Degree Options for Aspiring Conservation Officers

Oct 11, 2019

Essential Information

Conservation officers manage natural resources, such as wildlife populations and habitats, protecting them from soil erosion and resource misuse. Degree programs in restoration ecology, conservation biology, environmental management and wildlife conservation exist at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Bachelor's degree programs in ecology and conservation encompass the study of conservation biology, statistics, genetics and wildlife ecology. Prospective resource conservationists and fire prevention foresters may participate in internships and field experiences.

While enrolled in a master's-level conservation management program, students could learn what's necessary for natural resources to replenish themselves. Programs might emphasize aquatic ecology, hydrology and botany. In some cases, students can learn online.

A doctoral degree program usually prepares learners for high-level careers, often in collegiate teaching or research. Future professors or scientists might study behavioral ecology, conservation genetics, forest biology and ecological monitoring. They also might conduct lab experiments or participate in field experiences. Thesis or dissertation projects are often required at the graduate level.

Bachelor's Degree in Ecology and Conservation

Conservation officers safeguard an environment's sustainability over time. Students in bachelor's degree programs learn conservation techniques by putting environmental teaching into practice. Bachelor's degree programs in ecology and conservation typically take four years to complete. Though rare, some conservation programs can be found online and offer specializations in marine, exotic or endangered wildlife, as well as conservation and law enforcement.

Typically, only a high school diploma or GED is required to apply to an ecology management or conservation program. Some schools limit class sizes, making excellent academic performance in high school and college essential. While some schools integrate general education within their curricula, others require completion of courses such as English, mathematics and foreign language prior to declaring the major.

Students in the interdisciplinary field of resource management learn by studying ecology, chemistry, math and biology. Budding conservationists take soil samples, prevent invasive species from going unchecked and organize controlled burns of dry underbrush in order to avert out-of-control forest fires. Major area coursework focuses on:

  • Animal behavior
  • Chemistry
  • Conservation biology
  • Genetics
  • Statistics
  • Wildlife ecology

Master's Degree in Conservation Management

Conservation management professionals take a long-term approach to environmental sustainability, preventing population imbalance from wreaking havoc on a particular ecosystem. Master's programs usually take two years to complete. Although not a requirement, conservation management degree programs prefer applicants to have studied ecology and evolutionary biology as a part of their bachelor degree training.

Graduate programs in conservation management teach students to understand the cyclical nature of factors that influence environmental health so that anomalies can be detected and their damage can be mitigated. Courses, lectures and research projects teach students how to ensure that resources have the ability to replenish before being used through topics in statistics. Courses include:

  • Aquatic ecology
  • Biodiversity
  • Biogeography
  • Ecosystem analysis
  • Hydrology
  • Land-use planning

Doctoral Degree in Conservation Biology

Doctoral students in conservation biology programs prepare for careers in independent research and academia through interdisciplinary curricula that include molecular biology, economics and geography. Programs at this level typically require more lab experimentation than fieldwork. Including a thesis or dissertation, the length of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs could vary based on previous academic studies and generally take 2-3 years to complete for those with a related graduate degree or 4-5 years for applicants who enroll with only a bachelor's degree.

A bachelor's degree is typically required to apply to a doctoral program, though most majors are acceptable. Applicants are often required to have studied biochemistry, evolution, ecology and statistics prior to applying to doctoral-level programs in conservation biology.

Students learn the interconnected disciplines of botany, oceanography, zoology, soil sciences and anthropology to research prevention strategies of habitat destruction and species extinction. Common areas of research include:

  • Behavioral ecology
  • Conservation genetics
  • Ecological monitoring
  • Forest biology
  • Global climate change
  • Restoration ecology

Popular Careers

Conservation scientists work for government and management services. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 22,200 conservation scientists employed in 2018. Common jobs include:

  • Fire prevention foresters
  • Park naturalists
  • Rangeland managers
  • Resource conservationists

Ph.D. degree programs in conservation biology focus on preparing students for careers in academia or independent research within the conservation field. Graduates qualify for the following positions:

  • Biodiversity officer
  • Conservation scientist
  • Conservation education director
  • Research director
  • Post-secondary professor

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to BLS projections, employment of conservation scientists and foresters will grow 3% from 2018 to 2028. The main increases were anticipated in wildfire control, land development and renewable resources. BLS salary data from 2018 showed that the median annual wages of conservation scientists and foresters were $61,310 and $61,410, respectively.

If you want to become a conservation officer, there are both undergraduate and graduate programs that can give you the opportunity to study biology and the environment, which can help prepare you for a career in this field.

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