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Conservation Scientist Job Description, Career as a Conservation Scientist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College

Salary: Median—$52,480 per year

Employment Outlook: Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

Conservation scientists work with private landowners and federal, state, and local governments to manage, improve, and protect America's natural resources. Usually this involves advising and consulting with farmers and ranchers on the best ways in which they can improve their land and productivity without damaging the environment.

There are two types of conservation scientists. The first, range managers, oversee the use of rangelands. Rangelands are areas set aside for livestock grazing, timber production, wildlife protection, recreation, and other uses. The job of the range manager is to allow a reasonable level of commercial activity while administering and enforcing conservation measures. Range managers may work with wildlife managers, foresters, and scientists.

Most range managers work for federal, state, and local government agencies. They supervise the use and conservation of rangelands owned by the government. Some range managers work for private companies that have large private holdings of rangeland. Such companies include ranches and mining and oil firms. A few range managers work as appraisers for banks and real estate companies. Others teach and perform research at colleges and universities. Range managers are also called range scientists, range ecologists, and range conservationists.

Public rangelands are used for many purposes. Oil and mining companies have a financial interest in the mineral and energy resources found on public rangelands. However, ranchers need rangelands for animal grazing, and the general public enjoys using the land for recreation. In addition, much of the land is valuable watershed property. Range managers work to reconcile these competing interests. They lease public rangelands to commercial firms. For example, they decide how many animals may be allowed to graze on a parcel of land in order to achieve the best productivity for the rancher while still preventing damage to the land. Range managers also preserve and improve the land. They may limit the growth of undesirable plants by setting controlled fires, or they Conservation scientists work with landowners and governments to find ways to protect and preserve natural resources like lakes. (U.S. Forest Service.) improve the land by planting trees, shrubs, and grass. Range managers often supervise workers who carry out their orders.

Rangelands owned by private companies may also need management. Range managers who work for these companies are responsible for finding ways to restore land damaged through industrial use.

The second type of conservation scientist is a soil and water conservationist. They advise farmers, ranchers, state and local agencies, and other interested parties on the conservation of soil, water, and other natural resources. Soil erosion is a big problem in some areas of the country, and soil conservationists find the source of the problem, create a plan to combat it, and work with farmers and landowners to prevent further erosion. They design plans that allow landowners and farmers to get the most out of the soil without damaging it. Water conservationists work on issues of water quality, groundwater contamination, and management and conservation of water resources.

Education and Training Requirements

At minimum, conservation scientists must have a bachelor's degree in forestry, biology, natural resource management, or the environmental sciences.

A bachelor's degree in range management or range science is necessary to work as a range manager. For some jobs a degree in a related field and several courses in range management are sufficient. Graduate degrees are required for teachers and researchers and may speed the advancement of others as well. Two types of certification are offered through the Society for Range Management: one as a certified professional in rangeland management (CPRM) and another as a certified range management consultant. To qualify for certification, candidates must have at least a bachelor's degree in range science or a closely related field, have a minimum of six years of full-time work experience, and pass a comprehensive written exam.

Soil conservationists usually study crop or soil science in college and have further study in environmental studies, agronomy, hydrology, or range management.

Getting the Job

To get a job with a government agency, apply to take the necessary civil service test. Candidates should also apply to private companies for which they would like to work. Some real estate firms, banks, and coal and oil companies have large landholdings.

Prospective conservation scientists may be able to find a summer job working in a related field for a government agency. Such practical experience can help candidates get a job when they graduate.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

With further education and experience, conservation scientists in government work may receive significant pay raises and advance to positions requiring them to take on more responsibility.

The employment outlook is expected to grow more slowly than average through 2014 for conservation scientists. For range managers the field is relatively small, and job growth will depend largely on federal funding of range management agencies and projects. Job opportunities will be concentrated in the western and Midwestern states, where the most rangeland is located. Groundwater contamination and erosion in urban, suburban, and rural areas have created a demand for soil and water conservationists.

Working Conditions

Range managers and conservation scientists spend much of their time outdoors supervising workers and collecting information about conditions in the field. They may be away from home for several days at a time when they go to remote parts of their territory. They must also work with landowners, loggers, farmers, ranchers, government officials, and special interest groups on a regular basis. Most have regular hours and split their time between the office and field work.

Where to Go for More Information

Society for Range Management
10030 W. 27th Ave.
Wheat Ridge, CO 80215-6601
(303) 986-3309

World Association of Soil and Water Conservation
7517 Northeast Ankeny Rd.
Ankeny, IA 50021

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary depending on education and experience. The median salary for conservation scientists is $52,480 per year. Range managers working for the federal government earn an average income of $58,161 per year; for soil conservationists the average salary is $60,671 per year. Starting salaries for those working for the federal government average $24,667 to $30,567 for those with a bachelor's degree and $37,390 to $45,239 for those with a master's degree. Managers who work for government agencies usually receive generous benefit packages.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesAgribusiness, Environment, and Natural Resources