What’s a conservation scientist?
Conservation scientists are responsible for studying and protecting our planet’s natural resources. They work to ensure that the ecosystems, plants, animals, air, water and other natural elements of the environment remain healthy and intact for future generations.
A conservation scientist manages the overall land and quality of forests, parks, rangelands and other natural resources. They work with private landowners, government officials and social advocacy organizations to come up with ways to use and improve the land while also safeguarding the environment.
Many conservation scientists spend a great deal of their time outdoors, working in forests, grasslands and wetlands. They may also work in offices, where they develop maps, write reports and conduct research.
What does a conservation scientist do?
Conservation scientists may focus on a variety of different conservation topics or issues. Some may study the effects of climate change on certain species or habitats, while others may look into how human activity impacts local ecosystems.
Whatever their area of focus, conservation scientists use scientific methods and data collection techniques to inform their understanding of these topics. Conservation scientists often consider all elements of a plan, such as cost projections, time constraints or estimates, wildlife habitats, breeding information and environmental laws and regulations.
Conservation scientists’ responsibilities and duties typically include:
- Assessing damage to trees and forest lands from fires and logging.
- Carrying out environmental impact assessments to determine how proposed projects will affect local ecosystems.
- Conducting studies on animal behavior to learn how to better protect them.
- Creating reports about findings that can be used to develop new conservation strategies or legislation.
- Educating landowners, governments, farmers and the public about proper land use, destruction rates, fire hazards, sustainability efforts and ethical farming.
- Establishing management plans for forests, parks, agriculture and natural resources.
- Evaluating data on forest and soil quality.
- Leading activities such as fighting wildfires or planting seedlings.
- Monitoring ecosystems, species populations and environmental conditions such as water quality or air pollution levels.
- Negotiating contracts and conditions for harvesting or land use.
- Overseeing conservation tasks to ensure compliance with government regulations.
- Participating in public outreach and education efforts to raise awareness about conservation issues.
- Protecting and preserving natural wildlife habitats from destruction and habitat loss, reproduction rate loss and reduction in biodiversity.
Conservation scientist salary and job outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall employment of conservation scientists and foresters is projected to grow 5% from 2021 to 2031, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. The median annual conservation scientist salary is $63,750.
Conservation scientists can specialize in many different areas of conservation and environmentalism. According to the BLS, three of the most common types of conservation scientists are conservation land managers, range managers and soil and water conservationists.
- Conservation land managers
These managers work for land trusts or other conservation organizations to protect the wildlife habitat, biodiversity, scenic value and other unique attributes of preserves and conservation lands.
- Range managers
Also called range conservationists, range managers protect rangelands to maximize their uses without damaging the environment. Rangelands contain many natural resources and cover hundreds of millions of acres in the U.S., mainly located in the western states and Alaska.
Range managers develop resource management plans and help to restore degraded ecosystems. To do this, they inventory the soils, plants and animals in an ecosystem. They also work on maintaining soil stability and vegetation for wildlife habitats or outdoor recreation. Along with foresters, range managers also work to prevent and reduce wildfires and invasive animal species.
- Soil and water conservationists
These conservationists provide technical help regarding the conservation of soil, water and related natural resources. They develop programs for private landowners to make the most productive use of land without damaging it and assist with issues such as soil erosion. They also advise private landowners and governments on water quality, preserving water supplies, preventing ground-water contamination and conserving water.
Other job titles for conservation scientists include, but are not limited to:
- Environmental biologist or scientist.
- Forester or forestry scientist.
- Freshwater fisheries biologist.
- Grassland conservationist.
- Land reclamation or resource specialist.
- Landscape ecologist.
- Marine biologist.
- Timber management specialist.
- Urban forester.
- Wildlife biologist.
Earn your Master of Science in biology online
To become a conservation scientist, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably in biology, ecology, forestry or environmental science. Arizona State University offers an online Bachelor of Science in biological sciences with a concentration in conservation biology and ecology.
This bachelor's degree gives you the conservation biology and ecology skills you’ll need to head into your career with the understanding of the ecology of different habitats, animal and plant physiology, behavioral ecology and population biology.
For management and high-level research positions, an advanced degree in biology or a related field may be required. ASU Online offers a Master of Science in biology that can prepare you for a career as a conservation scientist.
ASU Online’s master’s degree in biology allows you to strengthen your knowledge of biological concepts, while learning how to effectively communicate this information to others. Having both of these skill sets can expand your opportunities in an ever-changing job market.