Government agencies and land owners rely on conservationists – or conservation scientists – to monitor and manage the use of natural resources, land and timber. Some specialize in preserving soil and water –and helping landowners control erosion, air quality and the runoff from storm water. Others control the use of timber and natural resources in mountain ranges and forests to protect wildlife. If you want to become a conservationist, you need to earn a bachelor's degree in forestry. In return, you can expect to earn an above-average income compared to other occupations.
Salary and Qualifications
The average annual salary for a conservationist was $63,590 as of May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The middle half made between $47,450 and $74,930 per year. If you were among the top 10 percent, you'd earn over $90,870 annually. To become a conservationist, you need the minimum of a bachelor's degree in forestry. Once you have five years of experience, you become certified through the Society of American Foresters, which requires passing an exam. Sixteen states require conservationists to be licensed. Other key qualifications for this job include physical stamina and analytical, critical thinking, decision-making, speaking and interpersonal skills.
Salary by Industry
In 2012, conservationists' salaries varied significantly in certain industries. They earned the highest annual salaries of $78,840 working in the scientific research and development services industry, according to the BLS. They also earned comparatively high salaries working for the federal government at $74,080 per year. If you were employed by a museum or historical site, you'd earn a salary closer to the industry average – $61,230 annually. A social advocacy organization would pay you an average of $57,300, and you'd make $55,110 and $54,010, respectively, working for local and state government agencies.
Salary by State
Conservationists earned the highest salaries of $89,250 in Alaska, based on BLS data. They also earned above average salaries in Connecticut, Louisiana and California at $81,270, $76,250 and $73,670 per year, respectively. If you were employed as a conservationist in Minnesota or Montana, you'd earn $60,750 or $60,670, respectively. Your salary in South Dakota and Texas would be a few thousand dollars per year less – $58,290 and $55,970, respectively.
The BLS only projects a five percent increase in jobs for conservation scientists and foresters, including conservationists, through 2020, which is well below the national growth rate of 14 percent for all occupations. An increasing demand for wood pellets for homes – heating and stoves – and electric power plants will increase jobs for conservationists. In this field, you should also find more job opportunities with the federal government, especially in the Southwestern section of the U.S. Budget constraints may limit jobs at local and state government agencies.