What Is a Conservation Scientist?

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

What Is a Conservation Scientist?

As a conservation scientist, your work could improve water quality, conserve mineral resources and help save the natural habitats of wildlife. You may work closely with landowners and the government to manage land and protect the environment. Conservation scientists develop plans for land use and conserving resources, and then oversee conservation efforts in these areas which might involve planting seedlings or conducting a controlled burn. They often use geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS) to create maps and monitor large areas of land. These professionals may supervise other conservation technicians and workers. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree at minimum; master's degree for research; PhD for advanced research/professorship
Education Field of Study Conservation science, environmental science, rangelands management, natural resources management
Key Responsibilities Manage & protect natural resources; conduct scientific studies/research; work with farmers & ranchers to improve production practices
Job Growth (2014-2024) 7%*
Average Salary (2015) $63,800*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Role of a Conservation Scientist

Conservation scientists are primarily concerned with protecting and managing natural resources. In this position, you could help farmers and ranchers improve crop and livestock production, or you could work to preserve resources like water and soil on rangelands. You could also work to preserve natural habitats, improve air and water quality, prevent erosion and aid in the recovery of forests and lands from wildfires and other natural disasters.

If you worked at a research facility, you could direct research projects and study natural resources like water, soil, minerals, plant life, wildlife and other organisms. If your job required you to spend most of your time working in the field, you'd use tools to collect, analyze and identify natural resources, study wildlife or use research findings to make improvements to current conservation efforts. While some of your field studies could be done locally, Conservation International, an organization devoted to conservation efforts, reports that professionals in this field sometimes work at exotic locations, often with indigenous peoples and in conflict zones.

Educational Requirements

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that conservation scientists generally have bachelor's degrees in majors like agricultural science, environmental science, natural resources management and rangeland management. If you're interested in working in research, you could get a master's degree in resource conservation, range science, environmental management or natural resources management.

If you're interested in an advanced research position, you might need a doctoral degree in a related area. You could earn a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in environmental sciences or in natural resources. A PhD could also qualify you for a teaching position at a 4-year college or university.

Earnings Potential

A report by the BLS shows that conservation scientists were employed in nearly 20,200 jobs and earned a median annual salary of $63,800 in May 2015. Some of the highest salary figures were reported in scientific research and development services and in the states of Alaska, Rhode Island and New Jersey. In addition, the BLS expects job growth of 7% during the 2014-2024 decade, which is average.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some similar jobs that require a bachelor's degree include those of zoologists and wildlife biologists, as well as agricultural and food scientists. Zoologists and wildlife biologists may also be involved in conservation efforts, but tend to focus their efforts on animals and other wildlife. They may study animal behavior, various habitats, species interactions and more. Agricultural and food scientists typically work in a laboratory setting to increase the efficiency of agricultural products. While a bachelor's degree is the basic entry-level requirement for this career field, it's common for agricultural and food scientists to hold graduate degrees as well.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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