Conservation Occupations in Oregon

by Kale Donnelly

May 6, 2019

As Earth Day has just come into our rear view mirror we should highlight the occupations that enable folks to work in an office much larger than most others’ – Oregon’s beautiful outdoors. There are plenty of jobs in industries that get individuals working outside – ranging from construction to forestry to logging and mining – and a subset of these workers are tasked with helping conserve our state’s natural resources.

The Lineup

Tasked with conserving Oregon’s lands and wildlife, there are a select handful of occupations whose job duties and efforts are to preserve what makes our state so beautiful for future generations to come. With 60 percent of Oregon’s land in public ownership, their task to maintain and sustain its natural resources is no small feat. What is the focus of these occupations, and what sets them apart?

Conservation Scientists: Manage, improve, and protect natural resources to maximize their use without damaging the environment. May conduct soil surveys and develop plans to eliminate soil erosion or to protect rangelands. May instruct farmers, agricultural production managers, or ranchers of the best ways to use crop rotation, contour plowing, or terracing to conserve soil and water; in the number and kind of livestock and forage plants best suited to particular ranges; and in range and farm improvements, such as fencing and reservoirs for stock watering.

Environmental Scientists and Specialists (Including Health): Conduct research or perform investigations for the purpose of identifying, abating, or eliminating sources of pollutants or hazards that affect either the environment or the health of the population. Using knowledge of various scientific disciplines, may collect, synthesize, study, report, and recommend action based on data derived from measurements or observations of air, food, soil, water, and other sources.

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians (Including Health): Perform laboratory and field tests to monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution, including those that affect health, under the direction of an environmental scientist, engineer, or other specialist. May collect samples of gases, soil, water, and other materials for testing.

Forest and Conservation Technicians: Provide technical assistance regarding the conservation of soil, water, forests, or related natural resources. May compile data pertaining to size, content, condition, and other characteristics of forest tracts, under the direction of foresters; or train and lead forest workers in forest propagation, fire prevention and suppression. May assist conservation scientists in managing, improving, and protecting rangelands and wildlife habitats.

Forest and Conservation Workers:Under supervision, perform manual labor necessary to develop, maintain, or protect areas such as forests, forested areas, woodlands, wetlands, and rangelands through such activities as raising and transporting seedlings; combating insects, pests, and diseases harmful to plant life; and building structures to control water, erosion, and leaching of soil. Includes forester aides, seedling pullers, and tree planters.

Foresters:Manage public and private forested lands for economic, recreational, and conservation purposes. May inventory the type, amount, and location of standing timber, appraise the timber's worth, negotiate the purchase, and draw up contracts for procurement. May determine how to conserve wildlife habitats, creek beds, water quality, and soil stability, and how best to comply with environmental regulations. May devise plans for planting and growing new trees, monitor trees for healthy growth, and determine optimal harvesting schedules.

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists: Study the origins, behavior, diseases, genetics, and life processes of animals and wildlife. May specialize in wildlife research and management. May collect and analyze biological data to determine the environmental effects of present and potential use of land and water habitats.

These occupations and their responsibilities range from restoration to scientific study to maintenance, but all are integral in the long-term function and health of our public lands in Oregon.

The Stats

For those looking to apply themselves in a career geared toward conservation, there are varying entry-level educational requirements for each of these specific occupations. The old adage of “education pays” applies to this set of jobs, as those with a higher earning potential require a greater degree of post-secondary education.
When looking at the wage range amongst workers of varying experience levels, we can see what workers can expect to make in an entry-level position around the 10th percentile, and those with greater levels of experience earning a higher wage near the 90th percentile. Using this data as a proxy for earning potential shows that the conservation occupations requiring greater entry-level education requirements have higher wages on both ends of the spectrum than the occupations requiring less education.

As for projected demand, there are nearly 1,100 annual projected openings statewide amongst the occupations within this group. There are two types of job openings – those attributed to economic growth (growth openings) and the substantially larger set of openings due to workers leaving the occupation (replacement openings), mostly due to retirements. Taking the aggregate of the two measures provides a number of projected openings that represent an opportunity for new workers trying to enter any occupation.
The two forest and conservation occupations command two-thirds of all projected openings in this subset, providing ample opportunity for recent or future high school graduates interested in working to conserve Oregon’s lands.

The Takeaway

Not only do these occupations conserve, study, and restore our state’s natural resources, they also serve an outcome that is greater than the sum of its parts. With each individual performing their job’s duties, they leave behind a legacy of care and obligation to Oregon’s public lands for future generations to come. Something that our children, and our children’s children, can enjoy and actively participate with.The opportunities and pay available to workers in these occupations are possible for interested jobseekers of varying educational backgrounds. It’s almost as though the possibilities within this field of work are perfectly balanced – just as nature should be.

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