Becoming a Forestry Technician: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a forestry technician career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a forestry technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Forestry Technician

You could start making a difference in forest health with just a couple years of postsecondary education. Keep in mind that less than optimal salary and employment opportunities characterized this career as of 2014. Take into consideration the points below if you're considering becoming a forestry technician.

Pros of Being a Forestry Technician
Can obtain an entry-level job with just an associate's degree (about 2 years of education)*
Help maintain and protect forest environments*
Inform the public and government about forestry concerns*
Might be responsible for training workers and leading teams*

Cons of Being a Forestry Technician
Employment was forecast to decline by 4% between 2012 and 2022*
Average salary in 2014 (about $38,000) was lower than the national average salary*
Physically challenging work in sometimes adverse weather conditions*
Positions are often only seasonal**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Multiple online job postings.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

You will often be in the forest collecting data on topics like plant growth, plant disease prevalence, harmful insect populations, soil nutrient levels, water availability and wildlife populations. Other duties include surveying property lines, assessing timber populations and marking trees to be harvested, maintaining campsites and trails, building roads through forest lands, keeping an eye on logging activities and monitoring conditions that could cause forest fires. Furthermore, you could be in charge of training and monitoring teams of workers on projects like tree planting, tree thinning, fire control and weed control. Some forestry technicians concentrate their efforts on tree and plant populations in urban locations.

Along with conservation scientists and foresters (who will supervise you), you can help inform public and government officials on the scientific and environmental importance of your findings and, in turn, help enforce environmental regulations. Moreover, you might work to teach the public about the state of forests and current law by organizing and instructing education programs.

Salary Info and Job Prospects

As reported in May 2014 by the BLS, the average annual salary of a forest technician was about $38,000. The top 10% of forestry technician workers earned an annual average salary of $55,000 or more, while the bottom 10% brought home a yearly wage of $25,000 or less.

Job opportunities in national and private forests and within the wood pellets and timber industries were expected to increase, but those with local and state forests were forecast to decline, also per the BLS. Overall, a 4% decrease in employment of forestry technicians was projected for the 2012-2022 decade.

Education and Job Requirements

The minimum education you usually need is an associate's degree in forestry technology or a similar field. You can check out technical and community colleges to find a program, but make sure your program is accredited by the Society of American Foresters (SAF). Expect to take courses covering biology and ecology topics. You'll also learn to measure forest resources, and you might learn computer modeling and GIS (geographic information systems).

You'll need to develop a certain skill set to succeed as a forestry technician. As reported by the BLS, the following qualities are important to this job:

  • Critical thinking and reasoning
  • Sound judgment
  • Precision in measurement
  • Good speaking and listening abilities
  • Teamwork and cooperation
  • Physical endurance

What Do Employers Look for?

Per the BLS, employers desire candidates with a degree from an SAF-accredited program. Employers want forestry technicians with good communication abilities, so they can work in teams of foresters and contractors and talk with the public and the government about current environmental concerns. The following job advertisements from online government job boards in March 2012 gives you a snapshot of what employers were seeking:

  • A New Mexico office for the USDA Forest Service needed a forestry technician for a temporary assignment. While on forest patrol, the technician would halt any burning fires and assess environmental conditions that could start new fires. Additionally, he or she would inform residents and local government officials about the daily chance of wildfire and of measures they can take to help prevent fires.
  • The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources needed a forestry technician for a short-term position, to lead tree-planting campaigns and manage invasive and exotic species. Requirements include being certified to operate a chainsaw, use pesticides and drive an ATV. The candidate must also know how to use Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and ArcMap programs.
  • The USDA Forest Service sought a forestry technician to manage the vegetation in a California national park. The job is seasonal, but the position would be guaranteed each year.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

The BLS reported that urban forestry is becoming a more popular. You may find jobs in cities and towns that desire a green, sustainable environment for citizens. Hence, training or knowledge in urban environmental and sustainability issues may be to your advantage, if you'd like to enter this growing sector of forestry.

Regarding jobs in more rural locations, employers have reported navigation abilities as desirable. If you can operate GPS equipment, interpret various types of maps and drive off-road and in rough winter conditions, you may have a better chance of getting the job.

Other Career Options

Geological Technician

If the career prospects for forestry technicians unsettle you and you'd like to pursue another hands-on, outdoors-based job, consider becoming a geological technician. Like a forestry technician, you need to understand the workings of the natural environment. Conducting fieldwork and analyzing samples of minerals, rocks and crude oil are typical duties. The goal of your work is often to help governments or private companies figure out the resource potential of an area or to discover the environmental impact of geological activities, like drilling. Technology involved includes spectrophotometers, magnetometers, imaging software and GIS.

With an associate's degree and some on-the-job training, you can become a geological technician. According to the BLS, employment growth was predicted to be average, at 15%, between 2010 and 2020, and the average salary as of 2011 was about $58,000 (higher than the national average).

Environmental Science and Protection Technician

If you have more of a passion for protecting the environment than extracting resources from it, and a good job outlook is important, becoming an environmental science and protection technician is something you might investigate. Faster than average job growth (24% expected between 2010 and 2020) is a bonus, and the $45,000 mean salary as of 2011 is right on par with the national average. Career information was derived from the BLS.

Like the other technician positions, only an associate's degree is necessary to get a start in this career. Job duties often involve measuring levels of pollution in the air, water and land near industrial sites and locations where runoff collects. Then, you would analyze this data in a lab and assess whether there is a public health risk or an environmental habitat issue. Keep in mind that you often work in contaminated areas and risk exposure to harsh pollutants. This might be worth it to you if you can make a difference in protecting the environment and enforcing regulations.

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