Forestry is a specialized field of study that offers a wide scope of opportunities in areas such as conservation, wildlife preservation, and environmental science. Earning a degree in this field can open the door to a plethora of career options.
Our guide below outlines what careers in the forestry or conservation science fields are like, in addition to salaries you can expect with a degree in forestry. To start your career, you’ll need both a degree and hands-on experience.
Click on the links to learn more about your career options and salary potential in forestry and conversation science.
- Planning A Career In Forestry? What You Should Know
- What Credentials Do I Need To Work In Forestry?
- What Are My Degree Options In Forestry?
- What Is The Employment Outlook For Foresters And Conservation Scientists?
- What Is The Average Salary In Forestry?
Planning A Career In Forestry? What You Should Know
Forestry degrees are designed to prepare graduates to work in a number of different roles. Not all schools have a forestry program, but they may offer an environmental studies program or a wildlife/forestry conservation degree. You first need to decide what area of forestry appeals to you. In most cases, a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree is required for entry-level positions.
Earning a degree in forestry will help you develop the skills necessary to work in this field. Forestry covers a wide range of opportunities from the hourly laborer to the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. The degree program you choose will depend on the career path that you plan to pursue.
Depending on the program, you can choose an area of research to pursue such as:
- Ecosystem Management: This area of study looks at the spectrum of forestland use, from wilderness preservation to timber harvest to supply the nation’s demand for wood products. Courses cover topics such as forest biology, ecology, and management, including recreational use, water quality, timber production, prescribed burns, and wildlife habitat.
- Natural Resource Conservation & Restoration: This area of study concentrates on the management of natural resources other than timber harvest. Courses cover topics like the care of forests and natural areas with an emphasis on ecosystem conservation and preservation, environmental benefits, and human impact.
- Sustainable Materials Science: Sustainable materials science focuses on the development and use of wood products ranging from structural lumber to paper products. Courses often cover the anatomical, physical, and chemical properties of wood, different wood processing operations, and the use of veneer and other related materials.
- Urban & Community Forestry: This area of study concentrates on the management of trees in urban settings such as city parks, greenbelt areas, and boulevards. Students take classes that teach them how to implement site assessments and pest management.
The field of forestry is becoming increasingly more important, resulting in a significant expansion of careers available to graduates. Sustainable forestry ensures that forests are used in the most effective way. Trained conservation scientists and foresters are always needed to manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.
Depending on your area of interest and years of experience, you can pursue employment as a:
- Conservation Scientist
- Agricultural and Food Scientist
- Forest and Conservation Worker
- Environmental Educator
- Naturalist, Interpreter
- Natural Resources Policy Representative
You can also work for private consulting firms, or the timber industry. Many industries look to hire forestry majors to provide assistance and advice to landowners. With the knowledge and skills acquired in a forestry degree program, you’ll know how to integrate biological, economic, and political considerations into land management decisions.
What Credentials Do I Need To Work In Forestry?
Internships and networking are often paramount to employment in many fields, including forestry. Securing an internship while taking classes is a great way to network with forestry professionals while gaining experience in the field. You can find internship listings on general job sites or through your school’s career center. Your professors might also know of openings in your area. These opportunities are not always easy to come by, so you’ll need to be proactive in your search.
To give you an idea of what the U.S. Forest Service agency is looking for when sourcing talent, visit their career page to view open positions. You can also visit your state’s website to learn more about state parks, park districts, and other recreational and protected areas that often hire forestry professionals. Our following section gives a brief overview of what you can typically expect with forestry degrees.
If you’re interested in plants and ecology, sustainability issues, and love working outdoors, a forestry degree is an excellent choice. The programs listed below will help you get started on a career in forestry:
Sponsored Forestry Programs
Accreditation: HLC, NCA
Accreditation: HLC, NCA
Accreditation: HLC, NCA
- MS in Environmental Science & Sustainability - Research Track
- MS in Environmental Science & Sustainability - Professional Track
- Environmental Law and Policy Certificate
What Are My Degree Options In Forestry?
Beginning your career is not limited to getting a degree in forestry. There are several other subjects that explore conservation, sustainability, and various ecosystems including forests. Many of these subjects can give you a foundation in forestry along with a broad understanding of the environment.
- Environmental Sciences/Studies: Degrees in environmental science and studies explore interactions of humans and their surroundings as well as the human impact on ecosystems. Several natural processes are analyzed in detail so students gain a better understanding of the world around them.
- Environmental Management: Environmental management programs develop a student’s skills in leadership and communication while improving their understanding of resource management, green building, and sustainability. Emphasis is placed on making smart decisions, ethical business practices, and establishing a working relationship with specialists in various fields of environmental science.
Natural Resources and Sustainability: Natural resources and sustainability degrees teach students how humans consume materials and energy with an emphasis on conservation, efficiency, and low impact. Students will analyze several processes in the consumption and conversion of raw material, and how to develop and maintain low impact procedures.
The above majors, including forestry and conversation science, often cover many important topics in this field, including:
- Park and recreation management
- Environmental studies
- Wildlife and Forestry
- Police science/criminal justice
- Biological sciences
- Fisheries and wildlife law enforcement
What Is The Employment Outlook For Foresters And Conservation Scientists?
According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of conservation scientists and foresters is projected to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026, slightly lower than the average for all occupations.
The BLS also reports that most employment growth is expected to be in state and local government-owned forest lands, particularly in the western United States. In addition, continued demand for American timber and wood pellets is expected to drive employment growth for conservation scientists and foresters.
The map below illustrates the employment of conservation scientists by state (source: BLS.gov: Occupational Employment And Wages: Conservation Scientists, data for 2017).
What Is The Average Salary In Forestry?
According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of conservation scientists and foresters was $60,970 in May 2017. Salaries vary depending on location, type of employer, years of experience, and a variety of other factors. You may earn more money by obtaining a master’s degree or working in the private sector, but those jobs are far fewer in number. Over 59% of conservation scientists and 53% of foresters work in the public sector at either the federal, state, or local levels.
How much you earn also depends on what career you choose and where you live. Some areas of the country pay more due to demand and environmental conditions. Below is a map of the mean annual wage of foresters, with the highest paying states in blue (source: BLS.gov: Occupational Employment And Wages: Foresters, data for 2017).
If you want to have better job security and a higher salary, it’s important to obtain a good education. As the trend typically goes, the more advanced degree you have, the more money you’ll earn. The good news is that bachelor and graduate-level degrees in forestry are plentiful, and there are many colleges and universities offering online degrees.
With an associate’s degree, you qualify for entry-level employment in a variety of settings. Once you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree, you’ll be trained to assume more advanced positions such as a conservationist, wildlife protector, and environmentalist, just to name a few. With a graduate-level degree, can you pursue managerial and leadership roles that utilize your skills and talents in exchange for a bigger paycheck.
While you’re in school, remember to consider applying for internships to gain experience and network with other forestry professionals. Internships serve as a bridge between school and work, and as a recruitment process for permanent staff positions. Some colleges and universities help students with their internship search. Faculty advisers often have connections with local businesses and organizations that are interested in hiring students for summer or part-time employment.
If you’re not exactly sure what area of forestry you would like to work in (state, federal, industry, consulting, or academic), meet with your academic adviser to learn more about the opportunities available to you. Perhaps you can shadow a variety of professionals to gain an understanding of a typical work day while making connections in the field. Taking on part-time employment over the summer or between semesters will help build your resume and earn money while you’re at it.