Conservation Scientists Overview

Over half of all conservation scientists work for the local, state or Federal governments. A bachelor’s degree is required for most jobs, though research and teaching positions require a graduate degree. Working outdoors, extensive walking, physical exertion and relocating to find work are all part of the job for conservation scientists. Many current conservation scientists are reaching retirement age and will provide more job opportunities.

Nature of the Work for Conservation Scientists

Conservation Scientists

Managing, improving and protecting the country’s natural resources are the responsibilities of conservation scientists. They devise ways to use and improve land, while safeguarding the environment, working with governments and landowners. To help improve land for agriculture or control erosion, conservation scientists may advice farm managers, farmers and ranchers. More and more conservation scientists even advice landowners and governments regarding recreational land usage.

Conservation scientists may choose to work in a number of areas, including two common careers: Range managers and soil conservationist. Range managers take care not to damage the environment while managing, improving, studying and protecting rangelands to maximize their use. These conservation scientists work on the hundreds of millions of acres rangelands—mostly in Alaska and the western states—which contain wildlife habitats, grass for animal grazing, vast watersheds, recreation facilities and valuable mineral and energy resources. While range managers must develop resource management plans and help restore degraded ecosystems, they may also help with livestock production, maintain the soil stability and vegetation for other uses as well such as wildlife or recreation. These conservation scientists also must prevent and mitigate wildfires and pests, planning revegetation for disturbed sites.

The other common specialty for conservation scientists is soil and water conservationists. These conservation scientists provide assistance to farmers, foresters, ranchers and governments about natural resources. They may develop programs to make land more productive without damage, visit areas with erosion problems and help to combat it, or advise on water quality, groundwater contamination or the management and conservation of water resources.

Working conditions for conservation scientists vary. They may work normal hours in an office or lab, or they may spend much of their time outdoors either overseeing or completing hands-on work. This fieldwork can include long hours and physically demanding tasks.

Conservation scientists work in all types of weather and sometimes in isolated areas. Natural disasters can cause longer hours for conservation scientists, when they need to provide emergency help to prevent erosion after floods, mudslides, tropical storms or forest fires.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Conservation Scientists

Usually, conservation scientists have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in rangeland management, agricultural science, natural resource management or environmental science. For teaching and research positions a masters degree or higher is required.

Conservation scientists who work as range managers typically have a degree in range management or range science. More than 40 schools over coursework in range science or a closely related field. In the discipline, conservation scientists take a course load that mixes the principles of ecology and resource management with plant, animal and soil sciences. Other helpful classes include computer science, recreation, forestry, statistics, hydrology, agronomy, wildlife and animal husbandry. To enhance employment qualifications, many conservation scientists choose a minor within range management that relates to their career goals such as animal science, watershed management, wildlife ecology or agricultural economics.

Only a small number of schools offer soil conservation degrees. Most conservation scientists who work as soil conservationists have degrees in general agriculture, agronomy, hydrology, crop or soil science or environmental studies. A few study forestry, range management or wildlife biology. Typically, programs include 30 semester hours in natural resources and agriculture, with three or more hours in soil science.

For success, conservation scientists should enjoy working outdoors and be able to tolerate physical exertion. Skills with quantitative tools and technology is also important, as are communication skills.

With experience, many conservation scientists advance to managerial positions. With an advanced degree, they may seek research or policy work. To increase chances for advancement, many conservation scientists seek certification. The Society of Range Management offers two certifications for those with a bachelor’s degree in a related field, the passing of an exam and a minimum of 6 years work experience.

At the entry-level, conservation scientists will work closely under experienced scientists to gain experience before taking on more responsibilities. Soil conservationists often start working in one country or district and then may advance to a state, regional or national level. Or, they could transfer to a related occupation such as a land appraiser or a farm or ranch management advisor.

Top 10 Most Popular Natural Resources and Conservation Schools

1. Hocking College (Nelsonville, Ohio)
2. Oregon State University, Corvallis (Corvallis, Oregon)
3. University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point (Stevens Point, Wisconsin)
4. University of Idaho, Moscow (Moscow, Idaho)
5. Texas A & M University (College Station, Texas)
6. University of Washington, Seattle Campus (Seattle, Washington)
7. The University of Montana, Missoula (Missoula, Montana)
8. Humboldt State University (Arcata, California)
9. University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, California)
10. University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, California)

See All Natural Resources and Conservation Schools

Employment and Job Outlook for Conservation Scientists

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow about as fast as average (increase 7 - 13%).

About 74 percent of all conservation scientists work in government. Soil conservationists typically for the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service, while range managers often work in the USDA’s Forest Service, the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management or the Natural Resource Conservation Service. A few conservation scientists work in consulting firms or for nonprofits.

Employment for conservation scientists is expected to grow by about 12 percent over the next decade, which is about as fast as average for all occupations. A large number of new jobs will be found in governments. The primary concern now for government agencies, and conservation scientists, is preventing and mitigating wildfires. New programs and funding increases will spur growth for range managers.

Urban revitalization and city-planning will increase the demand for soil and water scientists who can provide technical expertise to ranchers and farms as they’re need to help ensure the safety and sustainability of the food supply.

Increased investments in conservation programs will also help job growth for conservation scientists. Many of these jobs will occur in the private-sector consulting business. Also providing growth in that sector are companies involved in natural-resource exploration and land development that manage soil and water systems while maintaining regulations.

Many conservation scientists will retire over the next decade as well adding to job growth. Overall, conservation scientists with a 4-year degree and good communication and technical skills will find the best job opportunities.

Earnings and Salary for Conservation Scientists

The median annual wages for conservation scientists were $60,160. The highest 10 percent earned above $87,890, the lowest 10 percent earned under $35,570 and the middle 50 percent earned between $46,140 and $73,340. Federal range managers earned an average annual salary of $64,564, while federal soil conservation workers earned $69,483. Conservation scientists working for governments or large private firms will enjoy the best benefits.

Annual Salary for Conservation Scientists

On average, Conservation Scientists earn $60,160 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $35,570/yr $46,140/yr $73,340/yr $87,890/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook