Park Naturalist Training and Certificate Program Information

Park naturalists provide visitor services, conduct field trips to scientific and natural destinations, prepare and present lectures, create brochures and media articles and construct visitor center displays. Park naturalists must usually have a bachelor's degree in a field such as environmental studies; related associate's degree programs can help students start their career.

Essential Information

Individuals interested in being park naturalists may earn an Associate's degree in Wildlife Management and/or a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science. Certificate programs are not usually applicable to professional park naturalists, but they may be of interest to serious amateurs. There are, however, certificate programs available at the graduate level. Science and laboratory classes are common in 2-year and 4-year degree programs.

  • Program Levels for Park Naturalist Training: Associate's degrees, Bachelor's degrees, graduate-level certificate programs
  • Program Lengths: 2-year and 4-year programs are offered
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED, courses in math, English, and sciences
  • Experiential Learning: Internships, practicums, labs

Associate of Science in Wildlife Management

These programs can be the first step in becoming a park naturalist. Candidates gain a conceptual understanding of wildlife management, conservation and ecology. They collect, analyze, identify and interpret wildlife, fish and habitat data. Graduates of these programs are eligible for some entry-level park jobs and can often transfer their credits toward a related bachelor's degree program. In addition to general education courses, students take classes on botany, plant ecology and natural resources. Internships, labs and electives may supplement classes in the wildlife, fish, forestry and recreational core, such as:

  • Basic and advanced ecology
  • Regional plants and wildlife
  • Wildlife management
  • Trees and shrubs
  • Streams and aquatic insects
  • Fisheries and hatcheries

Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science

These programs prepare students to work in environmental law, policy and planning as well as for careers as park naturalists or other conservation specialists. Classes cover natural sciences and relevant public policy, along with communication skills. Because park naturalists work to communicate with those who have little formal scientific training about environmental issues, a program that includes training in environmental science and the liberal arts may be relevant to an aspiring naturalist. Curricula may also incorporate electives, internships, practicums, labs and work opportunities. Some of the intensive coursework covers:

  • Biodiversity assessment and monitoring
  • Biodiversity and geography
  • Culture, ethics and jurisprudence
  • Developing written and oral presentations
  • Intro to environmental microbiology
  • Social and behavioral sciences

Master Naturalist Certificate Programs

These non-credit programs are available at some colleges and universities. Their goal is to develop citizen stewards of the natural resources found within the particular region of the school and courses reflect this. Skills learned will be useful to students who volunteer with local and regional nature centers, assisting in maintenance and management tasks as assigned. They do not generally serve as adequate training for paying positions as park naturalists or related occupations.

Popular Career Options

Employees at state and national parks often need several years of work-related experience and on-the-job training. Physical endurance is important because park naturalists exert themselves by walking, climbing, lifting, balancing, bending and stooping. Most advanced positions require a bachelor's degree, but a few opportunities are sometimes available for associate's degree candidates, such as:

  • Park aide
  • Wildlife aide
  • Environmental education specialist

Continuing Education

Park naturalists must generally have at least a bachelor's degree in a field such as environmental science. Those who wish to move into conducting research or teaching environmental science in colleges and universities will require master's and Ph.D. degrees. Advanced degrees and work experience may also contribute to promotions in other employment areas.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Park naturalists may work as conservation scientists and foresters. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected that the number of jobs for these workers would grow 3% from the years 2012 through 2022. The BLS also reported in 2014 that conservation scientists and foresters earned mean annual salaries of $64,420 and $60,070, respectively.

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