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Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Conservation scientists and foresters manage overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources. Show Details

Duties

Conservation scientists and foresters typically do the following:

  • Monitor forestry and conservation activities to assure compliance with government regulations
  • Establish plans for managing forest lands and resources
  • Supervise activities of other forestry and conservation workers
  • Choose and prepare sites for new trees using controlled burning, bulldozers, or herbicides to clear land
  • Negotiate terms and conditions for forest harvesting and land-use contracts
  • Direct and participate in forest-fire suppression
  • Determine ways to remove timber with minimum environmental damage
  • Monitor forest-cleared lands to ensure that they are suitable for future use

Conservation scientists manage, improve, and protect the country's natural resources. They work with landowners and federal, state, and local governments to devise ways to use and improve the land while safeguarding the environment. Conservation scientists advise farmers, farm managers, and ranchers on how they can improve their land for agricultural purposes and control erosion.

Foresters have a wide range of duties, and their responsibilities vary depending on their employer. Some primary duties of foresters include drawing up plans to regenerate forested lands, monitoring the progress of those lands, and supervising tree harvests. They also come up with plans to keep forests free from disease, harmful insects, and damaging wildfires.

Foresters may choose and direct the preparation of sites on which trees will be planted. They advise on the type, number, and placement of trees to be planted. When the trees reach a certain size, foresters decide which trees should be harvested and sold to sawmills.

Many conservation scientists and foresters supervise forest and conservation workers and technicians, directing their work and evaluating their progress. For more information, see the profiles on forest and conservation workers and forest and conservation technicians

Conservation scientists and foresters evaluate data on forest and soil quality, assessing damage to trees and forest lands caused by fires and logging activities. In addition, they lead activities such as fire suppression and planting seedlings. Fire suppression activities include measuring how quickly fires will spread and how successful the planned suppression activity turns out. 

Scientists and foresters use their skills to determine a fire’s impact on a region’s environment. Communication with firefighters and other forest workers is an important component of fire suppression activities because the information that conservation scientists and foresters give can change how firefighters work.

Conservation scientists and foresters use a number of tools to perform their jobs. They use clinometers to measure the heights of trees, diameter tapes to measure a tree’s circumference, and increment borers and bark gauges to measure the growth of trees so that timber volumes can be computed and growth rates estimated.

In addition, conservation scientists and foresters often use remote sensing (aerial photographs and other imagery taken from airplanes and satellites) and geographic information systems (GIS) data to map large forest or range areas and to detect widespread trends of forest and land use. They make extensive use of hand-held computers and global positioning systems (GPS) to study these maps.

The following are some types of conservation scientists and foresters:

Procurement foresters buy timber by contacting local forest owners and negotiating a sale. This activity typically involves taking inventory on the type, amount, and location of all standing timber on the property. Procurement foresters then appraise the timber’s worth, negotiate its purchase, and draw up a contract. The forester then subcontracts with loggers or pulpwood cutters to remove the trees and to help lay out roads to get to the timber.

Other foresters, mostly in the federal government, study issues facing forests and related natural resources. They may study issues such as tree improvement and harvesting techniques, global climate change, improving wildlife habitats, and protecting forests from pests, diseases, and wildfires.

Urban foresters live and work in larger cities and manage urban trees. They are concerned with quality-of-life issues, including air quality, shade, and storm water runoff. 

Conservation education foresters train teachers and students about issues facing forest lands.

Two of the most common types of conservation scientists are range managers and soil conservationists.

Range managers, also called range conservationists, protect rangelands to maximize their use without damaging the environment. Rangelands contain many natural resources and cover hundreds of millions of acres in the United States, mainly in the western states and Alaska.

Range managers may inventory soils, plants, and animals; develop resource management plans; help to restore degraded ecosystems; or help manage a ranch. They also maintain soil stability and vegetation for uses such as wildlife habitats and outdoor recreation. Like foresters, they work to prevent and reduce wildfires and invasive animal species.

Soil and water conservationists give technical help to people who are concerned with the conservation of soil, water, and related natural resources. For private landowners, they develop programs to make the most productive use of land without damaging it. They also help landowners with issues such as dealing with erosion. They help private landowners and governments by advising on water quality, preserving water supplies, preventing groundwater contamination, and conserving water.

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Environmental science and protection technicians monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution and contamination, including those affecting health. Show Details

Duties

Environmental science and protection technicians typically do the following:

  • Inspect establishments, including public places and businesses, to ensure that there are no environmental, health, or safety hazards
  • Set up and maintain equipment used to monitor pollution levels, such as remote sensors that measure emissions from smokestacks
  • Collect samples of air, soil, water, and other materials for laboratory analysis
  • Perform scientific tests to identify and measure levels of pollutants in samples
  • Prepare charts and reports that summarize test results
  • Discuss test results and analyses with clients

Many environmental science and protection technicians work under the supervision of environmental scientists and specialists, who direct their work and evaluate their results. In addition, they often work on teams with scientists, engineers, and technicians in other fields to solve complex problems related to environmental degradation and public health. For example, they may work on teams with geoscientists and hydrologists to manage the cleanup of contaminated soils and ground water.

Most environmental science and protection technicians work either for state or local government or for private consulting firms.

In state and local governments, environmental science and protection technicians enforce regulations that protect the environment and people’s health. They spend a lot of time inspecting businesses and public places and investigating complaints related to air quality, water quality, and food safety. They may issue fines or close establishments that violate environmental or health regulations.

In private consulting firms, environmental science and protection technicians help clients monitor and manage the environment and comply with regulations. For example, they help businesses develop cleanup plans for contaminated sites, and they recommend ways to reduce, control, or eliminate pollution. Also, environmental science and protection technicians conduct feasibility studies for, and monitor the environmental impact of, new construction projects.

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment. They identify problems and find solutions that minimize hazards to the health of the environment and the population. Show Details

Duties

Environmental scientists and specialists typically do the following:

  • Determine data collection methods for research projects, investigations, and surveys
  • Collect environmental data, such as samples of air, soil, water, food, and other materials, for scientific analysis
  • Analyze samples, surveys, and other information to identify and assess threats to the environment
  • Develop plans to prevent, control, or fix environmental problems, such as pollution and harm to land or water
  • Develop plans to restore polluted or contaminated land or water
  • Provide information and guidance to government officials, businesses, and the general public on possible environmental hazards and health risks
  • Prepare technical reports and presentations that explain their research and findings

Environmental scientists and specialists analyze environmental problems and develop solutions. For example, many environmental scientists and specialists work to reclaim lands and waters that have been contaminated by pollution. Others assess the risks new construction projects pose to the environment and make recommendations to governments and businesses on how to minimize the environmental impact of these projects. They also identify ways that human behavior can be changed to avoid problems such as the depletion of the ozone layer.

The federal government and many state and local governments have regulations to ensure that there is clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, and no hazardous materials in the soil. The regulations also place limits on development, particularly near sensitive parts of the ecosystem, such as wetlands. Many environmental scientists and specialists work for the government to ensure that these regulations are followed. Other environmental scientists work for consulting firms that help companies comply with regulations and policies.

Some environmental scientists and specialists focus on environmental regulations that are designed to protect people’s health, while others focus on regulations designed to minimize society’s impact on the ecosystem. The following are examples of types of specialists:

Environmental health specialists study how environmental factors impact human health. They investigate potential health risks, such as unsafe drinking water, disease, and food safety. They also educate the public about potential health risks present in the environment.

Environmental protection specialists monitor the effect human activity has on the environment. They investigate sources of pollution and develop prevention, control, and remediation plans.

Other environmental scientists do work and receive training that is similar to that of other physical or life scientists, but they focus on environmental issues. Environmental chemists are an example.

Environmental chemists study the effects that various chemicals have on ecosystems. For example, they look at how acids affect plants, animals, and people. Some areas in which they work include waste management and the remediation of contaminated soils, water, and air.

Many people with backgrounds in environmental science become professors and teachers. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

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