Conservation scientists manage overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources. They work with landowners and federal and other levels of government to devise ways to use and improve the land while safeguarding the environment. They advise farmers, farm managers, and ranchers on how they can improve their land for agricultural purposes and control erosion
Conservation scientists are usually involved in the following:
• Monitor forestry and conservation activities to assure compliance with government regulations • Establish plans for managing forest lands and resources • Supervise activities of other forestry and conservation workers • Choose and prepare sites for new trees using controlled burning, bulldozers, or herbicides to clear land • Negotiate terms and conditions for forest harvesting and land-use contracts • Direct and participate in forest-fire suppression • Determine ways to remove timber with minimum environmental damage • Monitor forest-cleared lands to ensure that they are suitable for future use.
Many conservation scientists supervise forest and conservation workers and technicians, directing their work and evaluating their progress. They evaluate data on forest and soil quality, assessing damage to trees and forest lands caused by fires and logging activities.
Conservation scientists 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, they 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 hand-held computers and global positioning systems (GPS) to study these maps.
Two of the most common types of conservation scientists are range managers and soil conservationists.
Conservation scientists typically need a bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related field, field, such as agricultural science, rangeland management, or environmental science. Many colleges and universities offer degrees in forestry or a related field. Bachelor degree programs are designed to prepare conservation scientists for their career or a graduate degree. Alongside practical skills, theory and education are important parts of these programs.
Courses for bachelor’s and advanced degree programs in forestry and related fields typically include ecology, biology, and forest resource measurement. Scientists and foresters also typically have a background in a geographic information system (GIS) technology and other forms of computer modeling.
Many conservation scientists advance to take on managerial duties. They also may conduct research or work on policy issues, often after getting an advanced degree. Those in management usually leave fieldwork behind, spending more of their time in an office, working with teams to develop management plans and supervising others.
Conservation scientists must evaluate the results of a variety of field tests and experiments, all of which require precision and accuracy. They reach conclusions through sound reasoning and judgment. They determine how to improve forest conditions, and they must react appropriately to fires. They must use their expertise and experience to determine whether their findings will have an impact on soil, forest lands, and the spread of fires. They need to work well with the forest and conservation workers and technicians they supervise, so effective communication is critical.
Conservation scientists often walk long distances in steep and wooded areas. They work in all kinds of weather, including extreme heat and cold. They must give clear instructions to forest and conservation workers and technicians, who typically do the labour necessary for proper forest maintenance.
Conservation scientists work for all levels of government or on privately owned lands. They typically work in offices, in laboratories, and in the outdoors, sometimes doing fieldwork in remote locations. The work can be physically demanding. Some conservation scientists work outdoors in all types of weather, occasionally in isolated areas. They may need to walk long distances through dense woods and underbrush to carry out their work. In an isolated location, a conservation scientist may work alone, measuring tree densities, regeneration, or other outdoor activities. Others work closely with the public, educating them about the forest or the proper use of recreational sites.