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Forester's Field Work

How To Become A Forestry Technician

It’s no secret the world’s forests are at risk. Environmental issues like deforestation and wildfires aggravated by climate change require humanity to take an active role in the management and preservation of our invaluable forest lands. That’s where forestry technicians come into the picture. 

a forestry technician studying growing trees

These dedicated professionals serve as stewards of our world’s natural forest land. But how do you become a forestry technician? We’ll take a closer look at the forester job description, how to become a forester, and more below.

Career Path Overview for Forest and Conservation Technicians

Education Requirements

Bachelor’s Degree

Recommended Degree Program

B.S. in Environmental Science and Climate Change 

Average Salary (2021)

$43,420

Workers Employed in U.S. (2021)

30,440

Projected Job Openings (2021-31)

-400

Projected Growth Rate

-3% (Decline)

Other Job Titles

Forester, Forest Technician

Related Careers

Wildlife ConservationistForest RangerAgronomist 

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Does A Forester Do?

If you’re on a hike looking at a postcard-worthy view of a natural forest landscape, it might not be apparent that there’s an entire crew of forestry professionals doing their part to monitor and protect the overall health of forest lands. Foresters are responsible for monitoring forest conditions, proactively taking steps to minimize forest fire-related damage, and assisting with the redevelopment of natural habitats. Forestry professionals strive to limit property damage and do their best to contain natural and man-made forest fires.

As you might expect, many forestry careers focus on wildfire management, but there are also additional focus areas to be found. For instance, the U.S. Forest Service identifies several common roles within their agency: 

  • Wildland Firefighting: This category covers the hands-on front lines of forest firefighting efforts as well as the fire analysts, ecologists, and other support professionals tasked with addressing wildfire issues.  
  • Foresters: These professionals use their forestry expertise to monitor and manage the growth of natural forests and other native vegetation. They understand how to gauge the health of a forest area and evaluate the long-term sustainability of tree planting and wildlife redevelopment efforts. 
  • Civil Engineering: Forest Service civil engineers use modern engineering techniques to provide expertise for land management-related issues. They manage plans and evaluate construction and maintenance efforts, with a sharp eye for potential environmental challenges and their impact on local wildlife. 
  • Rangeland Management: These forest service professionals are tasked with managing the range of vegetation found on forest lands. They also work with livestock producers to promote and enforce sustainable grazing practices, with a focus on ecosystem health and sustainability.

Junior Forestry Technician Job Description 

What exactly does a junior forestry technician do? In junior forestry technician positions, you can expect to take on the following duties on a regular basis: 

  • Constructing firelines
  • Clearing brush
  • Gathering data around weather and fire
  • Counting and measuring trees and vegetation
  • Planting seedlings
  • Using and maintaining specialized forestry equipment

As you can probably glean from the list above, this line of work is hands-on and at times is physically demanding. You’ll need to be comfortable breaking a sweat and navigating the elements to thrive in this role. 

Advanced Forestry Technician Job Description

In more advanced forestry roles, you can still expect to find yourself working hands-on in nature. Still, these roles focus more on important supervisory, planning, and evaluation duties. This is where you’ll get to flex your high-level management muscles and use your in-depth understanding of forestry and conservation best practices. Typical job duties at this level include:

  • Supervision of junior forestry technicians and conservation workers
  • Choosing and preparing sites for efforts like controlled burns, replanting, and more
  • Measuring and monitoring forest growth and regeneration efforts
  • Assist with fire suppression planning initiatives

Where Do Forestry Technicians Work?

While the obvious answer is “in nature,” there’s more to this question to explore. Forestry technicians are often employed by state and federal government agencies that are tasked with the maintenance and oversight of government-owned land. Agencies commonly hiring forestry technicians include:

  • U.S. Forest Service
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • National Park Service
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife 

Additionally, some find work in the private sector working in the logging industry and other forestry-adjacent businesses. 

As you might expect, forester technician jobs are concentrated in areas with large swathes of forests and dry areas where severe wildfire risks run high. According to the BLSCalifornia, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Arizona have the higher number of forestry and conservation technicians. While those states may have a high concentration, there are opportunities to be found across the country.

The work environment will vary depending on your specific role, but forestry technicians can expect to find themselves in physically taxing – and sometimes dangerous – scenarios on a regular basis. If you’re not comfortable getting your hands dirty, this is not the right line of work for you. Forestry technicians typically keep a routine schedule, but wildfires and other natural disasters may press them into service at unexpected hours.

In the Office

While the idea of working in the office in a forestry job might seem like a strange fit, there are still substantial “office” roles and job duties within this field, particularly for higher-level management positions. In the office, professional foresters may be tasked with scheduling and organizing fieldwork, writing reports and other documentation, analyzing proposals, and providing recommendations for policy proposals. 

This will require using common and basic office productivity tools like email, word processing, and telephone systems. Additionally, some roles may require knowledge of specialized geographic information system (GIS) software tools and equipment.   

In the Field

Forestry technicians typically spend a lot of their time working in the field. Whether that’s in the form of collecting soil samples, inspecting fire damage, scouting replanting locations, or measuring the progress of forest regeneration efforts, they can expect a wide variety of hands-on work. 

With that hands-on work comes a lot of gear. Forestry technicians use specialized equipment like GIS imaging tools, fire suppression equipment, and protective clothing like hard hats and steel-toed boots. With fires, falling trees, nasty weather, and sometimes territorial wildlife all a fact of life for foresters, it is critical that they keep an eye on the safety of themselves and their colleagues.  

Forester Technician Observing Environment

Average Forestry Technician Salary

While a passion for the outdoors and our natural environment can be a huge motivator, it’s only reasonable to consider your potential pay in this role. According to the BLS, the 2021 median annual salary for junior-level roles like forest, conservation, and logging workers was $39,050. For more advanced roles, like foresters, the BLS reports a 2021 median annual salary of $64,110

Top 5 States for Forestry Technician Salary in U.S.

State

Average Annual Salary

Average Hourly Rate

Massachusetts

$54,840

$26.36

New York

$54,590

$26.25

Maryland

$53,020

$25.49

Illinois

$51,440

$24.73

Alaska

$49,920

$24.00

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is the Job Outlook for Forestry Technicians? 

Despite the pressing need for forest and wildfire management, the job growth projections for forestry professionals are perhaps a little more tepid than you might expect. 

For forest and conservation workers, the BLS projects employment to decrease by three percent from 2021 through 2031. But there are some silver linings to this cloudy job outlook. For one, automation and advanced tools are helping to cut down on the number of people needed to take on routine tasks like tree counting and land surveyance. With that in mind, the BLS still projects approximately 2,300 yearly openings for forest and conservation workers to help backfill positions vacated by retirement or career change. 

For foresters, the BLS projects employment to increase by 7 percent from 2021 through 2031, with an additional 1,100 foresters being added to the estimated 15,000 currently employed in 2021. The BLS notes that an increasing number of foresters and conservation scientists will be needed to mitigate the growing environmental and humanitarian impacts of increased forest fires. 

Forestry Technician Education Recommendations

Forester education requirements can vary substantially based on the type of forestry role you’re seeking. For junior-level positions that may focus more on the manual labor side of forestry work, you can expect to find employers requiring a high school diploma and a valid driver’s license. However, some may prefer candidates with vocational training or an associate’s degree in forestry, wildlife management, or another related field. These roles will also feature a substantial amount of on-the-job training from more experienced forestry team members. 

For more advanced forestry roles (like that of a conservation scientist or forester), you can expect employers to typically require a bachelor’s degree, with some roles preferring candidates with a graduate degree. There’s some variety available for the specific educational path aspiring foresters can pursue, but most advanced forestry roles prefer candidates with a degree focused on forestry, rangeland management, agriculture, or other closely-related subjects.

Forestry Technician High School Recommendations

At the high school level, there are several great ways to build your skill set and resume for a prospective career in forestry. This includes (but is not limited to) the following suggestions:

  • Pursue related and advanced coursework in subjects like Biology, Environmental Science, Agronomy, Forestry, and Plant and Soil Science to help build a foundation of hands-on practical knowledge and an understanding of the science driving environmental work. 
  • Get involved in extracurricular clubs and organizations like Project WET, the Scouts, Sierra Club, 350.org, or other local nature and wildlife conservation-focused groups for volunteering opportunities and fieldwork  
  • Build familiarity with the outdoors with activities like camping, hiking, fishing, foraging, and gardening. The higher your comfort level with nature, the better.

Forestry Technician College Education Recommendations

For those who are pursuing college-level forestry roles, there are a few key elements you should seek out in your undergraduate and graduate degree programs. While not all college degree programs are going to be uniformly designed, look for the following elements in undergraduate and graduate-level programs to help ensure you’re building a steady foundation for a forestry career.  

Undergraduate

At the undergraduate level, aspiring forestry professionals will want to focus their studies on science-based subjects like Unity Environmental University’s Environmental Science and Climate Change or Environmental Science programs. Programs like these will develop a strong base of understanding within physical and environmental science while also providing opportunities to apply what you’ve learned with hands-on fieldwork and lab components. 

Additionally, courses centering on environmental leadership, wildland fire management, forest ecology, and resource management will help round out your understanding of the pressing environmental issues and factors you’ll weigh in a forestry career.

Postgraduate

Some forestry professionals may also choose to pursue a graduate degree after completion of an undergraduate program. While this may not be a necessity for all forestry roles, an advanced education can be beneficial for senior-level management and policy analyst roles within forestry. 

At the graduate level, you may want to focus your studies in a program like Unity Environmental University’s Master’s in Environmental Studies and Sustainability. This program focuses on the larger-scale systemic issues that conservationist leaders must navigate as we seek practical ways to build a more sustainable world. At this level, you’ll learn to evaluate, implement and effectively communicate environmental policy and show your strength as a climate and conservation leader. 

Additional Certifications and Licenses

Beyond formal education, you also need to know how to become a certified forester. There are professional certifications and potential licensure requirements for forestry professionals you’ll need to consider. 

For professional certification, the Society of American Foresters offers Certified Forester and Candidate Certified Forester pathways. These certification options require candidates to meet criteria related to formal education, experience meeting continuing education requirements, and application fees. Keep in mind that while professional certification may not be required, it can certainly demonstrate at a glance to employers your dedication to the field. 

Licensure requirements are another very important factor to be aware of. According to the Society of American Foresters, at least 15 states require foresters to obtain licensure to work. These requirements will vary from state to state, so it’s important to seek out this information and understand the licensure process. 

Forester Checking Trees

Recommended Unity Degrees and Courses

Master’s in Environmental Studies and Sustainability 

At the graduate degree level, earning a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies and Sustainability will help position you for a future navigating complex environmental analysis and leadership decisions with a focus on conservation and environmental stewardship. 

B.S. in Environmental Science 

Another applicable undergraduate degree program, the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science program provides students with an excellent foundation in biology, chemistry, geology, and ecology that can be applied in a variety of conservation and forestry jobs. 

Explore More Career Paths Related to Forestry Technician

Wildlife Conservationist

Like forestry technicians, wildlife conservationists apply their knowledge of environmental science to help manage and maintain critical ecosystems. 

Forest Ranger

Forest rangers are the enforcement arm of the state and local government agencies tasked with protecting, managing, and regulating forest lands. 

Agronomist 

Another career focused on managing the land and our natural resources, agronomists study plants, how they’re grown, and the modifications that can be made to improve agriculture health, output, and sustainability.