Economics for Natural Resources

Natural resource economists place market values on resources, such as clean air, endangered species and safe drinking water, to help establish policies to protect them. Read on to learn about career options, employment information, and relevant education programs that can prepare you for a job in this field.

Is Natural Resource Economics for Me?

Career Overview

Natural resource economics is the application of economic theory and analysis to the management of natural resource use and environmental conservation policy. Economists who work in natural resources study the market structure within the natural resource industry, closely following environmental policies and decisions that impact the industry. They use their analytical skills to explain market behavior, conduct cost-benefit analyses to determine whether projects are financially feasible, propose alternative solutions and forecast market conditions. To work in this field, you need strong quantitative skills and a keen understanding of complex environmental issues.

Natural resource economists often pursue environmental positions within the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Entry-level positions may be found within recreation planning, energy analysis, agricultural management and construction fields. Upper-level positions often require a master's or doctoral degree and may be found within colleges and universities, government agencies, environmental consulting firms, land-use planning firms and other environmental interest organizations. In addition to working as a natural resource economist, you may qualify for employment as a government policy analyst, environmental consultant, market analyst, natural resource analyst or environmental protection economist.

Employment Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a 14% increase in jobs from 2012-2022 is expected for economists, which is nearly equal to the national average for all occupations. In addition, the BLS projected much slower than average job growth for conservation scientists, at 1%, and average job growth for environmental scientists and specialists, at 15%, during this same period. The median annual salaries as of May 2012 were $91,860 for economists, $61,100 for conservation scientists and $63,570 for environmental scientists and specialists (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Work in Natural Resource Economics?

Education

Natural resource economics can be studied at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. Some schools offer degrees directly in natural resource economics, while other schools offer this field as a concentration of study within agriculture or natural resource degree programs. Dual degree programs also exist, often through schools of natural resources and economics. Many natural resource economics programs offer further specialization, such as in natural resource management, agricultural economics and green markets. While a bachelor's degree can qualify you for some entry-level government and industry positions, many economist positions require graduate degrees.

Curricula of natural resource economics programs emphasize mathematics and statistics in conjunction with courses in economics and environmental sciences. You study topics in natural resource management, markets and trade, conservation, environmental policy, microeconomics and economic theory. Graduate programs may further incorporate research techniques, economic modeling and econometrics. Master's thesis and doctoral dissertation projects typically apply economic theories and quantitative analyses to help solve environmental issues.

Ongoing professional development is available through organizations such as the National Association for Business Economics (NABE). The NABE offers certificate programs in forecasting, applied econometrics and communications, which can be completed in 1-4 days (www.nabe.com).

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