Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Green Job Series: Careers in Sustainable Forestry [Second Installment]

Fires have an important role in forest ecology. In some extreme forest conditions, small fires turn into large, catastrophic fires that cause significant damage to the forest. However, some species of trees release seeds and spur new growth only in the presence of fires. Managing forest fires is an important part of sustainable forestry.

This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series profiles selected fire protection and prevention occupations in sustainable forestry.

Fire Protection and Prevention Occupations

Workers in these occupations typically spend most of their time outdoors, sometimes under potentially dangerous conditions. They use a variety of tools and equipment in their work. Fire protection and prevention workers must be physically fit, because their jobs are physically demanding and may involve walking long distances through heavily forested areas and wetlands.

Job Duties

Forest firefighters use heavy equipment, hand tools, and water hoses to control forest fires. They also create fire breaks (gaps in vegetation that slow or stop the progress of a fire) to deprive fires of fuel. Some elite forest firefighters, known as smoke jumpers, parachute from planes to reach areas that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Forest firefighters are expected to respond to forest fires during all hours of the day and night and may spend several consecutive days or weeks fighting a fire. Many forest firefighters work on a seasonal basis, generally from early spring to late summer.

Forest firefighters sometimes assist foresters with conducting controlled burns, in which fires are intentionally set to clear underbrush and manage the growth of plants and trees in the forest.

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists inspect forests for fire hazards. They look for problems that pose a wildfire risk and recommend ways to reduce fire hazards. They patrol forest areas, to ensure compliance with fire regulations, and report fire conditions to a central command center. Most forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists work for state and local governments.

Education and Training

Forest firefighters need to be at least 18 years old and need a high school diploma or equivalent. They are required to pass a physical fitness test, and they receive most of their training on the job. Firefighters who plan and oversee controlled burns must complete additional training and become certified as a burn boss.

Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists have at least a high school diploma; however, some positions require that workers have an associate's or bachelor's degree. Work experience in firefighting or fire suppression also may be necessary.


The table that follows shows wages for selected forest fire protection and prevention occupations in May 2012. The wages shown are median annual wages for the United States as a whole; wages vary by employer and location.

Occupation Median annual wage
Forest firefighters $45,250
Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists $35,780

For more detailed information on fire protection and prevention occupations in sustainable forestry, follow the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Tomorrow's sustainable forestry series installment: Science Occupations.

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