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How to Become a Conservation Scientist or Forester

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 (SAF) and 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.

Most forest and conservation technology programs are accredited by the Society of American Foresters, and there are accredited programs in every state.

Many colleges and universities offer degrees in forestry or a related field. 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.

Courses for bachelor’s and advanced degree programs in forestry and related fields typically include ecology, biology, and forest resource measurement. Scientists and foresters also typically have a background in a geographic information system (GIS) technology and other forms of computer modeling.


Sixteen states sponsor some type of credentialing process for foresters. Alabama, California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire have licensing laws. Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina have laws requiring registration. Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia have laws about voluntary registration.

Both licensing and registration requirements usually require a 4-year degree in forestry and several years of forestry work experience. Candidates who want a license also may be required to 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.

One option for advancement in these occupations is to become certified. The Society of American Foresters certifies foresters who have at least a bachelor's degree from one of the 50 forestry or natural resources degree programs accredited by the society or from a forestry program that is substantially equivalent. The candidate must also have 5 years of qualifying professional experience and pass an exam.

The Society for Range Management also offers a professional certification in rangeland management or range management consultant.

Soil conservationists usually begin working within one district and may advance to a state, regional, or national level. Also, soil conservationists can transfer to occupations such as farm or ranch management advisor or land appraiser.

Important Qualities

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.

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.

Decision-making 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.

Interpersonal 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.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition