Wildlife Forestry Conservation Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a wildlife forestry conservation career? Get real job descriptions, job prospects and salary information to see if a career in wildlife forestry conservation is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Wildlife Forestry Conservation

There are a wide variety of careers in wildlife forestry conservation to choose from in which you can impact our forest resources and animal populations in a positive way, whether through labor, planning, management or scientific research. Four common careers in this field are forest and conservation worker, forest and conservation technician, conservation scientist and forester and zoologist/wildlife biologist. Read on for information about the pros and cons of each of these careers.

Forest and Conservation Worker Forest and Conservation Technician Conservation Scientist and Forester Zoologist/Wildlife Biologist
Career Overview Forest and conservation workers strive to maintain, grow and improve forests through hands-on labor. Forest and conservation technicians maintain and improve forests, rangelands and other natural environments through planning and design. Conservation scientists and foresters are in charge of managing forests, parks, and rangelands. Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals in the wild as well as in other habitats.
Education Requirements At least a high school diploma or a GED At least an associate's degree At least a bachelor's degree At least a bachelor's, but a master's degree or doctorate may be required for certain positions
Program Length 4 years to complete high school 1-2 years for an associate's degree About 4 years for a bachelor's degree About 4 years for a bachelor's degree, 1-2 more for a master's degree and 4-5 more for a PhD
Additional Training On-the-job training On-the-job training N/A N/A
Licensing N/A N/A Licensing or registration is necessary in 12 states N/A
Work Experience Varies widely; employers may request 1-5 years of experience Varies widely; some employers require a few months to a year of experience Varies widely; 2-4 years of experience may be necessary for some jobs Employers typically accept varying combinations of education and experience
Job Outlook for 2012-2022 Slower than average growth (4%) compared to all occupations* Declining growth (-4%) compared to all occupations* Slower than average growth (3%) compared to all occupations* Slower than average growth (5%) compared to all occupations*
Median Salary (2014) About $27,160* About $35,260* About $61,860* About $58,270*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Forest and Conservation Worker

The job of a forest and conservation worker typically involves very hands-on, outdoors work. You'll typically attempt to gauge and improve forest quality through labor and maintenance. Duties may include managing forest growth on park trails, applying insecticides, counting trees, cutting down trees afflicted with disease, planting trees and combating forest fires. Usually, you'll work under the guidance of a forest and conservation technician or forester.

Requirements

Little education beyond a high school diploma or a GED is usually necessary to enter this field. Some workers complete a state training program or a degree program in a field like forestry. For supervisor positions, you may need an associate's degree in natural resources conservation, forestry technology or a related discipline. The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) offers certification, which may be required for certain high-level worker positions. The amount of experience that you'll need depends on the employer.

You'll need to know how to operate various types of forest machinery as well as how to maintain this equipment. Your work also requires you to implement basic hazard-prevention and safety techniques, like wearing protective clothing and eyewear. Physical stamina is also important since this job requires manual labor.

Three positions that were posted on the Internet in December of 2012 were:

  • A city in Kansas was hiring a full-time forestry maintenance and seasonal horticulture worker to work for its parks department. The employer didn't require any education credentials but preferred candidates with 1-3 years of experience. A driver's license was necessary.
  • In Colorado, a parks department sought a forestry supervisor who had an associate's degree and who was an ISA Certified Arborist. Five years of experience in urban forestry was also preferred.
  • In Ohio, a city was looking for a forestry crew worker. Candidates needed 1-2 years of non-managerial work experience.

Standing Out

In a field experiencing little to no growth, it's particularly important to stand out from other job applicants. Staying abreast of the latest developments in modern forestry, such as forestry's application to urban environments and conservation technology, can be a solid way to get an edge.

If you're willing to move to the West, you may find more options, since abandoned roads through forests are being repaired, requiring workers to clear wildlife. Other roads are being converted into natural forest. If you're trained to contain wildfires, you may also find that you have increased job prospects.

Forest and Conservation Technician

As a forest and conservation technician, you'll just as often be required to work behind the scenes as in the field. Technicians are in charge of collecting data on soil and water characteristics, fire threat conditions and insects' effect on forests. You may determine protected areas and property lines, plant and cut down trees, control and suppress fires and train employees. In addition, you'll manage wildlife, trails, campsites and roads. You strive to improve natural areas such as parks, forests and rangelands, through physical work and public education. Conservation scientists and foresters often supervise technicians.

Requirements

You're typically required to complete an associate's degree program in natural resources conservation or a related discipline. Ensure that your program is accredited by the Society of American Foresters (SAF) since most employers look for this. On-the-job training is also common.

The amount of experience required varies. For some positions, you'll need work experience or expertise in certain kinds of forestry or topics like fire control. Knowledge of computer modeling and Geographic Information System (GIS) technology is sometimes required as well.

In December 2012, employers listed the following positions for forest and conservation technicians online:

  • In California, an agriculture government agency was hiring a forest technician with at least 90 days of experience to suppress and control wild fires. A driver's license was required.
  • A forestry technician was sought in Mississippi. Duties involved inventorying timber, combating tree diseases and insects, developing fire lanes and carrying out reforestation. An associate's degree in forestry or an equivalent amount of education was required, along with a driver's license.
  • A Native American issues government agency was hiring a forestry technician specializing in fire control to work in Arizona. Candidates would need to be familiar with using a range of fire-fighting tools and constructing fire lines. About a year of prior experience was necessary.

Standing Out

There are a few suggestions you can implement to get ahead as a forest and conservation technician. Choosing a specific area of expertise can be a solid way to stand out from job applicants who have more general technical knowledge of the field. You might also choose to concentrate on reforestation or conservation of certain kinds of forests and wild lands. Fire control is another option to consider.

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Typically, conservation scientists and foresters are in charge of managing, administrating and monitoring forests and other related natural environments. You'll often be in charge of teams of forestry workers and technicians and work in the same environment as them. Duties of the job usually include designing forestry plans, negotiating land use and minimizing any environmental damage possible, including in areas where the timber industry operates. You might use technological equipment, like GIS, GPS or remote sensing tools, as well as measurement tools like bark gauges and clinometers (an instrument to measure tree height). Some foresters tend to trees and plants in urban settings.

Requirements

To become a conservation scientist and forester, you'll typically need to earn at least a bachelor's degree. Master's degree and PhD programs in the field are also common. Employers typically require your program to be accredited by the SAF. Twelve states require either licensing or registration, and four states have voluntary registration. A bachelor's degree, multiple years of professional forestry experience and a passing score on an exam are common requirements to earn the credential. The amount of required experience that employers request varies.

Here are a few conservationist scientist positions relating to forestry that potential employers posted online in December of 2012:

  • In Florida, a county parks organization was looking for an environmental conservation scientist with a bachelor's or master's degree in botany, environmental science, biology, wildlife management or a related discipline. At least two years of experience in environmental protection was required.
  • A city parks and recreation department in Virginia was seeking a city forester to design and implement forestry programs. Conducting tree health evaluations, networking with other conservation groups, organizing volunteers and taking care of administrative duties were also part of the job. A bachelor's degree in urban forestry, four years of experience and the Certified Arborist credential were necessary.
  • A range management specialist was sought by an agriculture organization in Boise. Applicants needed at least a bachelor's degree, experience in the field and technical writing skills. Certification from the Society for Range Management could substitute for experience. The specialist would be responsible for reviewing government plans regarding rangelands, providing suggestions to preserve the health of rangelands and helping individuals working on rangelands implement sustainable grazing methods.

Standing Out

Certification, while not always required by employers, can be helpful for bolstering your resume and standing out in the job market. For example, the Society for Range Management (SRM) offers two professional certifications. You need to have completed coursework in a variety of areas, like rangeland ecology, soil science and rangeland vegetation management, as well as have demonstrated sufficient work experience to qualify for the Certified Professional in Range Management credential. Proof of academic training and professional experience, plus submission of a variety of reports and publications are necessary to qualify for the Certified Range Management Consultant credential.

The Society of American Foresters (SAF) offers a Certified Forester credential; you need five years of professional experience before you qualify for the exam. Detailed education and professional experience information must be submitted as well. Continuing education credits must be completed to be eligible for recertification. In addition, the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) offers several certifications, including the Certified Arborist, Certified Tree Worker Climber Specialist and Board Certified Master Arborist, among others.

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

As a zoologist/wildlife biologist, you'll typically conduct scientific research on various animal populations and habitats. Wildlife biology is an area of zoology focused on wild animals. You may study the ways in which animals interact with their natural environment and the modern industrial world. Research on the impacts of urban development on wildlife health, such as overall population, nutrition levels or prevalence of disease, is particularly important in current times. Evolution, animal behavior, animal development and genetics are all specialty areas of wildlife you might work in or study. In some cases, you'll give presentations and make wildlife management recommendations to government policy-makers.

Requirements

For most positions in this field, at least a bachelor's degree is required. That being said, there's a fair chance you may need to earn a master's degree or a PhD in wildlife biology, zoology or animal science for jobs with high responsibility or research positions. Having a solid body of research, industry connections built over the years, years of experience and a solid reputation in the environmental science community are also important to attaining many positions.

In January of 2013, the following positions were posted on the Internet:

  • In Arizona, a U.S. government forest service agency was seeking a wildlife biologist with a bachelor's degree in biological science to work in a national forest, conducting research, monitoring wildlife activity and developing natural resource projects. Degree coursework should have included topics like wildlife management, ornithology, mammalogy, animal ecology, vertebrate zoology and parasitology, among other topics. As is quite common for government wildlife biology positions, a combination of education and experience was also acceptable.
  • A wildlife biologist was sought by a government wildlife service department in Louisiana. Duties involve developing and carrying out surveys on threatened and endangered species, analyzing maps and photos of habitats, writing reports and providing advice for managing and protecting wildlife. Requirements included a biological science degree or again, a combination of experience and education.
  • A U.S. engineering corporation in Washington state was looking for a senior wildlife biologist with a combination of education and experience or a bachelor's degree in biological science. The position involved overseeing the conservation of natural resources and wildlife habitats, supervising other wildlife management officials and developing conservation and stewardship programs. Prior specialized experience working on similar projects was necessary.

Standing Out

Specializing in a specific type of animal group, such as fish, reptiles, birds or mammals, can help make you attractive to employers looking for zoologists or wildlife biologists with a specific set of skills. The research work that you've completed can also help bolster your resume. According to the BLS, in order to get ahead as a zoologist or wildlife biologist, a background in computer science can be also helpful, since using GIS and modeling programs is common.

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