Most foresters need a bachelor’s degree, though research and training positions often require a graduate degree. Foresters should enjoy outdoor work and be able to handle physical exertion including extensive walking. They may need to relocate to find work. About 68 percent of foresters work for the government. Beyond job growth, many foresters will find jobs thanks to retiring workers.
Nature of the Work for Foresters
Foresters oversee the country’s forests and direct activities that occur their whether for recreational, conservational, environmental or economic reasons. Most of the forested land in the US is owned by the public, individual landowners and industry, so they need the expertise of foresters who know how to keep the land sustainable and healthy. They may need to keep forests free from disease and harmful insects, or to create plans to protect them from damaging wildfires. Foresters are also often the ones to make decisions on when and where to plant trees and other plants and when to cut them down. Often there must be a balance between making the land profitable and protecting it for future generations.
The job includes a wide range of duties. Foresters often must draw up plans to regenerate forested lands, supervise harvests and monitor progress. Those working on land management projects must choose and direct the preparation for planting sites. They also oversee the use of herbicides, bulldozers and controlled burning to clear brush, weeds and logging debris. Foresters in this capacity also must advise on the types and numbers of trees to be planted. They make sure the vegetation growths healthfully and determine the best time for harvest. When disease or insects are detected they must consult forest pest management experts. At a certain size, trees will be harvested and sold to sawmills.
Many foresters are procurement foresters working for a wood products manufacturer or a sawmill. They buy timber by contracting local owners and negotiating sales. These foresters must take inventory, which is known as timber cruising. They appraise the timber’s worth and draw up contracts. They also work with loggers or pulpwood cutters; all while making sure the work meets the landowner’s requirements for environmental regulations.
Throughout the process foresters must conserve wildlife habitats and creek beds, maintain water quality and soil stability and comply with regulations. A main concern of foresters is the prevention of devastating wildfires. A variety of techniques, including thinning and controlled burns can minimize impact. If a fire occurs, they work with firefighters to plain containment measures.
Some foresters, often in the Federal Government, research forest issues such as tree improvement and harvesting techniques, forest recreation and global climate change. At the state government level, foresters often work with private landowners to develop forest management plans. Government foresters must enforce environmental laws.
New fields in forestry included urban forestry and conservation education. Urban foresters manage urban trees in larger cities, working on air quality, shade, storm water runoff and beautification issues. Conservation education foresters work with teachers and students to teach them about sound forest stewardship.
Working conditions vary from regular office or laboratory hours to long hours outdoors in the field doing hands-on work. Foresters may find work physical demanding and may work in isolated areas, walking long distances through wooded land. Natural disasters can cause longer hours for foresters, such as during fire season.
Government foresters often work 40-hour workweeks, but may not be 9-to-5. In the field, foresters may work for 10 days straight before getting a 4-day break. In firefighting, natural-disaster response and law enforcement, overtime may be necessary.
Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Foresters
Foresters find programs at most land-grant colleges and universities. Students will take courses covering measurement of forest resources, public policy, management of forest resources and forest ecology and biology. They balance general science courses such as tree physiology and soil formation with technical forest courses such as land survey and wildlife habitat assessment. Math, statistics and computer science and forest economics and business administration courses are also recommended.
Often, colleges require a field session on campus or through a work-study program. Summer jobs in forestry and conservation are also encouraged.
Sixteen states require credentials for foresters. Licensing and registration usually requires a 4-year forestry degree and experience in the field. Foresters also need to pass an exam.
With experience, some foresters take on managerial duties or earn an advanced degree to take on research or policy work. A certification from the Society of American Foresters can help foresters advance.
New foresters usually work under an experienced forester before gaining responsibilities. Federal Government workers start in forest resource management and later may supervise a ranger district or become a forest supervisor.
In private industry foresters first take on technical training to learn timber harvesting, contract writing and decision-making. Some work their way up to managerial positions where they leave fieldwork behind and spend most of their day in an office. With many years of experience foresters can become consultants, working solo or with a partner to contract with governments, private industry and private landowners.
Top 10 Most Popular General Forestry Schools
1. Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut)
2. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Virginia)
3. University of Florida (Gainesville, Florida)
4. University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point (Stevens Point, Wisconsin)
5. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (Carbondale, Illinois)
6. Reedley College (Reedley, California)
7. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (San Luis Obispo, California)
8. The University of Montana, Missoula (Missoula, Montana)
9. University of Washington, Seattle Campus (Seattle, Washington)
10. Mississippi State University (Mississippi State, Mississippi)
See All General Forestry Schools
Employment and Job Outlook for Foresters
Number of People in Profession
Changing Employment (2008-2018)
Employment is projected to grow about as fast as average (increase 7 - 13%).
Job Opportunities & Competition
Good or favorable job opportunities. Job openings compared with job seekers may be in rough balance.
More than half of all foresters work for the government including the USDA’s Forest Service and a majority of new jobs will be found there. A few foresters work as consultants or procurement foresters, self-employed. Sawmills, logging companies and wood product manufacturers also employ some foresters.
Foresters are expected to see a 12 percent employment growth, which is about as fast as average compared to all occupations. The prevention and mitigation of wildfires is now the primary concern for forest management within government agencies as more and more devastating and costly fires occur. Funding boosts and new programs will lead to new opportunities for foresters. They will need to manage lands to minimize fire risk, mitigate impact and restore affected lands.
In addition, new revitalization and city-planning will require more urban foresters. Investments in conservation programs such as using forests to sequester carbon admissions and to develop renewable forms of energy will also spur growth, requiring foresters.
In the private sector, procurement foresters will find few new jobs due to slow growth in the timber and logging industry. Modest growth will occur for self-employed foresters advising private landowners.
In the government, many foresters will retire of the next decade resulting in an increase in jobs for foresters. Those workers with a 4-year degree and good technical and communication skills should find the best opportunities at the entry-level.
Earnings and Salary for Foresters
Foresters earn median annual wages of $53,840. The highest 10 percent earn above $75,310, the lowest 10 percent earn under $35,250 and the middle 50 percent earn between $43,310 and $65,800. Foresters working for the Federal Government earned average annual salaries of $71,558.
Government agencies and large private firms typically offer the most generous benefits including health plans and pensions.
Annual Salary for Foresters
On average, Foresters earn $53,840 per year.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook