There are approximately 9,000 foresters working in the United States. Federal, state, and local governments are by far the largest employers of foresters. About 62 percent of all salaried employees work for federal (mostly in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service), state, and local governments. While foresters are employed in every state, 28 percent work in five states: Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, California, and Minnesota.
Foresters also work in private industry or are self-employed as consulting foresters. For those who work in private industry, employers include logging and lumber companies, sawmills, and research and testing facilities. Consulting foresters usually work with private or corporate owners of woodlands to help them manage their forests in the best way possible.
It can be challenging to find a position as a forester. There aren't that many foresters' jobs and the competition is tough. But a determined person who is willing to relocate will eventually find a job.
Because the majority of foresters are employed by government agencies, forestry school graduates might first pursue this avenue of employment. Job seekers should check with their state and local governments for job listings, as well as with federal agencies, such as the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs. Beginning foresters are often hired for government jobs on the basis of competitive civil service examinations.
Other foresters work for private industry, primarily for companies that manage forestlands for lumber, pulp-wood, and other products. Newly graduated foresters should check with their college's career services offices for information on job opportunities. Reference sections of local libraries may contain directories of wood products manufacturers, pulp and paper mills, timber firms, and conservation groups, all of which may employ foresters. Finally, the Society of American Foresters maintains a list of resources for the forestry job seeker.
Professional foresters who have graduated from university-level schools of forestry often begin their first job with work that is not at a fully professional level. They may, for example, do the elementary surveying involved in forest inventory or engineering projects, work in logging or construction crews, or act as supervisors of planting or insect control crews. In progressive organizations, this training period is kept short and is meant to provide a real understanding of operations from the bottom up.
After such a training period, foresters usually move to more responsible positions. This almost always means an increase in office work and a corresponding decrease in the time spent in physical work in the field.
As foresters move on to positions of greater responsibility in a public or private forestry organization, they may be placed in a line position. A line position is one in which the forester supervises technicians and other foresters. At the lower levels, the forester in a line position might directly supervise two to five other foresters; at higher levels the forester may still oversee only a small number of people, but with each of them, in turn, being in charge of a small group of foresters. Success in a line position requires not only professional competence and knowledge but also leadership qualities.
Other foresters may move into research. In research work, the forester may begin as a laboratory assistant, work gradually into detailed research activities, and eventually move into leadership or administrative positions in forestry research. Some foresters who move into research choose to return to school for further education. With an advanced degree, such as a master's or doctorate, comes more opportunity for advancement, as well as better pay.
Tips for Entry
For job listings, visit:
To learn more about the field, read:
- American Forests: https://www.americanforests.org/magazine
- City Trees: https://www.urban-forestry.com/city-trees
- Journal of Forestry: https://www.eforester.org/Main/Library/Journal_of_Forestry.aspx
Join the Society of American Foresters (SAF) and other organizations to access publications, receive discounts on certification and continuing education, and access networking opportunities.
Talk to foresters about their careers. Both the Forest Stewards Guild (https://foreststewardsguild.org/event/find-a-forester-directory-webinar-for-professional-members) and the SAF (http://www.eforester.org/Main/Professional_Development/Certified_Forester/Find_a_Certified_Professional/Main/Certification/Find_a_Certified_Professional.aspx?hkey=b4fe4aa3-20ae-40a4-80de-1b91e41b14e6) offer member lists at their Web sites. These are good sources of interview leads.
Attend the SAF's annual convention to network and participate in continuing education seminars and workshops.