How to Become a Conservation Scientist

If you have a passion for the natural world and hate to see the environment threatened, a rewarding career as a conservation scientist could give you precisely the opportunity you’re looking for to make a difference. Conservation is among the top 10 degrees for green industries, industries that are friendly toward the environment. As a conservation scientist, you could maintain and improve the quality of important natural land resources, including parks, forests and range lands, as well as resources like soil and water. The path to becoming a conservation scientist begins with a college education.

What is this career like?

Conservation scientists and foresters typically work in offices, in laboratories, and outdoors, sometimes doing fieldwork in remote locations. When visiting or working near logging operations or wood yards, they wear a hard hat and other protective gear.

Some of the things a conservation scientist might do:

  • Oversee forestry and conservation activities to ensure compliance with government regulations and habitat protection
  • Negotiate terms and conditions for forest harvesting and for land-use contracts
  • Establish plans for managing forest lands and resources
  • Monitor forest-cleared lands to ensure that they are suitable for future use
  • Work with private landowners, governments, farmers, and others to improve land for forestry purposes, while at the same time protecting the environment

What skills are needed?

  • 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. They use sophisticated computer modeling to prepare their analyses.
  • 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.
  • Management 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. They also need to communicate clearly with landowners and, in some cases, the general public.

What is the pay?

The average pay for conservation scientists in the United States ranges from $40,480 to $84,830.

The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.

What is the career outlook?

Employment of conservation scientists and foresters is projected to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

The continued need for wildfire prevention and suppression services, as well as consumer desire for wood pellets, will help drive demand for conservation scientists and foresters.

What education is required?

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.

Bachelor’s and advanced degree programs in forestry and related fields typically include courses in ecology, biology, and forest resource measurement. Scientists and foresters also typically have a background in Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, remote sensing, and other forms of computer modeling.