Trees bring many benefits to a city, including shade, better air quality, and beauty. The more, the merrier! New York City has some 5.2 million trees. Los Angeles has almost double that number. Most cities have a forest, and so career opportunities for urban foresters are everywhere. The job outlook is good, too.
Urban forestry jobs
All foresters are team workers. They spend a lot of time outdoors, keeping trees healthy and monitoring water and soil quality. Foresters maintain tree inventories and map property lines. They plant new trees as needed and select and mark trees for cutting when disease, pests, or storms cause damage.
Indoors, you will find them training and supervising other workers. Communication with the public, as well as with scientists, officials and other foresters, is also an important part of the job.
Urban foresters face some unique challenges. When a big tree must be felled downtown, they just can’t rev up the chainsaw and yell “Timber!” It takes planning, extra work, and sometimes even cranes and other heavy equipment. These also come in handy when, for example, a street is being widened and trees must be moved and replaced .
Urban trees are very stressed. They may not be planted properly. There is more air and water pollution, and the city environment is hot. Pavement and drains keep water away from the roots, too. Urban foresters are a little like doctors: they must diagnose the problem and treat it as best they can.
Urban forestry is a tough job, but it also has its rewards. Trees beautify and cool a city. They clean the air, reduce storm runoff, and attract birds and other wildlife.
Most importantly, the forest engages the community. It takes many hands to plant and maintain a tree. People also like to gather in parks, on bike paths, or even just for a quick outdoors lunch on a shady corner.
For an entry-level position, you will need an associate’s degree from an institution accredited by the Society of American Foresters. Two-year college programs offer fieldwork but typically are meant to integrate with a bachelor’s program. Technical institutes will focus more on the practical aspects needed to get a job after graduating.
Newcomers usually start off working under an experienced forester. Fifteen states require credentials. This generally takes at least a four-year degree as well as work experience.
All forestry is physically demanding. Prepare for heavy work, like climbing trees or chain sawing, in all kinds of weather, including extreme heat and cold. Emergencies happen, too: a neighborhood of trees toppled by severe weather, power outages during an ice storm; or even a fire in the municipal park during a drought.
The median annual wage for foresters was $33,920 in 2012. Most foresters work for the public sector, so budget constraints are a factor, at least at the federal level. The United States Department of Labor predicts a 4% decline in all forestry jobs through 2022. However, it’s also true that many current foresters will be retiring soon, so there will continue to be job openings with the federal government.
Urban forestry is also especially useful to local and state governments. Job opportunities there will vary from place to place. You can be the right person in the right place at the right time.
Don’t forget the private sector, too, especially if you’re a student. A summer job with a tree service, for example, or landscaping, conservation or environmental business could develop into a full-time position after graduation.
The forest doesn’t stop outside city limits, and it always needs professional care. Urban forestry jobs are out there. Get the training and experience you need, and go for it!
Trees for People, Urban Forestry 101 . United States Department of Agriculture
Forest and Conservation Technicians . Bureau of Labor Statistics
U. S. Department of Labor Environmental Career Outlook. University of Florida
Foresters Overview. Campus Explorer