Foresters perform physically demanding work in frequently adverse weather conditions, yet it is a rewarding profession that has a tangible, measurable impact on the environment.
If you enjoy being outdoors, are concerned about the environment and don't mind hard physical labor, a forester job may be a good fit for you. Foresters manage both private and public forested ecosystems, balancing the various needs such as timber use, water quality maintenance, recreational use and preservation. It is a demanding job that requires a lot of trekking through difficult terrain. However, it is also a rewarding job as the work foresters do has a real and demonstrable impact on the health of our natural systems.
It's All In A Day's Work
What does a forester actually do on any given day? The answer is a little bit of everything. Here is a partial list of the typical duties:
- 1Find and identify timber for commercial paper mills or sawmills.
- 2Supervise the harvesting of timber.
- 3Develop, implement and monitor reforestation efforts.
- 4Oversee community and urban trees.
- 5Conduct research about a particular forest ecosystem.
- 6Check and monitor disease and insect outbreaks.
- 7Plan and design forest hiking trails, road systems and tree planting.
- 8Conduct resource surveys.
- 9Plan and implement watershed management systems.
- 10Appraise a forest ready for harvest for timber value.
- 11Work with forest owners to help them meet their forest goals.
- 12Manage controlled burns and fight wildfires.
- 13Plan and oversee the recreational use of forests.
As foresters may work for a government organization on public lands or for a private company or individual, their work may range from protecting the trees to harvesting them. In any case, foresters are always concerned with the good of the environment and sustainability.
Foresters may work in many different climes and for a variety of employers. Obviously, most foresters spend a good deal of time outside in all kinds of weather and frequently walk long distances through heavy forest undercover. Jobs may be found in very isolated areas on reserved land or in urban centers, managing trees for a municipality.
A forester may also find employment at universities or research centers. Different organizations need foresters to study diseases and insects that affect tree growth. These foresters are busy discovering ways to stop the spread of tree blight and protect our forests from damage and decimation.
A Forestry Education
Most forester positions require a bachelor's degree. There are some federal jobs that will take experience in lieu of a degree, but they are scarce and the competition for those positions is fierce. If you would like to become a forester, it's best that you go to a college or university and major in forestry.
Search for a degree program that is accredited by the Society of American Foresters. This ensures that your coursework is rigorous enough to meet the standards of the profession. It also gives your degree more weight and importance when applying for jobs.
You can also earn a master's degree and PhD in forestry. This is a good idea if you want to advance in your career. Forestry administrative positions frequently require a graduate degree, particularly with the government or conservation agencies. Graduate coursework allows you to specialize and perform research that prepares you for a science-based, analytical job that is a step or two above evaluating trees for timber.
If you are interested in forestry, you must take a lot of math and science classes. Physics, biology, chemistry, statistics and algebra are all essential for success in this career. Courses in government policy are needed as well, since so much of forestry work concerns maintaining federal lands. A few business classes are a good idea if you plan on becoming a forester for a private company.
Forester Certification, Licensing, And Registration
The Society of American Foresters provides a professional certification for the best foresters. This certification is an official stamp of approval and is a great boost for anyone seeking a forestry job. The certification process is demanding and includes the following:
Some states, such as Maine, Massachusetts and Maryland require foresters to be licensed to work in that state. In other states, like North Carolina, West Virginia and Georgia, foresters must first register before working there. If you know where you want to work, it's important to check that state's regulations to ensure that your employment will be legal.
Examples Of Forestry Jobs
Here are some real examples of forester positions with a description of the work you would perform.
1. Forester For A Lumber Company
This position requires you to live where the lumber is, often the Pacific Northwest. When you work for a lumber company, you are assisting them in developing contracts for the responsible harvest of usable timber. Job responsibilities include timber appraisal, quality control, contract negotiation, timber sale administration and road construction appraisal. Basic skills you need to have are a commitment to safety, working and communicating well with a team and an attention to detail.
2. Forestry Crew Lead
As a crew lead you are responsible for heading a four to five-person crew working on forest restoration and vegetation management projects. Some possible duties could be data collection, inspections, marking trees for harvesting and timber cruising. There may be times that the crew has to camp in the field for extended periods. To be successful in this position you would need to use a GPS, read a topographic map, be physically fit and good at scheduling.
3. Project Manager
For a manager position you typically need a graduate degree or a bachelor's degree with several years of experience. As a manager you would be responsible for overseeing forest restoration projects and ensuring that they meet the objectives of environmental stewardship, regulatory compliance, financial returns for the company and community engagement. This job requires leadership and team-building skills as well as the ability to organize, motivate and negotiate.
4. Log Yard Manager
If you want to be a forester, but don't want to spend most of your time in the field, this type of job is a good choice for you. A log yard manager is responsible for scaling and grading hardwoods and marketing products to customers. You need to be adept at maintaining inventory records, developing relationships with loggers and customers, and communicating effectively.
5. Supervisor Of Parks And Urban Forestry
This is a great position for you if you love trees and nature but want to live in a city. Positions of this type involve monitoring and maintaining a city's trees. You would be responsible for controlling disease, blight, insect infestations and overseeing any pruning or trimming. You might also create and implement reforestation protocols and replanting schedules. This position requires computer skills, the ability to negotiate and mediate, and an understanding of the needs of diverse populations.
6. Professor Of Forestry
Teaching at a university or college is a good option for foresters who have some field experience and want to share it with others. Most professorships combine teaching with research opportunities and would expect you to be involved with studying issues such as the environmental impact of logging, tree diseases, invasive species and other similar topics. You typically will need to have a PhD in forestry as well as a few years' experience of working in the field in order to be considered for a teaching position at a university or college.
The Future Of Forester Jobs
The demand for wood products is always in flux, and that impacts forester jobs. Paper use is in decline as more records and print media go digital, reducing the number of jobs in the lumber industry. However, the use of forests for recreation and tourism is on the rise, and this is generating more jobs in the national parks and forests sector. If you can stay flexible and have a broad skill set, you will be well prepared for current forester positions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for foresters in the United States is $60,970 per year. The number of positions is expected to grow by 6 percent through the year 2026. This is the national average rate for job growth, which shows that forester jobs are keeping pace with the economy. If you are interested in working abroad, there are many countries that have robust forestry industry growth and are aggressively recruiting employees. Canada and New Zealand are two examples.
Working as a forester can be an exciting and rewarding career. It gives you stewardship over an important part of our planet and the opportunity to help maintain it. It requires strong scientific and analytical skills in addition to excellent physical strength and stamina. In short, being a forester gives you the chance to use mind, body and soul every single day.