Thursday, November 21, 2013

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

Scientists have an important role in sustainable forestry. They monitor the overall health of forests, as well as study and analyze specific aspects of living things, such as tree and other plant life and wildlife. Scientists also advise other forest workers on how to maintain a forest ecosystem and improve its productivity.

This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series profiles selected science occupations in sustainable forestry.

Science Occupations

Many types of science occupations, including conservation scientists, foresters, environmental scientists and specialists, soil and plant scientists, and wildlife biologists, are involved in sustainable forestry.

Job Duties

Conservation scientists work with forest owners, managers, and government agencies to devise ways to use and improve land, while safeguarding the environment and controlling erosion. They help landowners by preparing land use plans to meet conservation objectives and determine the most appropriate use for a particular forest site.

Foresters have a wide range of duties, and their responsibilities vary depending on their employer. Some primary duties of foresters include drawing up plans to regenerate forested lands, monitoring the progress of those lands, and supervising tree harvests. Foresters also create plans and do inspections to protect forests from disease, harmful insects, and damaging wildfires.

Foresters may choose and direct the preparation of sites on which trees will be planted. They advise on the type, number, and placement of trees. To ensure sustainability in a specific location, foresters may compare the growth with the decline of various species and the size of trees, and use that information to determine which trees should be harvested and sold to mills. Their volunteer or outreach work may include educating teachers and students about problems facing forest lands.

Environmental scientists and specialists may reclaim lands and bodies of water that have been contaminated by pollution, for example, or assess the risks of logging or other forest activities. They recommend ways to minimize the environmental impact of these activities.

Soil and plant scientists research soil, plants, and other forest products. Soil scientists examine the composition of soil as it relates to plant or tree growth and investigate effects of alternative soil treatment practices on tree productivity. They develop methods of conserving and managing soil. Plant scientists strive to improve timber yields, and they advise foresters and other sustainable forestry workers about techniques that could enhance production efforts.

Wildlife biologists work closely with public officials to develop wildlife management and conservation plans. These plans help ensure that wildlife species are protected from threats and that animal populations remain at sustainable levels.

Education and Training

Scientists need a bachelor's or higher degree. Conservation scientists typically need a degree in natural resource management or a related science field, such as agricultural science, soil and plant science, or environmental science. Soil and plant scientists generally have a degree in soil science, chemistry, geology, or a related field. Wildlife biologists need a degree in biology or zoology, and environmental scientists need a natural science or in environmental science degree. Although graduate work is not generally required, many scientists also have a master's degree or a Ph.D. Some wildlife biologists have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree.

Foresters enter the occupation with at least a bachelor's degree in forestry, forest resource management, or a related field. Sixteen states sponsor some type of credentialing process for foresters. Some states require licensing, others have laws requiring registration, and a few have a voluntary registration process. Licensing and registration usually requires that an applicant have a 4-year degree in forestry and several years of forestry work experience. Licensure requirements may also include passing a written exam.


The table that follows shows wages for selected science 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
Conservation scientists $61,100
Foresters $55,950
Environmental scientists and specialists, including health $63,570
Soil and plant scientists $58,740
Zoologists and wildlife biologists $57,710

For more detailed information on science occupations in sustainable forestry, follow the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Next week's final sustainable forestry series installment: Science Technician Occupations.

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