Career Guides

Career Guide for Forest Workers

Forest and conservation workers work to renew our forests by planting new trees and helping conserve timberlands and forests. The work is often in remote areas and helps ensure that we have renewable forestland for future generations. Additionally, forest workers work at parks to clear undesirable brush and keep camping areas cleared.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to have a successful career as a forest worker.

Forest Worker Summary

  • Most forest and conservation workers develop skills through on-the-job training.
  • Seasonal demand for forest and conservation workers can vary by region and time of year.
  • The best employment opportunities should continue to be in Maine, the Southeast, and the Pacific Northwest.

Work as a Forest Worker

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. Most of these jobs are physically demanding. Workers spend all their time outdoors, sometimes in poor weather and often in isolated areas. It may be necessary for some forestry aides or forest workers to walk long distances through densely wooded areas to accomplish their work tasks. The increased use of enclosed machines has decreased some of the discomforts caused by inclement weather and has generally made tasks much safer.

Still, workers must be careful and use proper safety measures and equipment such as hardhats, eye protection, safety clothing, and boots to reduce the risk of injury. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that full-time forest and conservation workers experienced a work-related injury and illness rate that was higher than the national average. But the jobs of forest and conservation workers generally are much less hazardous than those of logging workers, who work in a similar environment.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Most forest and conservation workers develop skills through on-the-job training, learning from experienced workers.

Education and training. 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 qualifications. 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.

Advancement. 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.

Employment as a Forest Worker

Forest and conservation workers held about 12,900 jobs in 2008 in the following industries:

State government 5,900
Forestry 2,000
Local government 1,600

About 58 percent of all forest and conservation workers work for government, primarily at the State and local level. Those employed in forest management services may work on a contract basis for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. Self-employed forest and conservation workers make up around 1 percent of the occupation.

Although forest and conservation workers are located in every State, employment is concentrated in the West and Southeast, where many national and private forests and parks are located. Seasonal demand for forest and conservation workers can vary by region and time of year. For northern States, in particular, winter weather can interrupt forestry operations.

Job Outlook

Employment is expected to experience average growth. Most job openings will result from the large number of workers who leave these jobs on a seasonal basis and from an increase in retirements.

Employment change. Employment of forest and conservation workers is expected to grow 9 percent over the 2008-18 decade, as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for forest and conservation workers will increase as more land is set aside to protect natural resources or wildlife habitats. In addition, more jobs may be created by recent Federal legislation designed to prevent destructive wildfires by thinning the forests and by setting controlled burns in dry regions susceptible to forest fires.

Recent developments in Western forests may result in the conversion of unused roads into forestland, thus creating some new jobs. Additionally, increasing pressure from a growing number of stakeholders for the United States Forest Service to undertake major road repair may also result in higher levels of employment. Employment growth will, nonetheless, be largely determined by each of these programs’ ability to obtain necessary funding.

Job prospects. Some opportunities will stem from employment growth, but most openings will arise from the large number of workers who leave these jobs on a seasonal basis and from an increase in retirements expected over the next decade. The best employment opportunities should continue to be in Maine, the Southeast, and the Pacific Northwest.

Employment of forest and conservation workers can sometimes be unsteady. During the muddy spring season and the cold winter months, weather often can curtail the work, depending on the geographic region.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Number Percent
Forest and conservation workers 45-4011 12,900 14,000 1,100 9
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Forest Workers

In May 2008, median hourly wages of wage and salary forest and conservation workers were $10.98. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.98 and $14.75. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.02, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $20.04.

Many beginning or inexperienced workers earn the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour as of July 24, 2009, but many States may set minimum wages higher than the Federal minimum.

Forest and conservation workers who work for State and local governments or for large, private firms generally enjoy more generous benefits than do workers in smaller firms.