What do Forest and Conservation Workers Do

Forest and Conservation Workers

The Nation's forests are a rich natural resource, providing beauty, tranquility, and varied recreational benefits, as well as wood for commercial use. Managing and harvesting the forests and woodlands require many different kinds of workers. Forest and conservation workers help develop, maintain, and protect the forests by growing and planting new seedlings, fighting insects and diseases that attack trees, and helping to control soil erosion.

Forest and conservation workers perform a variety of tasks to reforest and conserve timberlands and to maintain forest facilities, such as roads and campsites. Some forest workers, called tree planters, use digging and planting tools called “dibbles” and “hoedads” to plant seedlings to reforest timberland areas. Forest workers also remove diseased or undesirable trees with power saws or handsaws, spray trees with insecticides and fungicides to kill insects and to protect against disease, and apply herbicides on undesirable brush to reduce competing vegetation. Those who work for State and local governments or who are under contract with them also clear away brush and debris from camp trails, roadsides, and camping areas. Some forest workers clean kitchens and rest rooms at recreational facilities and campgrounds. In private industry, forest workers usually working under the direction of professional foresters, may paint boundary lines, assist with controlled burning, aid in marking and measuring trees, and keep tallies of examined and counted trees.

Other forest and conservation workers work in forest nurseries, sorting out tree seedlings and discarding those not meeting standards of root formation, stem development, and condition of foliage.

Some forest workers are employed on tree farms, where they plant, cultivate, and harvest many different kinds of trees. Their duties vary with the type of farm. Those who work on specialty farms, such as farms growing Christmas or ornamental trees for nurseries, are responsible for shearing treetops and limbs to control the growth of the trees under their care, to increase the density of limbs, and to improve the shapes of the trees. In addition, these workers' duties include planting the seedlings, spraying to control surrounding weed growth and insects, and harvesting the trees.

Other forest workers gather, by hand or with the use of handtools, products from the woodlands, such as decorative greens, tree cones and barks, moss, and other wild plant life. Some may tap trees for sap to make syrup or chemicals.

Work Environment

Forest and conservation workers held about 12,600 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of forest and conservation workers were as follows:

  • State government, excluding education and hospitals - 29%
  • Forestry - 25%
  • Self-employed workers - 17%
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals - 10%
  • Support activities for agriculture and forestry - 5%

Forest and conservation workers work mainly in the western and southeastern areas of the United States, where there are many national and state forests, and on private forests and parks.

Forest and conservation workers work outdoors, sometimes in remote locations and in all types of weather. Workers use proper safety measures and equipment, such as hardhats, protective eyewear, and safety clothing.

Most of these jobs are physically demanding. Forest and conservation workers may have to walk long distances through densely wooded areas and carry their equipment with them.

Injuries and Illnesses

Forest and conservation workers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. The work may be especially dangerous for those whose primary duties involve fire suppression. To protect against injury, forest and conservation workers must wear special gear and follow prescribed safety procedures.

Work Schedules

Many forest and conservation workers are employed full time and work regular hours. Responding to an emergency may require workers to work additional hours and at any time of day.

Education & Training Required

Generally, a high school diploma is sufficient for most forest and conservation occupations. Many forest worker jobs offer only seasonal employment during warm-weather months, so students are often hired to perform short-term, labor-intensive tasks, such as planting tree seedlings or conducting pre-commercial tree thinning.

Training programs for forest and conservation workers are common in many States. These training programs typically take place in the field, encouraging the health and productivity of the Nation's forests through programs such as the Sustainable Forest Initiative.

Some vocational and technical schools and community colleges offer courses leading to a 2-year technical degree in forest management technology, wildlife management, conservation, and forest harvesting, all of which are helpful in obtaining a job. A curriculum that includes field trips to observe or participate in forestry or logging activities provides a particularly good background. Additionally, a few community colleges offer training for equipment operators.

Other Skills Required

Forest and conservation workers must be in good health and able to work outdoors every day. They also must be able to work as part of a team. Maturity and good judgment are important in making quick, intelligent decisions when hazards arise. Mechanical aptitude and coordination are necessary for operators of machinery and equipment, who often are responsible for repair and maintenance.

How to Advance

Advancement generally takes place by obtaining a bachelor's degree in forestry or related field. A bachelor's degree may also qualify candidates to become a forester.

Job Outlook

Employment of forest and conservation workers is projected to decline 8 percent from 2020 to 2030.

Despite declining employment, about 1,800 openings for forest and conservation workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. All of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.


Automation of forest and conservation workers’ tasks is expected to reduce employment demand over the projections decade.

Despite heightened demand for U.S. timber and wood pellets, improved technology will lessen the need for forest and conservation workers to do certain tasks. For example, remote sensing allows fewer workers to count and identify trees. As automation of manual forest tasks continues, fewer of these workers will be needed to do the same amount of work.

However, a rise in the number of wildfires may create some demand for the fire suppression activities of forest and conservation workers, especially in state-owned forest lands. As more people continue to build homes in western forests, there will be a need for workers to protect those areas from fires.


The median annual wage for forest and conservation workers was $30,550 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,850, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $47,090.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for forest and conservation workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

  • State government, excluding education and hospitals - $31,200
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals - $28,880

Many forest and conservation workers are employed full time and work regular hours. Responding to an emergency may require workers to work additional hours and at any time of day.

Academic Programs of Interest

Forestry is the art, science, and practice of studying and managing forests and plantations, and related natural resources. Silviculture, a related science, involves the growing and tending of trees and forests. Modern forestry generally concerns itself with: assisting forests to provide timber as raw material for wood products; wildlife habitat; natural water quality regulation; recreation; landscape and community protection; employment; aesthetically appealing landscapes; biodiversity management;... more
Natural Resource Conservation
Conservation authorities are mandated to ensure the conservation, restoration and responsible management of water, land and natural habitats through programs that balance human, environmental and economic needs. Most management programs occur in parks known as conservation areas. more