What Does a Conservationist Do?

Career Information

Environmental scientist testing water on sunny beach
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A conservationist manages natural habitats including parks, forests, and rangelands. This job may also be called a conservation scientist or soil and water conservationist. 

This green career involves finding ways to utilize land without harming the environment. Conservationists, who are employed by either private landowners or federal, state, or local governments, make sure landowners follow government regulations and take appropriate measures to protect habitats. They advise farmers and ranchers to help them improve their land and control erosion.

A Day in the Life of a Conservationist

Unlike other careers, there isn't one average day that applies to most conservationists. Instead, a conservationist's average day depends on the needs of the environment they work in.

Days in nature could be spent surveying aspects of nature. This time spent in the field is to collect data. Surveys can be highly specialized tallies or general assessments of wildlife, landscapes, and other aspects of nature. The tallies of plants or animals conducted by conservationists, for example, help society gauge population sizes. Those figures go on to guide policy decisions and resource allocations, but it all starts with a conservationist spending the day in the field counting signs of a species.

Conservationists also find themselves taking on the role of educators. They're the experts for their natural area—be it a park, a garden, or a national forest—and an average day on the job includes sharing that knowledge with society. But even this specific aspect of conservationism is varied. A conservationist could educate through leading guided tours or by making themselves available for questions at a visitor's center. Other conservationists share their knowledge through presentations to government bodies, industry groups, and other large institutions.

Some conservationists are essentially stewards of natural areas. They make decisions about how to best maintain the area's natural health, then craft and execute plans to reach that goal. A day at work for these types of conservationists is similar to a manager. They establish goals, form teams, assign tasks, inspect for quality, and ensure the team's overall progress toward a larger goal.

The Downside of Being a Conservationist

Expect your days to be physically demanding if you choose this career. You will often have to walk long distances. You'll also be required to work outdoors, despite any inclement weather. There are some inherent dangers to life as a conservationist, including potential contact with poisonous plants, biting insects, and other forms of wildlife.

Job Outlook

Here are a few fast facts about the current state of the conservationist industry, and where experts think it will be in the next decade or so:

  • Conservationists earn a median annual salary of $61,310 (2018). 
  • About 22,300 people work in this occupation (2016).
  • Employers include the federal government and state and local governments. Social advocacy groups also employ some conservationists, as do private landowners.
  • The job outlook for conservationists is average. Job growth will be on pace with other occupations between 2016 and 2026, with roughly 6% more jobs available at the end of that decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Conservationists work in offices, labs, and outdoors.

Education Requirements

To work as a conservationist, you will need at least a bachelor's degree. Most conservationists pursue a degree in forestry, agronomy, agricultural science, biology, rangeland management, or environmental science. Some people go on to earn a master's degree or doctorate.

Soft Skills for Successful Conservationists

Particular soft skills, or personal qualities, will allow you to excel in this occupation. They include:

  • Listening and verbal communication skills: As a conservationist, you will have to communicate well with colleagues, workers, landowners, and the public.
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking skills: Detecting problems and identifying solutions will be a big part of your job. 
  • Analytical and decision-making skills: Conservationists need to possess the ability to evaluate the results of experiments and studies, then figure out how that information can be put to use.

Employers' Expectations

First and foremost, employers will expect aspiring conservationists to have a love of nature that's backed up by knowledge. College degrees will root out the less dedicated for most jobs, but just in case you squeaked through undergrad classes without a genuine love for nature, remember that employers will expect you love nature and understand it better than the general public.

Since a conservationist's job includes educational aspects, employers will also expect you to have strong communication skills. For example, conservationists should have the writing skills and attention to detail necessary to craft documents for presentations that are free from factual and grammatical errors. You may also be expected to know your way around basic presentation and communication software like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel.

For the physical aspect of a conservationist's job, employers expect applicants to feel comfortable hiking and performing basic labor or maintenance tasks out in the wild. You'll most likely learn specific technical skills on the job, but employers will want to see that you're no stranger to swinging a hammer, pitching a tent, or tightening a lug nut.

Interests, Personalities, Values of a Conservationist

This occupation is most suitable for individuals with the following interestspersonality type, and work-related values:

  • Interests (Holland Code): EIR (enterprising, investigative, realistic)
  • Personality type (MBTI Personality Types): ESTP (energetic, confident, assertive), ISFP (quiet, easygoing)
  • Work-related values: Relationships, achievement, independence

Related Occupations

  Description Median Annual Wage (2017) Required Education
Environmental Scientist Identifies and then finds ways to eliminate hazards to the environment or the Earth's inhabitants $69,400 Bachelor's Degree (entry-level)/Master's Degree (advanced)
Hydrologist Studies the distribution, physical properties, and circulation of water $79,990 Bachelor's Degree (entry-level)/Master's Degree (advanced)
Environmental Engineer Solves problems in the environment using knowledge of engineering, biology, chemistry, and soil science $86,800 Bachelor's Degree in Environmental, Civil, or Chemical Engineering,
Urban or Regional Planner Helps communities determine how to best use their land and resources $71,490 Master's Degree in Urban or Regional Planning

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