Wildlife Conservationist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a wildlife conservationist career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a wildlife conservationist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Wildlife Conservationist Careers

Wildlife conservationists protect the natural habitats of animals and plants from human encroachment and environmental issues, such as soil and water contamination. Before starting on the path to becoming a wildlife conservationist, find out the pros and cons of this career to decide if it's right for you.

Pros of Wildlife Conservationist Careers
Generous government benefits (74% of conservationists work for federal, state and local governments) *
Find work in many geographical locations*
Make a living by improving the environment*
Work usually includes both office work and fieldwork*

Cons of Wildlife Conservationist Careers
Work can be physically demanding (working in various environments and weather)*
Jobs are highly competitive (a 3% job growth for 2012-2022)*
Long workdays during natural disasters*
Competitive field in the Western states*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Career Paths and Specializations

Wildlife conservationists assist landowners and governments with implementing techniques that allow them to effectively use land without destroying its natural resources. Because wildlife conservation is such a broad field, most people choose to specialize in areas such as soil conservation, water conservation, rangeland management or forestry. Each specialization includes careers that require you to work in specific environments and have specific conservation duties.

Soil conservationists investigate lands for erosion and suggest preventative methods, such as contour plowing and crop rotation. Water conservationists have similar duties; they use methods like furrow diking to improve water quality and conserve water. As a range manager, you would oversee construction, restore ecosystems and develop animal grazing systems on all types of rangelands, including deserts and grasslands. If you choose to specialize in forestry, you can work to conserve soil, water and habitats within forests. You can also help prevent wildfires, diseases and insects from destroying forest trees.

Salary and Career Prospects

You will not earn a comparably high salary as a wildlife conservationist no matter which specialization you choose. Conservationist scientists in general earned median salaries of approximately $62,000 in May 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Foresters earned slightly lower median salaries of around $58,000 in May 2014.

Unfortunately, the career outlook for conversation scientists and foresters was expected to only increase by 3% between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS. The federal government was predicted to have the best prospects due to the amount of forestlands it owns.

What Are the Requirements?

Most wildlife conservationist careers require at least a bachelor's degree, usually in forestry, agronomy, natural resource management, environmental sciences or rangeland management. Class options may include soil sciences, wildlife management, hydrology, ecology and natural resource management. Hands-on experience is also essential for gaining the technical expertise needed to do their jobs; conservation organizations use a variety of tools including clinometers, bark gauges, geographic information systems and global positioning systems. According to the BLS, 16 states require foresters to become licensed or registered.

In addition, you'll need skills in communication and business to be a conservationist. Your work may include communicating with landowners to devise conservation programs, meeting with the public and administering permits. Courses in business administration, communication and pubic policy are advisable for prospective wildlife conservationists.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers usually advertise for specialized wildlife conservationist positions like foresters and range managers. If you're working for the government, you typically need to be a U.S. citizen and undergo a background check. Some jobs require you to lift up to 40 pounds. Following are some examples of wildlife conservationist job postings open during March 2012, with educational requirements and job duties included:

  • A state agency in Kansas seeks a rangeland management specialist to assist farmers and ranchers in developing conservation plans. The specialist needs a degree in range management and 15 semester hours in plant, animal and soil sciences.
  • A governmental department requests a South Dakota-based soil conservationist with a bachelor's degree in soil conservation or an agricultural-related field. The conservationist must have one year of work or volunteer experience.
  • An organization in Colorado advertised for a water conservation specialist to analyze irrigation plans, implement conservation programs and advise developers and contractors. A bachelor's degree in a major such as irrigation design or natural resources, along with two years of work experience, was desired.
  • An agency in Arkansas is looking for a forester with a bachelor's degree in forestry and three years of work experience. A state-registered forester, this person helps protect and promote private and public forests.

How Can I Stand Out?

Obtaining certification in your specific area of wildlife conservation can help you stand out in the job market and advance to managerial roles. The Society of American Foresters grants certification to those with five years of work experience and a bachelor's degree from a college accredited by the society. Range managers who also have a degree and work experience can receive certification from the Society of Range Management. Exams are required for both. Additionally, completing an internship or volunteer work can give you an edge over other applicants who have the same educational qualifications. Work experience can also help you find a job with a local or private conservation organization before transferring to a state or federal agency.

Other Careers to Consider

If you love working outdoors but have decided that becoming a wildlife conservationist no longer interests you, there are other options.

Wildlife Rehabilitator

As a wildlife rehabilitator, you would provide care for injured and abandoned animals. Your daily tasks may include feeding animals, administering medication, cleaning cages and transporting animals. You may also be asked to do some fundraising. The BLS reported that non-farm animal caretakers in general earned median salaries of nearly $20,000 in May 2011. Although the median salary is considerably lower, the requirements may include obtaining the appropriate state permits by completing an apprenticeship or training program and passing a state exam. However, the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association recommends holding a bachelor's degree in ecology or biology.

Fish and Game Warden

Fish and game wardens are state officers who enforce hunting, fishing and boating laws. Their duties may also include conducting investigations, issuing citations and conducting rescue missions. Although the education requirements vary by state, most states only require wardens to have an associate's degree. Once hired, they attend a 3-12 month program through a training academy. Some field training may also be required. The approximate median salary for fish and game wardens was $50,000 as of May 2011. The BLS projected the number of game warden jobs would increase 5% between 2008 and 2018, which is the same for conservation scientists and foresters,.

Park Ranger

Park rangers spend most of their time working outdoors protecting natural resources in local, state and national parks. Many employers only require a high school diploma while some prefer bachelor's degrees. However, if you want to advance to a district ranger or park manager position, you will need an advanced degree. Depending on experience and education, the starting salary for permanent park rangers range from around $19,000-$32,000, according to the National Park Service (www.nps.gov).

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