Conservationists take many forms. From the casual recycler to the environmental researcher and activist, conservationists are those who strive to protect nature’s resources from human destruction. That being said, while anyone can make a conscious effort to better the environment, it takes a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a related field to become a professional conservationist. Teaching or researching in the field of conservation science takes an advanced degree, and many conservationists who do not intend to teach often pursue advanced degrees and professional certifications simply to remain competitive in the field. In the United States, 12 states require conservationists to obtain licensing.
A person looking to become a conservationist can attend just about any school he wants, because environmental science majors are offered at most major colleges and universities in the United States. If a school doesn’t offer such a major, a degree in a similar field such as biology, zoology, or resources management should fulfill the education requirement for most conservationist jobs. Another option that is available at many universities is to work with advisers to create an individualized study program from courses offered at the school. Many degree programs will require the student to do some type of internship or research. This gives a person looking to become a conservationist an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field.
A person hoping to become a conservationist should have a love for nature, because much of the work of conservationists is performed outdoors. Conservationists are sometimes required to work long hours in extreme weather conditions. While there are some desk jobs available to conservationists, many of these — such as teaching and managerial positions — require either an advanced degree or years of experience.
Although conservationists’ job duties vary widely, around 75 percent of conservationists work for some level of government, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2008, there were 18,300 conservationist jobs and a projected employment growth rate of 12 percent between 2008 and 2018. In addition to a growing field, a person wanting to become a conservationist can also look forward to a reasonable salary. In 2008, the median salary for a conservationist in the U.S. was $58,720.
A person trying to become a conservationist may also be interested in closely related fields such as the geosciences, agriculture, and food science. Biological science, which includes zoology and wildlife science, is another similar field. Biological science jobs were expected in 2011 to start growing much faster than average, and pay for biologists is often higher than that of conservationists. One drawback is that most people employed in the biological sciences hold advanced degrees.