Written by Joanna Hughes

“Forestry is the art, science, and practice of studying and managing forests and plantations, and related natural resources,” proposes ScienceDaily. Given that forests are one of the biosphere’s most important components, this work is vital -- as are the people who do it.  

Called foresters, practitioners of forestry may be employed in a variety of careers across many sectors. In the US, most of these positions require at least a Society of American Foresters-accredited bachelor’s degree in an area related to forestry, such as conservation, ecology, environmental studies or forest science.  A graduate degree in forestry, meanwhile, may open the door to additional career opportunities, including leadership and managerial roles as well as academia.

Protecting our forests is a planetary concern, and universities all over the world offer studies in forestry and forest science. Additionally, a plethora of online degrees are available, making it possible to study forestry from any location and with unprecedented flexibility.

If you think a career in forestry might be right for you, understanding your job options can help you further hone in on what and where to study. Here’s a closer look at seven potential career paths for forest science majors.

1. Government agencies

Governments all over the world are hard at work to protect forests and their resources. For example, the UK’s Forestry Commission is the government entity responsible for safeguarding and sustaining the woodlands. It partners with two agencies: the Forest Enterprise, which manages the Public Forest Estate; and Forest Research, Great Britain’s principal organization for forestry and tree-related research.

The Forestry Commission says of working there, “Every single one of us at Forestry England continuously strives to improve people's lives through the many benefits that woods and forests can provide….A job with Forestry England means that you’ll have the chance to engage with leaders and access unrivaled learning experiences, allowing you to discover a world of opportunities and excel in your career.”

Across the pond, meanwhile, the US Forest Service, has the mission to “provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run” through its work managing and protecting 154 national forests and 20 grasslands in 43 states and Puerto Rico. The organization adds, “Our experts provide technical and financial help to state and local government agencies, businesses, private landowners and work government-to-government with tribes to help protect and manage non-federal forest and associated range and watershed lands.”

2. Land Management

Land management specialists are responsible for managing and upkeeping areas of land.  The US’s Bureau of Land Management says, “The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for 224 wilderness areas and 517 wilderness study areas in the western States and Alaska. From primitive hunting locations to remote fishing spots, wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas provide unparalleled opportunities for spending time outdoors.”

In addition to the government, land managers are sought after by public and private employers in a variety of sectors. These may include agri-food companies, agricultural producers, consulting firms, environmental protection organizations, farm business advisory services, land appraisal firms, land reclamation companies, and oil and gas companies. They may also be self-employed and working on a contractual basis.

3. NGOs

Many nonprofits are also dedicated to forest conservation, and need passionate workers to advance their efforts. One example? American Forests. Founded in 1875, it’s the US’s oldest national conservation organization. Its website says, “Since 1990 alone, we have planted nearly 60 million trees in forest restoration projects in all 50 states. We have also worked in dozens of cities across America, expanding tree canopy and improving the quality of life for residents. [...] Together, these projects recover hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, safeguard vital watersheds, absorb millions of tons of greenhouse gases and protect some of the most stunning landscapes in America. At the same time, we are using trees and greenspace to make our communities more sustainable, beautiful and livable.”

India’s Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), meanwhile, takes the approach that the best way to protect wildlife is to protect the forests they live in. WCT president Anish Andheria says, “Many of our programmes are about saving the tiger (WCT’s ‘Save Our Tigers’ campaign brought tiger conservation to the forefront of India’s consciousness). This, in a way, symbolizes our objectives – when you save the tiger, you save the planet’s forests. [...] As vital carbon sinks, forests are India’s most efficient climate mitigation tools. Also, 600 rivers either originate from or are fed by tiger forests, making their conservation crucial for the country’s water security.”

4. Timber Management

How much timber can be harvested before the sustainability of a forest ecosystem becomes endangered? This is an important question, and one timber management experts are qualified to answer.

Other timber management-related tasks, as delineated by Scotland’s Forestry Commission, include helping to sustain a stable timber supply to encourage investment in timber processing; promoting timber as a renewable energy source and sustainable construction material; making the sector more competitive by adding value to the supply chain; minimizing the social and economic impact of timber transport; and developing the small scale wood processing sector.

5. Research and Development

Our world is in a constant state of advancement and innovation. And while forests may be ancient, the knowledge and means through which we can sustain them continue to evolve.

 Katie Shimmon writes inThe Guardian of the role of research and development, “Geographic information systems, remote sensing, 3D modeling - so we're looking at space engineering this week then? Actually no - try forestry. The ancient science of caring for trees and managing forests has branched out and is high-tech stuff these days, and not only in terms of the tools it uses. Timber production and research still play a big part in modern forestry but so too do social research, environmental conservation and public recreation.”

Environmental conservation management expert Stefania Pizzirani adds, “Forestry is so dynamic and really quite modern, so it's not just about planting trees and harvesting them - it's an incredibly diverse area. Forestry today uses remote sensing to measure tree height and growth - the 3D modeling you can get from that is incredible. It's one of the few areas where I can combine my passions for the environment and the sciences.”

6. Firefighting and Conservation

Forest fires are a major hazard to forested areas, as shown by recent fires in California. Forest science majors can also pursue careers as forest fire inspection and prevention specialists. These professionals assess forested areas for threats and take key preventative measures. When fires do occur, they report and investigate them. Forest and wildland firefighters, meanwhile, may have specific training for preventing and suppressing forest fires.

7. Consulting

Consultants with backgrounds in forest science offer invaluable expertise to their clients. The Association of Consulting Foresters of Australia (ACFA) suggests, “Both the public and private sectors need access to independent, objective and non-political assessments of current and proposed forest activities which are reliable and have the backing of a recognized professional association. [...] Forestry consultants may be employed as individuals or may form part of a team drawing on expertise from a range of members.” Areas of interest may include the sale of forestland, pest control, timber stand improvement, landscape planning, wildlife management, timber sales, and more.

Forestry is a diverse and dynamic sector with many opportunities for workers -- not only to improve their career prospects, but the planet’s future, too. Interested in learning more about possible career paths for foresters? Check out Confor’s informational movie and case studies on forestry careers.

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Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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