Careers in Forestry

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Published on: Jul. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

Careers in Conservation

Are you interested in biology? Passionate about the environment? Like being outdoors? If so, you should consider a career in forestry.

Many people think foresters spend their days measuring trees, or in a fire tower watching for fires in remote scenic areas. Foresters still occasionally do these things, but they do so much more!

Foresters are not loggers or woods laborers, but they may interact with both groups of people. They are best described as professionals who use their knowledge of plant and animal ecology to manage forest ecosystems for many purposes.

Show me the jobs

The limited job market of the 1970s and 80s produced a persistent notion that job opportunities in forestry are poor to nonexistent. This is no longer true. Job placement for graduating foresters has been quite good in recent years and is expected to remain so in the near future.

In the next five years, the U.S.D.A. Forest Service predicts that 32 percent of its foresters will leave the service, mostly to retirement, and predicts hiring nearly 500 foresters to replace them. Other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Geologic Survey, Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies, face similar situations. Many professionals now wonder where the next generation of foresters will come from.

Since World War II, career opportunities in forestry have been cyclical. Immediately after the war, large numbers of returning servicemen trained as foresters. Jobs were plentiful in the expanding federal government, as well as in the private sector. As these professionals began retiring in the late 1960's and 1970's, the environmental movement triggered an enormous enrollment in forestry schools in the 1970s and early 1980s. More graduating foresters were produced than the traditional forestry job market could absorb.

This same limited job market spurred graduate foresters to find productive and satisfying careers in novel applications of their skills. Some foresters developed careers in environmental law and regulation, and in remote sensing and digital image analysis.

Urban forestry, in particular, saw rapid development as foresters discovered they were uniquely capable of helping cities deal with the effects of catastrophic losses of American elm trees to Dutch Elm Disease. Once this crisis passed, it was clear that foresters, with their skills in managing populations of trees and other vegetation, could play a permanent role in both public and private sectors.

"There is a great network of people and resources within the urban forestry community supporting each other and sharing ideas," said Meredith McAvoy, an

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