Blake Kraus, a graduate of UCSD and Kearny Mesa High, spends his days working amongst some of the tallest trees in the world in Sequoia National Park searching for clues on how to keep the trees from dying off and how to create new growth.
Kraus is a conservation scientist, which, according to the Department of Labor pays about $59,060 per year.
“It’s not so much about the money, although I work in a forest so I save a lot,” Krause said. “I grew up hiking in the Lagunas (Mountains) and always knew I would end up working for the parks,” he said. “If you have a love for nature, then this is the perfect career.”
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 to land a gig such as the one Krause enjoys. Although graduate work is not generally required, some conservation scientists and foresters get a master’s degree or Ph.D.
Emma McKinney, originally from La Jolla, works daily deep in the thick trees and giant boulders in the Big Basin Redwoods and enjoys the solitude — as well as the paycheck — but also digs the vacation time provided by the government cutbacks.
“I have a degree in biology and conservation forestry, so I make a decent paycheck and get to work outdoors 80-percent of the time,” said the San Diego native. “I do get lonely sometimes and end up talking to the trees. The good thing about the cutbacks is that they pay my overtime in vacation time. I spend about five weeks a year in Cabo every year.”
The Department of Labor stresses that “employment of forest and conservation workers is projected to grow four percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Heightened demand for American timber and wood pellets will help increase demand for forest and conservation workers.”
McKinney agrees with the report, but said that the more education a person has in forestry sciences, the more apt they are to land a job in the great outdoors.
“Listen, I know a lot of people are hired right out of college over people trying to get in with no degrees,” she said. “There are a lot of jobs that you can get in the Forest Service, but not all of them pay well. Get your education and like most jobs, you will earn more than everyone else.”
Not everyone has a science brain, but there are plenty of opportunities to work with nature using your hands.
Firefighters are needed to protect the parks and the people who visit them. The average pay for this occupation is $45,000.
Recreation workers toil in magnificent places such as Zion National Park and Yosemite. While the pay isn’t that impressive at around $22,000 a year, the setting more than makes up for it.
Rob Hollis and his wife Rachel left California to work for several national parks. Rob was an executive for a mortgage company and Rachel was a teacher before they put on their hiking shoes.
“When the housing bubble burst we both looked at each other and said, “we’re out of here,” Rob said. “We work in a few different parks back east in the summer and then head for Arizona in the winter. I never knew life could be so stress-free and easy. People are afraid to think outside of a 9 to 5 career. They don’t know what they’re missing.”
Groundskeepers and maintenance workers are also needed by the Park Service and a job trimming hedges at places such as Cabrillo National Park beats the heck out of cutting the lawn in front of a bank. They pay to work outside in the sunshine at landmarks around the country is about $24,000 according to the Department of Labor.
If construction is your thing and working on tract homes and high rises isn’t getting you up in the morning, consider packing up your tool belt and heading for a national park to work on buildings, plumbing, and other gizmos that keep the parks running. The pay for this type of job is in the $35,000 range.