What You Can Do with a Forestry Degree Careers, Internships & Volunteer Positions

Meet The Expert

Dr. Michael Goerndt Assistant Professor of Forestry and Natural Resources, Missouri State University Read more

Written By

Shelley Zansler Read more

Forestry careers take many forms and provide opportunities to engage in both hands-on and theoretical work. Whether they’re interested in working outside to survey land or propagate forests, using computer mapping programs to monitor forested areas, helping companies make sure they are compliant with environmental regulations, fighting and preventing forest fires or advocating for conservation-focused legislation, students can follow forestry career paths that align with their individual interests, skills and needs. Prospective students can learn about the varied range of careers they can follow with a degree in forestry and take advantage of internships, volunteer opportunities and professional organizations to help them along the way.

What Careers Can You Pursue with a Forestry Degree?

Forestry, environmental science and policy, environmental engineering and forest resources management are popular majors for those seeking forestry careers, but students can also pursue many other types of forestry degree programs. While there can be a lot of overlap in the careers available to those with different degrees, opportunities can vary depending on the major and degree-level sought.

These popular forestry careers can give students an idea of the range of work available and what different jobs entail.

Forester

Foresters play important roles in land management, conservation and rehabilitation. They plan and help carry out forestry projects, like planting new trees, monitoring and conserving wildlife habitats, choosing and preparing timber plots, assessing current timber value and suppressing forest fires. They may supervise forest and conservation technicians and ensure that projects are completed legally and consciously.

  • Median annual salary: $60,120
  • Estimated job growth 2016-26: 5-9%
  • Education & skills needed:

    A bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related field, such as agricultural science or environmental science. Foresters may perform a variety of duties and use skills in identification, math, decision-making, short- and long-term planning, mapping, data analysis and physical labor.

Forest and Conservation Technician

Forest and conservation technicians tend to work with and under the direction of foresters and conservation scientists to successfully carry out forest-related projects. Technicians may gather forest data, like the content and quality of soil, water and wildlife populations, survey and map forest areas and keep records of logging activities. These workers can help with forest propagation and conservation and may engage in seasonal activities, like planting seedlings and suppressing and preventing forest fires. They may also coordinate education and training programs.

  • Median annual salary: $36,130
  • Estimated job growth 2016-26: 2-4%
  • Education & skills needed:

    A diploma or associate’s degree is usually the minimum requirement. However, those who wish to become conservation scientists in the future may consider earning a bachelor’s degree in forestry, environmental science or a related field. Forest and conservation technicians must have strong communication, critical thinking, math and analytical skills. They should also be able to work outside for long periods of time.

Log Grader and Scaler

Log graders and scalers play an essential role in the logging and timber industries. They examine cut timber for its potential market value and rate logs based on their characteristics. They also assess logs and pulpwood based on certain criteria; look for defects; measure weight, volume and dimensions; and identify species.

  • Median annual salary: $37,880
  • Estimated job growth 2016-26: -2%
  • Education & skills needed:

    A high school diploma or some college. Related experience or job-specific training may be required or preferred. They also must have sharp eyesight to help them make assessments and identifications, and should be able to record data accurately. Precise math skills are helpful in this line of work, which often requires detailed measuring and weighing.

Logging Equipment Operator

Logging equipment operators are charged with driving and controlling the vehicles and machines used on logging sites. Understanding and maintaining safety standards while using bulldozer blades, shears, winches, hoists, cranes and other equipment is essential. These operators must use their equipment to fell trees, move and stack logs, clear brush and other debris and dislodge stumps. They also perform basic maintenance on machines to ensure they’re in good working order.

  • Median annual salary: $38,390
  • Estimated job growth 2016-26: -2%
  • Education & skills needed:

    A high school diploma or equivalent. On the job training is common, as it’s important to have a strong understanding of the equipment used. Active listening skills, quick reactions and the ability to follow instructions precisely are necessary.

Forest Fire Inspection and Prevention Specialist

Forest fire inspection and prevention specialists combine former firefighting experience and skills with knowledge of laws, regulations and hazard prevention. They assess forested areas for hazards and take steps to prevent fires, report and investigate fires when they do occur and check nearby areas to make sure they’re not violating codes and regulations or posing wildfire risks.

  • Median annual salary: $37,380
  • Estimated job growth 2016-26: 15%
  • Education & skills needed:

    A high school diploma plus experience as a firefighter, but some employers prefer a bachelor’s degrees. Fields of study may include fire science, engineering or chemistry. On the job and classroom training in investigation is usually provided. Having strong communication and critical thinking skills, attention to detail and physical strength are very useful.

Forest and Wildland Firefighter

Forest and wildland firefighters focus their attention on the prevention and suppression of fires in areas with little human presence. They’re usually specially trained to control forest fires with heavy hoses and calculated use of fire lines and controlled burns. Smoke jumpers are wildland firefighters trained to parachute from airplanes to reach and control fires in hard-to-access areas.

  • Median annual salary: $49,080
  • Estimated job growth 2016-26: 5-9%
  • Education & skills needed:

    A high school diploma at minimum, but since firefighters need EMT training, many have college experience or degrees at the associate or bachelor’s level. Forest firefighters and wildland firefighters usually need specialized training and a few years of firefighting experience. Strength, stamina and the ability to think quickly and make decisions under duress are important.

Faller

Fallers use cutting tools, like chainsaws and axes, and specialized techniques to fell trees safely and with minimal fall damage. Fallers are in charge of assessing trees and making precise cut decisions to control the direction in which trees fall. This involves gauging tree lean and limb density and surveying the fall area. Fallers must also make sure that escape routes are clear and accessible. Fallers work closely and collaborate with buckers, climbers and logging equipment operators.

  • Median annual salary: $40,690
  • Estimated job growth 2016-26: -2%
  • Education & skills needed:

    A high school diploma and on-the-job training, although students can pursue associate degrees and certificates in forest technology. Keen eyesight, physical strength, stamina and quick reactions are helpful, as is the ability to learn and use job-specific software, equipment and programs.

Forest Ranger (Fish and Game Warden)

Forest rangers often work for national and state forests and ensure these areas are well-maintained and healthy. They may enforce laws, survey the land, engage in conservation and repopulation efforts, educate visitors and make sure they are safe, monitor wildlife, gather data on tree and other plant populations, clear walking paths, prevent and suppress wildfires and conduct search and rescue missions. They may also spend a good amount of time writing data and activity reports on site or in nearby facilities.

  • Median annual salary: $56,410
  • Estimated job growth 2016-26: 2-4%
  • Education & skills needed:

    A bachelor’s degrees in areas like forestry, wildlife science and natural resources management. Must have knowledge of relevant laws, communication and reasoning skills, and the ability to work independently.

Environmental Compliance Inspector

Environmental compliance inspectors use their knowledge of federal, state and local laws and on-site fieldwork to investigate pollution and contamination issues and pinpoint their sources. They work to ensure that those responsible for pollution engage in environmental remediation–active efforts to remove pollutants from an area and restore its health–and that they do so safely and legally.

  • Median annual salary: $67,870
  • Estimated job growth 2016-26: 5-9%
  • Education & skills needed:

    Environmental and compliance inspectors usually have at least a bachelor’s degree in a business-related field. They typically receive on the job training and must also have a solid knowledge of laws and regulations related to environmental compliance and remediation. Written and face-to-face communication skills are important in this field, as are observation, analytical, documentation, critical thinking and reasoning skills. Understanding of chemistry is also helpful.

Post-secondary Forestry and Conservation Science Teacher

Forestry and conservation science instructors and professors help students learn about different aspects of forestry and conservation science. They may create lesson plans, give lectures, craft and conduct classroom research projects and experiments, grade assignments and answer student questions. Some secondary-level teachers also spend a significant portion of their career conducting research to contribute to the field.

  • Median annual salary: $87,420
  • Estimated job growth 2016-26: 5-9%
  • Education & skills needed:

    A doctorate in the field or a similar area of study, and possibly some post-doctoral training. Educators must have strong research, communication and organizational skills and should be able to adapt to different class and student needs.

Pros & Cons of Forestry Careers

Forestry careers can come with some incredible perks, but the work isn’t for everyone. Understanding both the upsides and downsides of working in forestry is an important step in deciding whether or not to pursue the field.

Pros

  • Work outside

    Many people are drawn to forestry careers because they offer a significant amount of outdoor work. Not only that, but the work is often in beautiful areas with no desks or cubicles in sight.

  • Contribute to environmental wellness

    A significant part of many forestry careers is ensuring natural areas stay healthy, or helping restore wellness through propagation, remediation, compliance and fire prevention.

  • Use unique and interesting technologies

    Many forestry careers give employees the opportunity to use technologies specific to the field, giving them insights and skills other professionals don’t have.

  • Use specialized knowledge to solve problems

    Those in forestry often use a combination of different types of skills and knowledge to solve problems. It can be extremely satisfying to use specialized hands-on work, theory and data analysis to solve large-scale issues that affect many people and wildlife.

Cons

  • Work in all weather and conditions

    For many, working outside is a clear benefit, but it’s good to keep in mind that the outdoors can be varied and unpredictable. Even in poor weather or undesirable conditions, forestry workers must get the job done.

  • Work can be dangerous

    Whether they’re dealing with wildfires, contaminated areas, icy roads, rock slide areas or chainsaws, those in forestry are often expected to do dangerous, difficult work.

  • Deal with different types of wildlife

    While bears and mountain lions can certainly be a reality for those in certain forestry careers, it’s important to remember that bugs, poisonous plants and less innocuous messes can all be frustrating or unpleasant parts of forestry careers.

  • Tasks can be very tiring

    Many foresters do extremely laborious work that requires strength and stamina. Further, foresters often use critical thinking and problem solving skills, which can tax them mentally, too.

Internships & Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteering and participating in internships are both great ways for students to get a firsthand look into forestry careers and gain practical experience. Whether students are looking to spend an afternoon clearing trails and documenting plant populations or want to spend several months learning about resource conservation policy and the politics of forestry, these opportunities can get them started in their search.

21st Century Conservation Service Corps

The 21st Century Conservation Corps pairs veterans and young Americans with projects focused around conservation of public and tribal lands across the country. Volunteers work outdoors and gain a variety of practical skills related to forestry and conservation.

Discover Your Forest Generation Green Internships

Generation Green internships are open to high school students, college students and recent graduates who studied natural resources, cultural resources, recreation or engineering. These internships provide job shadowing and mentoring as well as a $250 stipend per 40 hours. Interns must commit to at least 160 hours of work.

Forest Stewards Guild Internships

The Forest Stewards Guild provides a rotating list of available internships for those interested in forest stewardship and related work. Opportunities are from around the country, so students can check the board regularly to find internships in their area.

National Forest Foundation Volunteer Opportunities

The National Forest Foundation offers a selection of short-term, Colorado-based volunteer opportunities for those looking to get involved in forestry and related work. Most of their volunteer events last one to two days and focus on ecological restoration and trail improvement.

Society of American Foresters (SAF) Henry Clepper Internship

The Henry Clepper internship focuses on the natural resources policy and advocacy side of forestry and is structured to fit the different needs and interests of selected interns. A monthly stipend of $1,400 is provided, too. The duration of the internship is flexible, but a three-month minimum commitment is preferred.

U.S. Forest Service Pathways Programs

These U.S. Forest Service internships give students the opportunity to work within federal agencies, gain practical experience and expose themselves to forestry and resource management career paths. Paid internships are available to undergraduate and graduate students in various locations throughout the country.

U.S. Forest Service Youth Conservation Corps

This U.S. Forest Service program is geared specifically toward people between 15 and 18 years old, which makes it a great volunteer opportunity for high school students interested in pursuing forestry degrees after graduation. Students may engage in conservation projects, clear trails, remove invasive species and educate the public on environmental issues.

U.S. Forest Service Virtual Internships

Students who don’t leave near large forests and parks can still gain practical experience related to forestry through the Forest Service’s array of virtual internships. These internships take place online, and many utilize a variety of skills that more conventional forestry internships do not, such as graphic design, social media management and videography. Students can still gain hands-on forestry experience by applying for internships that focus on concepts like data analysis and GIS mapping. Internships rotate based on availability, so students can check in regularly to find convenient internships that fit their interests.

U.S. Forest Service Volunteer Opportunities

Along with internships, the U.S. Forest Service offers a range of volunteer opportunities. Volunteerships can take many forms and last anywhere from an afternoon to several months, depending on the project.

Expert Interview

Interview

with Dr. Michael Goerndt Dr. Michael Goerndt is the Assistant Professor of Forestry and Natural Resources at Missouri State University.
What is your current job title, and what does your work entail?

My current job title is assistant professor of Forestry and Natural Resources. My work consists of designing, organizing and teaching courses pertaining to several fields of Forestry, which include Forest Ecology, Forest Measurements, Silviculture, Dendrology and Wood Science. I also conduct forestry research and publish in reputable journals. Finally, I engage in service activities, which include serving on academic and administrative committees at MSU, advise students and the MSU Forestry Club and engage in service and outreach outside of MSU (e.g. 4H chapters, FFA, MDC).

How did you get started in forestry?

My interest in forestry started at a very young age. As the son of a professional forester, I was exposed to the practices and challenges of forestry as far back as I can remember. Though I briefly considered other career paths, when the time came to go to college, I immediately started working toward a forestry degree.

My personal interest in forestry stems from my respect for conservation, my desire to be a steward of our forest resources, my love of being outdoors and in the woods as often as possible and my desire to instill my knowledge of forestry into others through teaching and research. My desire to engage in the deeper aspects of forestry teaching and research is what led me to pursue a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in forestry and to also earn a M.S. in Statistics to strengthen my skills as a Forest Biometrician.

Of your forestry work, which position or activities and duties did you like the most and why?

My primary career activities thus far have consisted of research and teaching. Of the two, teaching has definitely been my favorite activity. Teaching enables me to spend time both in the classroom and out in the field, as many of my classes involve outdoor labs. I have found that I have a talent for teaching both the scientific and practical aspects of forestry to students in ways that enable them to grasp the information and be able to use it.

I also believe that teaching is one of the most valuable pursuits, especially in a profession like forestry, which is greatly misunderstood by the majority of the population and certainly not as well-known as other sciences, such as engineering, computer science, chemistry or even wildlife biology.

What are some of the greatest challenges of forestry work?

One of the greatest challenges for a forester is working with the public. Many people pursue a forestry career thinking that they will be able to hang out in the woods all day and not have to deal with people. On the contrary, engaging with people is a huge part of the job, especially in the Central Hardwoods Region, where much of the forestland is privately owned. This also highlights the general challenges that are faced by private-lands foresters when compared to public-lands foresters.

Another key challenge to forestry work is the fact that to be a knowledgeable forester, one must have at least a working knowledge of many different sciences including: biology, ecology, plant pathology, soils, hydrology, mathematics, statistics, economics, plant taxonomy, entomology and the list goes on. Forests are very complex three-dimensional landscapes consisting of countless different biotic and abiotic components all interacting with each other.

The challenge of being a forester is actually one of the things that attracted me to forestry in the first place, and the forests of the Missouri Ozarks are some of the most complex in the U.S. due to high species biodiversity and a very complex topographical landscape.

What about the benefits?

One of the greatest benefits to being a forester is being able to work in a field that is completely dedicated to sustaining growth and yield of forest ecosystems. No matter a forester’s specific focus in the greater science of forestry, the overriding objective is to manage forestland sustainably and help landowners and other stakeholders to do the same.

Another factor that I have always perceived as a benefit to being a forester is the challenge. Aside from the aforementioned challenges and the physical requirements of being a forester, there is often a certain amount of professional autonomy for foresters, meaning that most foresters do not work in direct proximity with a bunch of other foresters of the same specialty. This means that individual foresters can have a high degree of impact within their district, region or other span of influence. While this can be perceived as a benefit, it also places a high degree of responsibility on a forester to make knowledgeable decisions and to give sound advice to others.

What types of students might be good fits for careers and study in forestry?

I have seen students from pretty much all walks of life pursue careers in forestry. Traditionally, most forestry students have come from rural or semi-rural backgrounds, but that is certainly not a requirement for success. Students with a passion and aptitude for biology, wildlife, plant science and other aspects of forest ecology are often a good fit for studying forestry.

However, forestry also requires workable knowledge of mathematics and statistics. While much of the specific knowledge required in these fields is obtained while studying forestry at the college level, at least high-school level algebra, geometry and trigonometry are usually required as a prerequisite from the start, and for good reason. A successful forestry student needs to have a deep respect for the forest ecosystem and see it for the important living system that it is. Simply put, to be a forester, one needs to love being in the forest and be willing to put in the hard work that forestry work requires every day.

Resources for Forestry Degree-Holders

  • Ecological Society of America

    This professional association aims to bring ecologists together to discuss important issues in ecology, collaborate with one another, influence policy makers and educate the public on ecology. Members have access to research, publications, meetings, educational opportunities and more.

  • Forest Products Society

    The Forest Products Society is a non-profit organization for those involved in various branches of the forest products industry. The association allows for networking and information exchange, hosts technical conferences and provides numerous resources to members, including a job board.

  • Forest Stewards Guild

    The Forest Stewards Guild is an organization of professionals who care for forests in a variety of capacities. These foresters focus on education, outreach and research to help them and others in their field best serve forests and those who benefit from them.

  • International Society of Arboriculture

    The ISA focuses on research and education related to the care of trees and the environment as a whole. The society provides educational resources for both professionals and students along with many other useful sources of information.

  • National Association of State Foresters

    This organization is made up of directors of forestry agencies throughout the country. Students and graduates can learn about industry terms, policies and standards; read reports; and explore the job board for state and national forestry careers.

  • National Forest Foundation

    The National Forest Foundation focuses on promoting the health and enjoyment of the country’s national forests and grasslands. The organization provides grant and volunteer programs and educational tools, among other resources.

  • Society of American Foresters

    The SAF is a large organization of professional foresters who aim to further the forestry field through science and best practices. Conventions, education opportunities for professionals and students, publications and networking events are some of the benefits foresters involved in the SAF can use to their advantage.

  • Society for Conservation Biology

    Conservation-focused foresters may be interested in joining the Society for Conservation Biology. This organization aims to advance and promote conservation science and biological diversity and provides excellent resources and educational opportunities specific to students.

  • Society for Municipal Arborists

    Urban foresters may benefit from the research, conferences, networking events and industry information provided by the Society for Municipal Arborists. This organization focuses on issues specific to those who care for trees in urban areas.

  • Society for Range Management

    Those who study forestry may pursue rangework careers. This professional organization collects research, publications, educational tools, student competitions and more for those involved or interested in range management.

  • U.S. Forest Service

    This federal website offers a wealth of information regarding forestry, land management and other related subjects in the United States.

  • The Wildlife Society

    The Wildlife Society is a comprehensive organization for professionals and students interested in all aspects of wildlife and conservation, including forestry. Student and leadership opportunities are available through the organization along with tons of information on all things wildlife.