Conservation scientists and foresters typically need a bachelor's degree in forestry or a related field. Employers seek applicants who have degrees from programs that are accredited by the Society of American Foresters or other organizations.
Conservation scientists and foresters typically need a bachelor's degree in forestry or a related field, such as agricultural science, rangeland management, or environmental science. Although graduate work is not generally required, some conservation scientists and foresters get a master's degree or Ph.D.
Bachelor's degree programs are designed to prepare conservation scientists and foresters for their career or a graduate degree. Alongside practical skills, theory and education are important parts of these programs.
Bachelor's and advanced degree programs in forestry and related fields typically include courses in ecology, biology, and forest resource measurement. Scientists and foresters also typically have a background in a geographic information systems (GIS) technology, remote sensing, and other forms of computer modeling.
In 2015, there were nearly 50 bachelor's and master's degree programs in forestry, urban forestry, and natural resources and ecosystem management accredited by the Society of American Foresters.
Analytical skills. Conservation scientists and foresters must evaluate the results of a variety of field tests and experiments, all of which require precision and accuracy. They use sophisticated computer modeling to prepare their analyses.
Critical-thinking skills. Conservation scientists and foresters reach conclusions through sound reasoning and judgment. They determine how to improve forest conditions, and they must react appropriately to fires.
Decisionmaking skills. Conservation scientists and foresters must use their expertise and experience to determine whether their findings will have an impact on soil, forest lands, and the spread of fires.
Management skills. Conservation scientists and foresters need to work well with the forest and conservation workers and technicians they supervise, so effective communication is critical.
Physical stamina. Conservation scientists and foresters often walk long distances in steep and wooded areas. They work in all kinds of weather, including extreme heat and cold.
Speaking skills. Conservation scientists and foresters must give clear instructions to forest and conservation workers and technicians, who typically do the labor necessary for proper forest maintenance. They also need to communicate clearly with landowners and, in some cases, the general public.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
As of 2015, 15 states have some type of credentialing process for foresters, typically required or voluntary registration. Conservation workers do not need a license.
Although it is not required, conservation scientists and foresters may choose to earn certification because it shows a high level of professional competency.
The Society of American Foresters (SAF) offers certification to foresters. Candidates must have at least a bachelor's degree from an SAF-accredited program or from a forestry program that is substantially equivalent. The candidate also must have qualifying professional experience and pass an exam.
The Society for Range Management offers professional certification in rangeland management or as a range management consultant. To be certified, candidates must hold a bachelor's degree in range management or a related field, have 5 years of full-time related work experience, and pass an exam.
Many conservation scientists and foresters advance to take on managerial duties. They also may conduct research or work on policy issues, often after getting an advanced degree. Foresters in management usually leave fieldwork behind, spending more of their time in an office, working with teams to develop management plans and supervising others.
Soil conservationists usually begin working within one district and may advance to a state, regional, or national level. Soil conservationists also can transfer to occupations such as farm or ranch management advisor or land appraiser.