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 camping trails, roadsides, and camping areas
  • Count 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 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 do 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 forest workers work on tree farms, where they plant, cultivate, and harvest many different kinds of trees. Their duties vary with the type of farm and may include planting seedlings, spraying to control weed growth and insects, and harvesting trees.

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 greens, 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 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 study 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 10,500 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most forest and conservation workers in 2012 were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 39%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 20
Logging 4
Landscaping services 3

Forest and conversation workers typically work for state and local governments or on privately owned forest lands. Those employed by forest management services may work for the federal government on a contract basis.

Forest and conservation workers’ jobs are concentrated in the western and southeastern areas of the United States, where there are many national and private forests and parks.

Forest and conversation workers work outdoors, sometimes in remote locations and in all types of weather. However, the increased use of machines has reduced some of the discomfort of working in bad weather and has made tasks much safer. Workers also 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 conversation workers whose primary duties involve fire suppression must take significant safety precautions because the work can be dangerous. Workers must follow prescribed safety procedures and wear proper safety gear.

Work Schedules

Most forest and conservation workers are employed full time and work regular hours. Seasonal employees may be expected to work longer hours and at night. Responding to an emergency may require workers to work longer 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 get on-the-job training.

Education

Forest and conservation workers typically need a high school diploma before they begin working. Some vocational and technical schools and community colleges offer courses leading to a 2-year technical degree in forest management technology, wildlife management, conservation, or forest 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.

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. For more information, see the profiles on forest and conservation technicians and conservation scientists and foresters.

Important 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 $24,340 in May 2012. 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 $16,690, and the top 10 percent earned more than $45,900.

In May 2012, median annual wages for forest and conservation workers in the top four industries employing these workers were as follows:

Logging $33,290
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 28,870
Landscaping services 22,300
State government, excluding education and hospitals 20,840

Most forest and conservation workers are employed full time and work regular hours. Seasonal employees may be expected to work longer hours and at night. Responding to an emergency or a fire may require workers to work longer hours and at any time of day.

Job Outlook

Employment of forest and conservation workers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Heightened demand for American timber and wood pellets will help increase demand for forest and conservation workers.

Jobs in private forests will grow with the increasing demand for timber and pellets, but ongoing fiscal crises may lessen the number of available positions in state and local governments. Wildfires caused by unpredictable climate conditions and overgrown vegetation on forest lands will increase the fire suppression activities of forest and conservation workers.

Most employment growth for forest and conservation workers is expected to be in state-owned forest lands. Recent developments in western forests may result in the conversion of unused roads into forest land, thus creating some new jobs. In addition, increasing pressure on the U.S. Forest Service (part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) to undertake major fire suppression duties may result in higher levels of employment.

Job Prospects

Job prospects will be best for workers who have a background in fire suppression activities. Workers who follow standard safety procedures, remain physically fit, and work well in teams will have the best opportunities.

For More Information

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

Society of American Foresters

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

Forest Guild

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.