A naturalist, not surprisingly, is someone who enjoys getting up close and personal with nature. What you may not realize, however, is that naturalists must enjoy interacting with people as much as they do with plants and animals. Explaining, demonstrating and sharing the wonders of the natural world are all a part of a naturalist's job. If you were an environmental crusader before middle school, a job as a naturalist might be a "natural" fit.
First and foremost, naturalists must have a connection to nature. Whether it's your passion or just the place where you find your muse, you should enjoy spending time in the great outdoors if you're going to pursue this career. You should also enjoy public speaking, teaching and paperwork. Many naturalists are employed in park settings and perform multiple duties, such as drafting brochures, leading guided tours, and informing the public about the rules and regulations of interacting with wildlife.
You must typically possess a four-year college degree to find employment as a naturalist. A major in a field such as forestry or environmental science, coupled with coursework in such fields as botany and outdoor recreation, is a solid foundation. Hone your skills in public speaking, presentation and working with computers. Naturalists may be employed by government offices such as parks and recreation departments, the Department of Fish and Game or the Department of Natural Resources. They might also work for privately owned companies or for organizations that promote social advocacy.
A naturalist must be able to read the signs that nature is trying to impart. This includes identifying animal tracks, scat and habitats. It means knowing your plant life. As a naturalist in a public setting, you'll likely spend a good portion of your days engaged in speaking with the public, and acting as the link between them and the natural world that you so love. Safety is a huge concern -- make sure that you thoroughly understand the threats presented by nature and are be able to explain and react to them accordingly.
According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, naturalists in the fields of conservation scientists and foresters earned a median wage of $59,060 annually in 2012. The job outlook for this field, however, poses some concerns. Slower-than-average growth is expected from 2012 to 2022, meaning that some graduates may have difficulty finding work in the field.