it is operating properly

Forest and conservation workers are supervised by foresters and forest and conservation technicians, who direct their work and evaluate their progress.

Forest and conservation workers perform basic tasks to maintain and improve the quality of the forest. They use digging and planting tools to plant seedlings and power saws to cut down diseased trees.

Some work on tree farms or orchards, where they plant, cultivate, and harvest many different kinds of trees. Their duties vary with the type of farm and may include planting seedlings or spraying to control weed growth and insects.

Some forest and conservation workers work in forest nurseries, where they sort through tree seedlings, discarding the ones that do not meet standards. Others use handtools or their hands to gather woodland products, such as decorative greenery, tree cones, bark, moss, and other wild plantlife. Some may tap trees to make syrup or chemicals.

Forest and conservation workers who are employed by or are under contract with state and local governments may clear brush and debris from trails, roads, roadsides, and camping areas. They may clean kitchens and restrooms at recreational facilities and campgrounds.

Workers with a fire protection background help to suppress forest fires. For example, they may construct firebreaks, which are gaps in vegetation that can help slow down or stop the progress of a fire. In addition, they may work with technicians to determine how quickly fires spread and how successful fire suppression activities were. For example, workers help count how many trees will be affected by a fire. They also sometimes respond to forest emergencies.

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Work Environment

Forest and conservation workers held about 13,900 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of forest and conservation workers were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 26%
Support activities for agriculture and forestry 12
Self-employed workers 12
Local government, excluding education and hospitals                                12
Forestry 10

Forest and conservation workers work mainly in the western and southeastern areas of the United States, where there are many national and state forests, and on private forests and parks.

Forest and conservation workers work outdoors, sometimes in remote locations and in all types of weather. Workers use proper safety measures and equipment, such as hardhats, protective eyewear, and safety clothing.

Most of these jobs are physically demanding. Forest and conservation workers may have to walk long distances through densely wooded areas and carry their equipment with them.

Injuries and Illnesses

Forest and conservation workers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. The work may be especially dangerous for those whose primary duties involve fire suppression. To protect against injury, forest and conservation workers must wear special gear and follow prescribed safety procedures.

Work Schedules

Many forest and conservation workers are employed full time and work regular hours. Responding to an emergency may require workers to work additional hours and at any time of day.

Education and Training

Forest and conservation workers typically need a high school diploma before they begin working. Most workers receive training on the job.

Education

Forest and conservation workers typically need a high school diploma and a valid driver’s license before they begin working. Some vocational and technical schools and community colleges offer courses leading to a 2-year technical degree in forestry. The programs typically offer courses in forest management technology, wildlife management, conservation, or timber harvesting. Programs that include field trips to watch and participate in forestry activities provide particularly good background knowledge.

Training

Entry-level forest and conservation workers generally get on-the-job training as they help more experienced workers. They do routine labor-intensive tasks, such as planting or thinning trees. When the opportunity arises, they learn from experienced technicians and foresters who do more complex tasks, such as gathering data. Workers also learn safety procedures, including how to operate equipment safely and how to maintain safety gear.

In addition, some states require that crews and individuals receive training, and sometimes a license, in the use of commercial pesticides. For more information, consult states’ Departments of Agriculture.

Advancement

To advance their careers and become forest and conservation technicians or foresters, forest and conservation workers usually need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related field.

Personality and Interests

Forest and conservation workers typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing 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 Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a forest and conservation worker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Forest and conservation workers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Forest and conservation workers must convey information effectively to technicians and other workers.

Decision-making skills. Forest and conservation workers must make quick, intelligent decisions, especially when they face dangerous conditions.

Detail oriented. Forest and conservation workers must watch gauges, dials, or other indicators to determine whether equipment and tools are working properly. Workers must follow safety procedures with precision.

Listening skills. Forest and conservation workers must give full attention to what their superiors are saying. They must understand the instructions they are given before performing tasks.

Physical stamina. Forest and conservation workers must plant trees and repeatedly perform a variety of physical tasks. They must also be able to walk long distances through densely wooded areas and carry heavy packs with them.

Pay

The median annual wage for forest and conservation workers was $31,770 in May 2019. 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 $22,770, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $46,870.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for forest and conservation workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals                             $33,360
State government, excluding education and hospitals 31,770

Many forest and conservation workers are employed full time and work regular hours. Responding to an emergency may require workers to work additional hours and at any time of day.

Job Outlook

Employment of forest and conservation workers is projected to decline 3 percent from 2018 to 2028. Although demand for forestry products and services will likely be steady, it is expected to be counteracted by the automation of much of the work that these workers do.

New technologies, such as remote sensing, allow fewer workers to perform certain tasks, such as tree counts and tree identifications. As the automation of manual forest tasks continues, fewer of these workers will be needed to perform the same amount of work.

Despite heightened international demand for U.S. timber and wood pellets that will continue to demand forest and conservation workers, improved technology will also lessen the need for workers to perform certain tasks.

There is likely to be an increase in wildfires caused by unpredictable climate conditions and overgrown vegetation on forest lands. This rise in the number of wildfires would in turn increase demand for the fire suppression activities of forest and conservation workers. Most employment activities for forest and conservation workers is likely to be in state-owned forest lands. As more people continue to build homes in western forests, there will be need for workers to protect those areas from fires. 

Job Prospects

Workers who follow standard safety procedures, remain physically fit, and work well on teams will have the best job opportunities.

For More Information

For information about forestry careers and about schools offering education in forestry, visit

Society of American Foresters

For information about careers in forestry, particularly conservation forestry and land management, visit

Forest Stewards Guild

National Association of State Departments of Agriculture

U.S. Forest Service

 

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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