How Do I Become a Resource Specialist?

Explore the career requirements for becoming a research specialist. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements and potential salary to determine if this is the career for you. Schools offering Natural Resources & Conservation degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Resource Specialist?

Resource specialists work mostly within state and federal government agencies to study, manage and preserve natural resources. Specific job titles within this field include conservation scientist and forester. Foresters oversee projects related to forest preservation and timber use. Conservation scientists develop and implement land use plans that simultaneously protect the environment, meet the needs of landowners and comply with government regulations. Some conservation scientists specialize in a particular area of the field, such as range management, land management or soil and water conservation.

The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree for entry-level, master's degree preferred
Education Field of Study Forestry, environmental science, natural resource management
Key Responsibilities Data compilation, erosion prevention, managing forest ecosystems
Job Growth (2014-2024) 7% (for conservation scientists and foresters)*
Median Salary (2015) $61,110 (for conservation scientists)*; $58,230 (for foresters)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would My Duties Be?

Specific tasks vary widely by job and specialty. You could find yourself collecting data, planting seedbeds or maintaining roads and park facilities. Soil conservationists apply soil and water conservation techniques in order to preserve lakes or ponds and prevent erosion. You might supervise firefighting efforts during forest fires or help manage forest wildlife ecosystems. Additional duties might include enforcing state or national park policies.

What Skills Would I Need?

You should enjoy working outdoors and be comfortable with a significant amount of physical work. Often, you might endure inclement weather or need to walk long distances. Additionally, you could be expected to work long hours during certain times of the year. For example, foresters often work extended and variable shifts during fire season.

Entry-level jobs may include some on-the-job training, but a bachelor's degree is generally required in order to obtain a position in the field. If you're interested in conducting research or teaching at the university level, you should pursue a graduate degree.

What Educational Programs Are Available?

Baccalaureate programs are available in a wide range of majors; you might pursue a degree in forestry, environmental sciences, rangeland management, natural resource management, agricultural science or biology. Forestry is one of the most widely available options, and areas of emphasis include forest resource management, forest ecology and public policy. In addition to coursework in the natural sciences, most programs require fieldwork in order to earn your degree.

Master's degrees are also common in the field of environmental science; you might pursue a Master of Natural Resources or a Master of Science in Environmental Science. Since graduate programs are frequently tailored to the interests of individual students, your studies will likely be dictated by your goals. Most programs require completion of a final project or thesis paper. You can often earn a master's degree in two years.

Where Could I Work?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you are likely to work for a local or state government agency as well as the federal government (www.bls.gov). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the USDA's Forest Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management are common employers for natural resource specialists. National parks and forests in the U.S. are concentrated in the southeastern and western states, and jobs in forestry are more widely available in those areas. However, other specialties, such as urban forestry, soil conservation and natural resource exploration, have jobs scattered in many states.

How Much Could I Earn?

The BLS reports that conservation scientists earned a median annual salary of $61,110 as of 2015. During the same year, foresters made a median annual wage of $58,230. The top paying states for conservation scientists in 2015 included Alaska, New Jersey and Rhode Island; foresters were paid top wages in Louisiana, California and New Jersey during this time.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in environmental science, you might also be interested in getting a job as an environmental restoration planner. In this position, you would analyze a polluted site and develop a financially feasible cleanup strategy to protect environmental and human health. Another possibility is a job as an environmental engineer. Depending on your area of specialization, you would develop technologies and programs to combat environmental challenges like climate change and water pollution. To become either an environmental restoration planner or an environmental engineer, you need to have at least a bachelor's degree.

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