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Working as a Soil Conservationist

What Does a Soil Conservationist Do

Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.

Duties

Conservation scientists typically do the following:

  • Oversee forestry and conservation activities to ensure compliance with government regulations and habitat protection
  • Negotiate terms and conditions for forest harvesting and land-use contracts
  • Establish plans for managing forest lands and resources
  • Monitor forest-cleared lands to ensure that they are suitable for future use
  • Work with private landowners, governments, farmers, and others to improve land for forestry purposes, while at the same time protecting the environment

Foresters typically do the following:

  • Supervise activities of forest and conservation workers and technicians
  • Choose and prepare sites for new trees, using controlled burning, bulldozers, or herbicides to clear land
  • Monitor the regeneration of forests
  • Direct and participate in forest fire suppression
  • Determine ways to remove timber with minimum environmental damage

Conservation scientists manage, improve, and protect the country's natural resources. They work with private landowners and federal, state, and local governments to find ways to use and improve the land while safeguarding the environment. Conservation scientists advise farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers on how they can improve their land for agricultural purposes and to control erosion.

Foresters have a wide range of duties, and their responsibilities vary with their employer. Some primary duties of foresters are drawing up plans to regenerate forested lands, monitoring the progress of those lands, and supervising tree harvests. Another duty of a forester is devising plans to keep forests free from disease, harmful insects, and damaging wildfires. Many foresters supervise forest and conservation workers and technicians, directing their work and evaluating their progress.

Conservation scientists and foresters evaluate data on forest and soil quality, assessing damage to trees and forest lands caused by fires and logging activities. In addition, they lead activities, such as suppressing fires and planting seedlings. Fire suppression activities include measuring how quickly fires will spread and how successfully the planned suppression activities turn out. 

Conservation scientists and foresters use their skills to determine a fire’s impact on a region’s environment. Communication with firefighters and other forest workers is an important component of fire suppression and controlled burn activities because the information that conservation scientists and foresters provide can determine how firefighters work.

Conservation scientists and foresters use a number of tools to perform their jobs. They use clinometers to measure the heights of trees, diameter tapes to measure a tree’s circumference, and increment borers and bark gauges to measure the growth of trees so that timber volumes can be computed and growth rates estimated.

In addition, conservation scientists and foresters often use remote sensing (aerial photographs and other imagery taken from airplanes and satellites) and geographic information systems (GIS) data to map large forest or range areas and to detect widespread trends of forest and land use. They make extensive use of handheld computers and global positioning systems (GPSs) to study these maps.

The following are examples of types of conservation scientists:

Conservation land 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, protect rangelands to maximize their use without damaging the environment. Rangelands contain many natural resources and cover hundreds of millions of acres in the United States, mainly in the western states and Alaska.

Range managers may inventory soils, plants, and animals; develop resource management plans; help to restore degraded ecosystems; or help manage a ranch. They also maintain soil stability and vegetation for uses such as wildlife habitats and outdoor recreation. Like foresters, they work to prevent and reduce wildfires and invasive animal species.

Soil and water conservationists give technical help to people who are concerned with the conservation of soil, water, and related natural resources. For private landowners, they develop programs to make the most productive use of land without damaging it. They also help landowners with issues such as dealing with erosion. They help private landowners and governments by advising on water quality, preserving water supplies, preventing groundwater contamination, and conserving water.

The following are examples of types of foresters:

Procurement foresters buy timber by contacting local forest owners and negotiating a sale. This activity typically involves taking inventory on the type, amount, and location of all standing timber on the property. Procurement foresters then appraise the timber’s worth, negotiate its purchase, and draw up a contract. The forester then subcontracts with loggers or pulpwood cutters to remove the trees and to help lay out roads to get to the timber.

Urban foresters live and work in larger cities and manage urban trees. They are concerned with quality-of-life issues, including air quality, shade, and storm water runoff. 

Conservation education foresters train teachers and students about issues facing forest lands.

How To Become a Soil Conservationist

Conservation scientists and foresters typically need a bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related field. Employers seek applicants who have degrees from programs that are accredited by the Society of American Foresters or other organizations.

Education

Conservation scientists and foresters typically need a bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related field, such as agricultural science, rangeland management, or environmental science. Although graduate work is not generally required, some conservation scientists and foresters get a master’s degree or Ph.D.

Bachelor’s degree programs are designed to prepare conservation scientists and foresters for their career or a graduate degree. Alongside practical skills, theory and education are important parts of these programs.

Bachelor’s and advanced degree programs in forestry and related fields typically include courses in ecology, biology, and forest resource measurement. Scientists and foresters also typically have a background in a geographic information systems (GIS) technology, remote sensing, and other forms of computer modeling.

In 2015, there were nearly 50 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in forestry, urban forestry, and natural resources and ecosystem management accredited by the Society of American Foresters.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Conservation scientists and foresters must evaluate the results of a variety of field tests and experiments, all of which require precision and accuracy. They use sophisticated computer modeling to prepare their analyses.

Critical-thinking skills. Conservation scientists and foresters reach conclusions through sound reasoning and judgment. They determine how to improve forest conditions, and they must react appropriately to fires.

Decisionmaking skills. Conservation scientists and foresters must use their expertise and experience to determine whether their findings will have an impact on soil, forest lands, and the spread of fires.

Management skills. Conservation scientists and foresters need to work well with the forest and conservation workers and technicians they supervise, so effective communication is critical.

Physical stamina. Conservation scientists and foresters often walk long distances in steep and wooded areas. They work in all kinds of weather, including extreme heat and cold.

Speaking skills. Conservation scientists and foresters must give clear instructions to forest and conservation workers and technicians, who typically do the labor necessary for proper forest maintenance. They also need to communicate clearly with landowners and, in some cases, the general public.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

As of 2015, 15 states have some type of credentialing process for foresters, typically required or voluntary registration. Conservation workers do not need a license.

Although it is not required, conservation scientists and foresters may choose to earn certification because it shows a high level of professional competency.

The Society of American Foresters (SAF) offers certification to foresters. Candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an SAF-accredited program or from a forestry program that is substantially equivalent. The candidate also must have qualifying professional experience and pass an exam.

The Society for Range Management offers professional certification in rangeland management or as a range management consultant. To be certified, candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree in range management or a related field, have 5 years of full-time related work experience, and pass an exam.

Advancement

Many conservation scientists and foresters advance to take on managerial duties. They also may conduct research or work on policy issues, often after getting an advanced degree. Foresters in management usually leave fieldwork behind, spending more of their time in an office, working with teams to develop management plans and supervising others.

Soil conservationists usually begin working within one district and may advance to a state, regional, or national level. Soil conservationists also can transfer to occupations such as farm or ranch management advisor or land appraiser.

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Average Salary$51,801
Job Growth Rate3%

Average Salary for a Soil Conservationist

Soil Conservationists in America make an average salary of $51,801 per year or $25 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $92,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $29,000 per year.
Average Salary
$51,801

Best Paying Cities

City
Average Salary
Syracuse, NY
Salary Range51k - 107k$75k$74,572
Torrington, CT
Salary Range49k - 104k$72k$71,912
Temple, TX
Salary Range50k - 100k$71k$70,976
Saint Charles, IL
Salary Range50k - 97k$70k$70,246
Des Moines, IA
Salary Range50k - 95k$69k$69,399
Great Falls, MT
Salary Range46k - 83k$62k$62,336
$46k
$107k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyCompanyStart DateSalary
Aces-Soil Conservationist
Aces-Soil Conservationist
National Older Worker Career Center
National Older Worker Career Center
01/28/2021
01/28/2021
$34,95701/28/2021
$34,957
Soil Conservationist (Direct)
Soil Conservationist (Direct)
Indian Health Service
Indian Health Service
06/28/2020
06/28/2020
$33,94906/28/2020
$33,949
Soil Conservationist (Direct)
Soil Conservationist (Direct)
Indian Health Service
Indian Health Service
06/28/2020
06/28/2020
$33,94906/28/2020
$33,949
Soil Conservationist (Direct)
Soil Conservationist (Direct)
Indian Health Service
Indian Health Service
06/28/2020
06/28/2020
$33,94906/28/2020
$33,949
Soil Conservationist (Direct)
Soil Conservationist (Direct)
Indian Health Service
Indian Health Service
06/28/2020
06/28/2020
$33,94906/28/2020
$33,949
See More Recent Salaries

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Soil Conservationist Demographics

Gender

female

50.5 %

male

46.8 %

unknown

2.7 %

Ethnicity

White

92.8 %

Hispanic or Latino

3.0 %

Black or African American

2.2 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

50.0 %

French

33.3 %

Dakota

16.7 %
See More Demographics

Soil Conservationist Education

Majors

Degrees

Bachelors

65.9 %

Masters

23.2 %

High School Diploma

6.1 %

Top Colleges for Soil Conservationists

1. University of Washington

Seattle, WA • Public

In-State Tuition
$11,207
Enrollment
30,905

2. North Carolina State University

Raleigh, NC • Public

In-State Tuition
$9,101
Enrollment
23,708

3. University of California - Davis

Davis, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$14,402
Enrollment
30,698

4. University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Minneapolis, MN • Public

In-State Tuition
$14,760
Enrollment
31,451

5. University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$14,184
Enrollment
30,845

6. Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA • Public

In-State Tuition
$18,454
Enrollment
40,108

7. California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$9,816
Enrollment
21,047

8. Duke University

Durham, NC • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,695
Enrollment
6,596

9. University of Florida

Gainesville, FL • Public

In-State Tuition
$6,381
Enrollment
34,564

10. University of Wisconsin - Madison

Madison, WI • Public

In-State Tuition
$10,555
Enrollment
30,360
See More Education Info
Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Top Skills For a Soil Conservationist

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 12.7% of soil conservationists listed technical assistance on their resume, but soft skills such as analytical skills and management skills are important as well.

Best States For a Soil Conservationist

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a soil conservationist. The best states for people in this position are New Jersey, New York, Alaska, and Rhode Island. Soil conservationists make the most in New Jersey with an average salary of $84,667. Whereas in New York and Alaska, they would average $84,280 and $79,464, respectively. While soil conservationists would only make an average of $73,784 in Rhode Island, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. New Jersey

Total Soil Conservationist Jobs:
1
Highest 10% Earn:
$160,000
Location Quotient:
0.87
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. New York

Total Soil Conservationist Jobs:
0
Highest 10% Earn:
$160,000
Location Quotient:
0
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Nevada

Total Soil Conservationist Jobs:
2
Highest 10% Earn:
$129,000
Location Quotient:
7.55
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Soil Conservationist Employers

1. United States Department of Agriculture
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$35,944
Soil Conservationists Hired: 
114+
2. Indian Health Service
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$41,228
Soil Conservationists Hired: 
11+
3. RITA
3.7
Avg. Salary: 
$42,888
Soil Conservationists Hired: 
2+
4. Mesa County
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$30,778
Soil Conservationists Hired: 
1+
5. The George Mason Bank
4.0
Avg. Salary: 
$84,039
Soil Conservationists Hired: 
1+
6. Advanced Services
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$34,020
Soil Conservationists Hired: 
1+
Updated October 2, 2020