Conservation News Environmental Careers

Report: The Impact of Covid-19 on Conservation Hiring

This report examines how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted conservation hiring in the United States since the start of the shutdown in March 2020.


The field of conservation refers to the organizations and professionals working to protect, manage, and study the natural environment. It covers a range of professional areas including ecology, wildlife and fisheries, forestry, outdoor recreation, and environmental education.

To better understand the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on conservation, we looked at data from the website Conservation Job Board which lists new job openings in the field. 

Specifically, we compared job posting volume in the 12-month periods before and after the start of the pandemic as an indicator of the effects of Covid-19 on hiring. We also conducted interviews with employers and reviewed news reports to provide additional context.


Conservation Hiring Down Sharply in 2020

New hiring in the field of conservation fell sharply in the spring of 2020 as Covid-19 surged across the country. New job postings dropped over 60% in April and May of 2020 compared to 2019.

The depressed state of conservation hiring continued through the end of 2020 with job posting volume down almost 50% from April 1 – December 31 compared to the same period in 2019. Postings for new seasonal jobs fell 59% faring worse than permanent positions, down 41%.

COVID Derailed Seasonal Programs and Projects

The field of conservation relies heavily on seasonal hiring to implement programs and projects. In 2019, seasonal positions made up nearly 60% of the posts on Conservation Job Board, mostly for outdoor-based, hands-on work.

The sharp drop in seasonal postings after the Covid-19 shutdown suggests that much of this planned work was canceled in 2020.

Media reports and our interviews show a wide range of programs canceled for various reasons.

Examples of canceled conservation work include:

Environmental summer camps, classes, and events canceled across the U.S. for public safety.

Some Conservation Hiring Persisted in 2020

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, conservation hiring persisted in 2020 – albeit at lower levels. 

Conservation jobs often take place outdoors in remote settings where workers can more easily socially distance and the risk of Covid-19 is lower compared to indoor spaces. 

Organizations also made adjustments to make work safer. 

For example, the Great Basin Institute adopted strict safety protocols that included requiring field crews to quarantine for 14 days before starting work. This enabled the organization to continue with many of its planned conservation projects in 2020.

Public facilities such as the Woodcock Nature Center adapted by changing their programming. The organization created take-home kits for parents and students and began offering virtual field trips.

Conservation Jobs Rebounding in 2021

Signs of a rebound in conservation employment in 2021 have emerged. According to job posting data, total new hiring activity in February surpassed pre-Covid-19 levels. 

Postings for new permanent jobs surged, up 32% over February 2020.

This over-performance suggests that the reduced posting from previous months was at least partially due to employers delaying planned permanent positions rather than canceling them outright. If true, then the opening of these paused positions could be driving elevated hiring levels for permanent jobs.

While a strongly encouraging sign, the rebound in permanent job postings in conservation has a long way to go to make up for the reduction over the prior 11 months.

Signs also point to improvements in seasonal work. For example, nature-based summer camps that canceled their 2020 seasons are now reporting that they will reopen. However, programs will still operate with fewer attendees than prior to the pandemic.

Postings for new seasonal jobs also rebounded from the lows of the summer months but were still down 13% compared to February 2020. 

This suggests that the planned conservation work for the spring and summer of 2021 has increased from the prior year but still has not returned fully to pre-Covid-19 levels.

Results Table


We compiled job posting data from the website Conservation Job Board. The 11-year old site listed approximately 11,000 free and paid postings by employers in 2019 and 2020 for job openings in conservation.  

We measured the volume of jobs posted to the website broken out by seasonal and permanent positions over a 24 month period dating from March 1, 2019, through February 28, 2021. 

Then we calculated the monthly percentage change in job posting volume compared to the same month of the previous year. This percentage gave us an indicator of the effects of Covid-19 on hiring levels.

To provide additional context to the job posting data, we reviewed media reports dating back to March 2020 related to the impact of Covid-19 on conservation programs in the United States. We also conducted interviews with staff at organizations involved with hiring.


Rob Goldstein is the Managing Director of CJB Network and Conservation Job Board. He received his Master’s in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources from Colorado State University and worked for years as a conservation professional.



Career Advice Environmental Careers

Career Pathways for Nature-Based Educators

Nature centers are a great place for environmental educators to build a career.

Often located on preserves, nature centers connect people to the natural world by erasing the walls of the traditional classroom.

Educators at these organizations develop and use innovative, hands-on, methods to enhance the public’s understanding of local ecosystems and foster responsible stewardship of nature. Students have the opportunity to engage with the natural environment and witness science in action.

Think visitor centers, guided interpretive tours, museums and exhibits, as well as structured programs, camps and classes for all ages. 

If you are interested in seeing where nature center jobs can take you, continue reading. We review the types of professional roles and educational programs at nature centers to help you understand the possibilities.

Professional Roles: 3 Main Tiers

Roles can be broken down into three tiers, entry level, mid level, and senior level. 


NOTE: Many organizations offer volunteer and internship experiences for students and other people just starting out in the field. While these opportunities can help you become a more competitive applicant, they are not always economically feasible. 


Entry Level:

Entry-level roles are where you will typically start out since they require little to no prior paid work experience. Often seasonal or part time, these jobs are a great way for you to gain teaching experience and become familiar with environmental curriculums. These positions can help you get your foot in the door since many organizations hire from within. 

The specific tasks and responsibilities of these roles vary depending on the organization and the program focus.

  • Assistant Teacher – In this role, you might serve as a teacher’s aid, substitute teacher or on-call teacher for school field trips.
  • Camp Counselor – As a counselor you will implement environmental education curriculum during camp, coordinate activities, guide campers, manage group dynamics, and ensure safety protocols.
  • Seasonal Educator – In this instructor role, you teach – and sometimes design – lesson plans while adapting content to a wide variety of different learners and age groups.
  • Naturalist – As a naturalist you provide environmental interpretive services which can include guided walks for the visiting public.

Mid Level:

Environmental educators in mid-level positions take on more responsibility. These positions however also require more experience – you will likely need a few years (or seasons) in an entry-level role under your belt before landing your first mid-level job. The good news is that mid-level jobs are more likely to be permanent positions as opposed to seasonal or temporary work. They also are more likely to pay a salary with benefits. 

  • Environmental Education Coordinator  – As a coordinator, it is your responsibility to ensure smooth daily operations at the center. This generally includes exhibits, presentations and onsite education programs. You could be involved in the strategic interpretive planning for the center’s exhibits, educational spaces and programs. 
  • Outdoor Education Instructor – As an instructor it’s your job to implement curriculum. You help develop and deliver programming. Work includes long-range planning and daily nature education activities. As an experienced instructor, you may supervise educational assistants. 
  • Assistant Education Director  – As an assistant director you are directly involved with planning, organizing and implementing curriculum and operations. You may recruit, interview, and make hiring recommendations for staff and volunteers.    

Senior Level:

To reach the senior level you will likely need several years of experience in a mid-level position, strong leadership skills and a good familiarity with operations. A graduate degree in environmental education or a related field might be needed in some cases.

  • Director of Education – As the director, you are directly responsible for the management of education programs. You oversee staff and programming, including curriculum development. Additionally, you help create and implement strategic business plans that set the future course for programs.

Program Types

Nature centers can offer a wide variety of programs and learning experiences. Similarly, jobs in environmental education can vary widely depending on the type of program

Below we list some common program types. As examples, we also feature some organizations that offer these types of programs 

School-Based Programs

Many nature centers host field trips on-site and offer to bring their programs to schools. The Environmental Volunteers organization located in Palo Alto, California offers hundreds of programs for school groups. Sprout Up is one unique program that trains college students as instructors to deliver environmental science programs for 1st and 2nd graders. The lessons and activities teach children and their families about the role they can play in protecting the environment and instill a sense of stewardship. 

“We are inspiring a love of science and nature not just because it’s the right thing to do but because we really need the next generation to protect the conservation investments that we’ve made not only here locally but around the world. This is the moment when we can help steer kids in that right direction for the long term.”
Elliott Wright Executive Director, Environmental Volunteers

Preschool Programs

Some nature center programs cater to younger children. The Hartley Nature Preschool at the Hartley Nature Center in Duluth, Minnesota is one example. The preschool teachers engage children at a young age and inspire life-long connections to nature. Instructors lead kids, ages 3 to 5, outside every day (in safe weather) to learn through play and exploration. 

“HNP is changing the world for the next generation, one preschooler at a time and we are so thankful our kids have had the opportunity to be shaped by such an amazing program with exceptional teachers.”
2018-19 Preschool Parent, Hartley Nature Preschool

Summer Camps

During the summer, nature centers offer environment-themed camps for children. For example, Woodcock Nature Center in Wilton, Connecticut offers multiple summer camp programs. They hire experienced environmental educators to guide hikes and canoeing, engage in nature-based crafts and teach wilderness skills and conservation concepts.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to work with kids in the outdoors. They not only enjoy socializing with each other but also exploring, playing, building, and asking questions. In this environment, they often don’t even realize they are learning. These experiences can help cultivate a lifelong appreciation of the natural world.”
Sarah Breznen, Director of Education, Woodcock Nature Center

Nature for All

Some programs provide experiences specifically for kids living in urban environments. The Mohonk Preserve in New Paltz, NY offers City Kids on the Ridge which brings children from urban areas into nature. The program focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) learning as it relates to environmental conservation.  

“I have a responsibility to help improve the environment in my area. We can do better. Nature is a big part of our world. We do not treat it as a big problem but if we keep polluting it, it will be gone.”
Nasah and Amago, Students from City Kids on the Ridge, Mohonk Preserve

Wildlife Education

Wildlife education programs give students the opportunity to see animals up close. The Howell Nature Center in Howell, Michigan has a teaching zoo (with both an onsite and mobile option). The center has over 70 permanent native animals that accompany informational presentations for student groups. 

“Our programs give kids and community members the opportunity to connect with and become stewards of the natural world in ways they normally may not. We strive to instill a reverence for wildlife and teach people to live in harmony with wildlife. Additionally, we utilize inquiry-based learning to encourage participants to ask their own questions and develop methods to find the answers to their questions.” – Laura Butler Director of Wildlife & Education, Howell Nature Center


Individual Learning Experiences

For those with a budding interest in nature, some centers offer individual experiences. The Junior Curator and WILD! Keeper Programs at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center in Connecticut provide kids with basic animal care training. Educators play a key role in engaging these students with nature on a deeper level. In some cases, these specialized experiences inspire kids to explore environmental careers themselves.

“For those interested in education, get as much teaching experience as possible. We can teach people what to teach, but not how to teach, that comes with time and practice.”
Lisa Monachelli, Director of Education & Summer Camp Director, Stamford Museum & Nature Center

Extended Education for Educators

Many organizations run programs for adult learning. The Ecology School in Saco, ME offers professional development programs in environmental education for educators themselves. The school focuses on hands-on exploration of Maine’s ecosystems, sustainable living practices, food systems and farming, and conservation-in-action.

“I feel so lucky to have landed at The Ecology School and to have been able to make a career here as part of this very special organization. Being part of an organization that places a high value on community, collaboration and joyful learning as well as getting to work day in and day out with inspiring leaders, teachers and students continue to be a really rewarding part of my life.”
Alex Grindle, Director of Programs, The Ecology School


Alyson Morris is the Communications Specialist for CJB Network and writes on environmental career development. She is a graduate student at the University of Oregon and is pursuing her Master’s in Strategic Communication.


Environmental Careers

Best Boots for Environmental Fieldwork


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Is environmental fieldwork in your future? If so, you should choose your boots wisely.

Jobs in conservation and ecology can mean full days trekking through rough terrain for months on end. The right gear can keep you comfortable and safe for these long stints outdoors.

So which boot is the best boot for fieldwork? And is spending more money worth it or not? 

We collected feedback from conservation professionals about the boots they trusted and loved for fieldwork. 

Below we list 15 pairs of boots that received the most praise.

General Considerations for Field Boots

As you read through this list consider the following questions for yourself:

  • What are the conditions like where you will be working? Do you need solid grip, heavy tread, waterproof, warm, metal toe protection? 
  • What are your own personal foot needs? Wide foot, narrow, high arches, ankle support?

Knowing your needs will help you narrow down your choices. There are lots of great boots out there. But some perform better for certain feet and certain outdoor conditions.

All-Season Boots | Mid-High Mileage


Oboz Women’s Yellowstone Premium Mid B-Dry Waterproof Hiking Boot
Recommended For: High Arches
Cost: $240

If you are looking for great arch and ankle support, Oboz might be the right option for you. The Yellowstone offers premium full-grain leather that users say truly makes these boots waterproof. Some reviews have mentioned they take a little bit of time to break in but afterward fit like a glove.

Obōz has the best arch support I have been able to find and I LOVE my Yellowstone’s. I started with the Bridgers which is a great casual hiking boot. The Yellowstone’s are taller and I got those ones for work in the NPS but I wear them all the time for all levels of hikes. Highly recommend!!”


Vasque Women’s St. Elias Fg GTX Full-Grain Leather Gore-tex Waterproof Hiking Boot
Recommended For: Durability
Cost: $200

Vasque designed the sturdy St. Elias boot to last for many miles. Its GORE-TEX membrane will keep feet dry in wet conditions. Vasque touts this boot as having little to no break-in period. But this could depend on your foot shape. 

“I LOVE these boots! I got them last winter and I wore them every day during a 4-month summer and fall trail crew term. I’ve done a lot of hiking in them with a heavy pack and they provide great ankle support. The GTX also holds up really well. I wear them now every day for my forestry work and they are doing great. Highly recommend!”



Lowa Men’s Renegade GTX Mid Hiking
Recommended For: Ankle Support
Cost: $245

If you need an all-around great outdoor boot the Lowa Renegade could be the right match. The secure fit holds your foot comfortably in place for steep terrain and its GORE-TEX lining will keep your feet dry without overheating.

“Lowa Renegades are the best boots I’ve ever owned. Goretex inside of them. Keep my feet dry, never overheat, and only have got a blister once. Many miles have been done with them!”


Ahnu Women`s W Montara III Event Hiking Boot
Recommended For: Narrow Feet; Lightweight Preference
Cost: $170

The Ahnu Montara boot is a popular choice for environmental professionals looking for a sturdy, lightweight option. Users with narrow feet have found the shape of this boot to provide excellent support. 

“I love the fit and comfort of my Ahnu Montara WP boots. I think a solid footbed would be a good addition, but otherwise they’ve been great. Can’t speak to daily use because I haven’t used them that way, but worth checking out!” 


KEEN Men’s Targhee II Mid Wide Hiking Shoe
Recommended For:
Wide Feet; Toe Protection
Cost: $100-$250 (depending on size)

If your feet get squeezed at the sides by most boots, Keen could be a great option for you. Not only do their shoes generally run a little wider than average, but many of their shoe styles offer a “wide” option. Those who are prone to catching their toes on rocks and roots will love the reinforced rubber toe protection offered on all Keen boots. 

“I had these bad boys for 5 years before some of the stitching started to wear. That was two years doing field rescue and wildlife rehab, countless hikes in the rain and snow, and a summer as a field tech in a wetland. They smelled to high hell by the end but they had a full life!” 


Merrell Women’s Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot
Recommended For:
Versatility; Breathability
Cost: $135

Constantly moving from office to the field? The Merrell Moab is a versatile boot that provides comfort and style in both the field and office setting. Though these boots are marketed as waterproof, note the meshing. They offer great breathability in the summer but they lack the Gore-tex lining of others, meaning you may want to avoid puddle jumping. 

“I have a pair of Merrell Moab 2’s that I absolutely love! They are lightweight and durable. I’ve had them for about 2.5-3 years and they are still in great shape. I used to use them hiking in AZ and now I wear them in the swamp. They are so comfortable I even wear them as an everyday shoe. They run a little over $100 but they last a long time.”


Thorogood Men’s Crosstrex Series – 8″ 1000g Insulated Waterproof Hiker Boot
Recommended For:
Comfort; Durability
Cost: $125

The Thorogood brand has been making boots in the USA since 1892. They created their Crosstrex series to provide the comfort of an athletic shoe with the grip of a work boot. If your job requires a specialized boot check out the 125 styles that Thorogood offers. 

“I love Thorogood boots! They’re made for EMS but I’ve taken those things through many bushwacking seasons in harsh conditions and they are amazing and comfortable. Usually between $80-150 depending on what your work involves. Check them out!”


Timberland Men’s White Ledge Mid Waterproof Hiking Shoe
Recommended For: Everyday Use; Affordability
Cost: $80

If you are looking for a popular option that won’t break the bank you may want to consider Timberland. Crafted in leather, these waterproof boots offer less ankle support than some of the other options on this list. But for everyday use most users are very happy with this boot. Did I mention that they have 4 ½ stars on amazon and nearly 30,000 ratings?

“With a strained Achilles’ tendon I needed walking boots that supported the ankle and cushioned the heel. Other Timberland footwear I had was comfortable and I hoped that these would be too. Not disappointed. Firm but really comfortable. No wearing in – ideal right out of the box.”

Rainboots | Low Mileage

Muck Boots

Muck Wetland Rubber Premium Men’s Field Boots
Recommended For:
Warmth; Flexibility
Cost: $130-$250 (Depending on size)

The most widely recommended rain boot for field work, the Muck Boot provides excellent water protection and comfort for long days on your feet. The neoprene upper snugs your calf for extra protection and heat retention in cold weather and can easily roll down during warmer months. 

“I found that, when working in swampy tick-full areas, it was better to just get tall boots and tuck my pants into them. I like Muck Boots – they seem to be the go-to brand for fieldwork.”


XTRATUF Salmon Sisters Legacy Series 15″ Octopus Print-Lined Neoprene Women’s Fishing Boots
Recommended For: Comfort, Beach Settings
Cost: $135

If you work in wet conditions but don’t need significant insulation Xtratuf offers a great field boot option. These 100% waterproof boots are also ozone, acid and chemical resistant. Made with pliable rubber they provide comfortable all-day wear.

“They really are the BEST. Totally waterproof and they keep my feet dry. They are very comfortable. I live in Upstate NY and I wear them all winter long and I have never been cold in them at all. I wouldn’t want to stand idle for hours and hours…then I would be cold. I guess it depends on the socks that you are wearing.”


LaCrosse Men’s Alpha Lite” 5.0MM Utility Boot
Recommended For:
Comfort; Traction
Cost: $100

Users rate LaCrosse’s Utility boot as both versatile and comfortable for whatever fieldwork you are doing. An affordable option, these boots rival more expensive brands in quality and functionality. 

“I always go with LaCrosse Boots for rain/muck boots. They are more affordable than many brands, comfortable, and have good traction in the field. I do always end up in men’s though because I prefer the taller boot. I am on my second pair and have just over a decade in fieldwork, so they have lasted me a long time.”


Snow and Cold Wet Weather


Salomon Women’s Toundra Pro CSWP W Snow
Recommended For
: Warmth; Superior Traction
Cost: $200

Planning to work in extremely cold weather? Long days in snow and ice can be absolutely miserable and downright dangerous without good gear. Toundras are Salomon’s warmest boots and are rated to -40 degrees F. Happy users report that this boot provides unbeatable traction on snow and ice. 

“I have been buying Salomon boots and trainers for over 10 years. I buy a new pair of boots every year and have tried nearly every style customized for my line of work ie the most heavy-duty, yet lightweight, waterproof and warm in the most extreme conditions. These boots are by far the best.”


Asolo TPS 520 GV EVO
Recommended For:
Durability, Multi-season
Cost: $330

Though not made exclusively for the snow, the Asolo TPS 520 is highly recommended by outdoor professionals as a great multi-season working boot. With its one-piece water-resistant full-grain leather upper this boot provides long-lasting durability. Users say that pairing this boot with a solid pair of wool socks will keep your feet happy through the winter.

“Rare find, wear them every day and also the previous pair that took me 10 years to wear out. I’ve put in a thousand miles in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and others. Asolo was with me every step. Can’t say enough about them.”


Danner Mountain 600 4.5′ Hiking Boot
Recommended For:
Lightweight; Comfort
Cost: $200

The Danner Mountain 600 provides all the comfort, warmth and durability of a winter boot without weighing you down. Tested by professionals in the field, this boot when paired with wool socks will keep your toes toasty without compromising your ability to remain comfortable on the move. 

“Danner has the best boots!! I have the women’s mountain 600 and I’ve never owned a pair that was so light and comfy!! I’ve owned Columbia, Keen, and Merrell and these are by far the best I’ve owned. Worth the price!”

Irish Setter 

Irish Setter Men’s Ravine Waterproof Hiking Boot
Recommended For:
Narrow Feet (though a wide version is offered)
Cost: $170

The Irish Setter Ravine boot boasts innovative BOA lacing technology that makes it easy to take them on and off in cold and wet environments. Users rave about their comfort, moisture-wicking ability and durability. 

“Irish Setter makes a great women’s hiking boot that’s waterproof and has a neat BOA lace system that keeps one from having to tie/untie frozen/muddy laces (and they’ll send you a free replacement lace kit if they break). I’ve had them as my go-to winter boots for the better part of three years now and love them!”


Alyson Morris is the Communications Specialist for CJB Network and writes on environmental career development. She is a graduate student at the University of Oregon and is pursuing her Master’s in Strategic Communication.


Environmental Careers

Career Spotlight: How Conservation Districts Protect Natural Resources

In almost every county in the United States you can find a local conservation district.  

Depending on where you live these organizations can go by different names, but they all operate with a similar purpose – to conserve natural resources and promote a healthy environment.

In this article, we review in detail what exactly conservation districts do and what career opportunities they offer. 


Common Names
»  Conservation District
»  Natural Resource Conservation District
»  Land Conservation Department
»  Natural Resource District
»  Resource Conservation District
»  Soil Conservation District
»  Soil and Water Conservation District


What are Conservation District Careers?

Every year thousands of people in the United States graduate from college with degrees in natural resource management, environmental science, agriculture and related fields.

A much larger number of people are looking for jobs related to natural resource conservation and sustainable agriculture. 

Conservation districts provide career opportunities to do this important work. 

Career focus areas include:

  • Education and Outreach
  • Soil and Agriculture
  • Forest Health and Wildfires
  • Wildlife Habitat
  • Invasive Species Removal
  • Water Use and Quality
  • Urban Environment

What is a Conservation District?

Conservation Districts (CDs) serve as local units of government across the United States.

Each CD operates within an individual county partnering with other organizations and private landowners to address natural resource issues.

Districts work directly with cooperating landowners in their region to help manage and protect land and water resources. 

They are the heart of what nourishes and sustains our country.

Why are Conservation Districts Important?

Around 60 percent of the land in the US is privately owned. That’s a lot of land!

The health of our environment depends on how private landowners manage natural resources.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Best practices for managing a property depend on local ecology and community needs. 

This is why nearly 3,000 Conservation Districts exist today. Each one employs specialized experts to suit the needs of their community. 

A Brief History of Conservation Districts

Early farmland cultivation did not include practices to ensure the long-term health of the soil. As a result, nutrients were depleted, deep-rooted plants were removed and the soil’s ability to maintain moisture was lost. 

When a horrendous drought hit south-central United States in the 1930s, up to 70% of topsoil, in some places, simply blew away. The resulting massive airborne dust clouds or “black blizzards” characterized the historic Dust Bowl. 

In an effort to rebuild soil foundation and improve the sustainability of precious resources, President Roosevelt developed legislation establishing conservation districts.

The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself” – Franklin Roosevelt

Early CD efforts focused on soil health and included crop rotation, contour plowing and terracing practices. Today CD’s work more holistically and specialize in many areas of conservation. 


Definition: Terracing is a soil conservation practice applied to prevent rainfall runoff on sloping land from accumulating and causing serious erosion. Terraces consist of ridges and channels constructed across-the-slope.


What Conservation Districts Do?

Conservation districts develop resource programs relevant to the needs of the community and local ecosystems.

Education & Outreach

Through education and outreach, district staff teach people of all ages about their local resources and conservation.

District education programs like classroom presentations, workshops and field days, help people develop skills to creatively solve conservation problems on their land and in their community. 

Education and outreach efforts cover a variety of topics including the core areas mentioned below.

Soil & Agriculture

Conservation districts deliver tools and programs to strengthen farmland preservation, soil health, and agricultural economies. 

They also conduct research on crop rotation, cover crops and no-or minimum tillage systems. 

These practices help landowners increase organic content in topsoils and reduce erosion. They also benefit the local environment by keeping the air clean, decreasing flooding, and reducing sediment runoff.

Project Example: The San Mateo Resource Conservation District, in California runs a Good Earth Project, to improve soil health and restore habitat. Efforts include removal of the invasive Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus on the ranchlands in Pescadero and conversion of the tree into soil amendments.

Forest Health & Wildfires

Conservation districts provide technical and financial assistance to small landowners to plan and implement forest conservation projects. Restoration projects and conservation easements facilitate the recovery of threatened and endangered species. They also enhance carbon sequestration. 

Additionally, CD’s develop and implement comprehensive forest management plans and hazardous fuels reduction projects. This helps communities protect life, property, and critical infrastructure.

Specialists help landowners secure federal funding for hazardous fuels reduction treatments, equipment for wildland fire suppression and public outreach.

Project Example: The Trinity County Resource Conservation District in California manages a number of Fuels Reduction Projects that strategically remove certain vegetation by hand, machine or using prescribed burns. In the Oregon Mountain area of Northern California, these projects have reduced over 50 acres of fuel.

Wildlife Habitat

Privately owned farms, ranches and forests provide much of the habitat for wildlife in the US. For more than 70 years, conservation districts have worked with landowners and communities to restore habitat, improve water quality, and protect vital wildlife resources. These actions benefit not only wildlife but landowners, producers, hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts. 

CD’s often provide funding, technical resources and even manual labor to help implement conservation projects. 

Project Example: The Snohomish Conservation District in Washington State runs a Habitat Restoration Program to help landowners manage natural resource challenges on their property while improving habitat for local wildlife. The Polestar Farm added native plants to streambanks and removed damaged culverts with the help of the district.

Invasive Species Removal

Invasive species or noxious weeds negatively impact native species, and habitats while compromising the integrity of ecosystems, and local economies. CDs help landowners make responsible weed management decisions and provide tips, tools and support for removal projects.

Conservation district partnerships can help address gaps in management. Invasive weeds don’t pay attention to property lines. Public land managers will often treat a weed only for it to be re-infested by a neighboring property on private land. Conservation districts can step in and work with private landowners to address this challenge.”

– Lindsey Karr, Invasive Plant Specialist, Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District, Oregon

Project Example: The Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District in Oregon is currently working on a Goatsrue Eradication Project. The noxious weed is toxic to livestock and spreads voraciously. The District is working to remove over 14 infested acres, the largest concentration in the state.

Water Use & Quality

Conservation districts provide landowners with the tools they need to protect water from sediment runoff, nutrients and other contaminants. District staff work to prevent and mitigate the effects of drought, advance the restoration of dams and reservoirs and improve the management of stormwater.

“Currently in Monroe County, PA we are focusing our efforts on improving water quality research and updating the county’s Act 167 Stormwater Management Plan. Through our partnerships with other state and local agencies we endeavor to make changes that have real impacts in our communities. On an average day you can find our staff inspecting active construction sites to ensure environmental compliance, educating children about the natural world, or assisting watershed volunteers in planting a streamside riparian buffer to improve water quality.”

Kristina Heaney, District Manager Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District – Pennsylvania

Example Project: The Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District in Pennsylvania is working on a new model for stormwater management in their region. The new model will implement more nonstructural water control measures like floodplains.

Urban Environment

Conservation districts also provide technical and educational assistance to urban property owners and communities. A variety of projects help protect and improve the urban environment. Some examples are listed below:

  Rain gardens

♦  Tree planting and management

♦  Green roofs

♦  Invasive species management

♦  Impervious surface removal

♦  Stormwater management

♦  Permeable pavement installation

♦  Small acreage farming

♦  Soil interpretation-protection

♦  Urban erosion and sediment control

♦  Rainwater harvesting

♦  Bioretention


Definition: Bioretention removes contaminants and sedimentation from stormwater runoff by using organic filters like grass buffer strips, sand beds, and ponding areas.


Example Project: The Summit Soil and Water Conservation District in Ohio runs a Backyard Conservation program to help community members start composts, implement rain gardens and understand how their own backyard can support the greater ecosystem. 

Organizational Roles

Now that we have reviewed what conservation districts do, let’s look at the staff positions that conduct this critically important work. 

While job titles and responsibilities can vary by organization, we outline some common roles. 

If you are interested in working for a district, this will show you the types of positions available and a typical career pathway.

“At Sonoma RCD, we have the privilege of supporting conservation and resilience efforts in one of the most beautiful and ecologically-rich places in the world. We do this by working with people, and that’s what makes our team special: they are individuals with strong technical backgrounds who at the same time are wholeheartedly dedicated to helping the people in our community. It’s a special mix, and it makes our jobs very rewarding!”

– Valarie Minton Quinto Executive Director, Sonoma Resource Conservation District – California


Role: Technicians work in both the office and outdoors. In the field, they measure and collect resource data – sometimes under harsh conditions. Technicians perform site visits, interact with landowners and provide technical support. These positions are often an entry point for early-stage professionals with a BS degree with an environmental, geographic, or agricultural major. 

Education & Outreach Specialist

Role: This position helps organize and implement outreach efforts to promote district programs and projects. They build public awareness and understanding of natural resource issues. Tasks could include organizing workshops, developing and implementing outreach initiatives, and creating educational and outreach materials like brochures and newsletters. Staff in these positions often have an environmental background and experience in education or communications.

Resource Specialist

Role: Resource Specialists (also called conservation planners, specialists, coordinators or associates) provide technical assistance and work one-on-one with individual landowners. Many are certified by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service during on-the-job training. This certification training is valuable to both the employee and the district they serve as it enables them to teach, develop and implement the best conservation practices. The specialist evaluates natural resources (soil, water, animal, plant, wildlife, and cultural resources) and develops creative solutions. 

Program Manager

Role: In general, CD’s assign a program manager to each conservation focus area. These professionals manage a team of specialists, schedule projects, create budgets and craft work plans for their area of expertise. Another important role of the program manager is to secure project funding. Program Managers often have 5+ years of experience in conservation and a Master’s degree in a relevant field. 

Executive Director

Role: As the leader and public face of a community conservation district, the executive director supervises the technical and support staff. Reporting to the district board of directors, the executive director helps set the vision and strategy of the organization while overseeing the financial management and establishing key partnerships. Executive directors often have many years of experience in the conservation field and an advanced degree.

“What I like most about working for a Soil and Water Conservation District is the ability to work with local landowners and government to make an immediate difference for the quality and sustainability of our natural resources. Much of our work still takes years to see progress but you still get those opportunities to work with a willing landowner or agency and implement something that makes a difference for our future.”

-Jennifer Fish, Director of Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District (Columbus, OH)


Alyson Morris is the Communications Specialist for CJB Network and writes on environmental career development. She is a graduate student at the University of Oregon and is pursuing her Master’s in Strategic Communication.


Career Advice Environmental Careers Skill Building

8 Ideas To Boost Your Environmental Career

If you are pursuing an environmental career, it can be daunting to think about the future. Navigating the job market these days can be overwhelming and incredibly frustrating.

A worrisome “Catch 22” conundrum greets most people at stepping stone number one of an environmental career path. You need experience to get an entry-level position, but you need an entry-level position to gain experience. It can be disheartening.

But don’t lose hope – especially if you have some free time. There are various steps you can take now to improve your chances of getting that first position. Even if you have cleared the first employment hurdle and you already have your foot (or leg or torso) in the door, it never hurts to build your skills and knowledge.

The term “environmental careers” refers to a vast umbrella of opportunities that extend widely across multiple disciplines. You may or may not have an idea of where you are headed. And that itself can complicate your job search (not to mention add to your anxiety). But thankfully, the ideas in this article can also help you figure out (and confirm) your career path – which is great because this is one of the most helpful things you can do. 


Check out our list of ideas for how you can advance your environmental career now.

1. Conduct Informational Interviews

If you can define “your dream job” or even just “a great job” you have taken an important step. From there you can define a step-by-step career pathway to arrive at your dream job. It can be difficult to figure this out on your own. So just ask someone who has already done it.

If you are interested in a specific position (or area of research for graduate school), do a little digging and find people who already do that work. Then reach out to them. You can find people through organizations or labs related to your interests. You can also reach out to people through Facebook professional groups in fields like the career networks in wildlife science and marine biology.

If you have a lot of dream jobs, talk to a lot of people. These discussions may also help you narrow down your interests.

Conducting an interview may sound scary. But face your fear! No one can tell you about a field better than a person who is living it. Simply put, informational interviews are one of the best ways to get real answers about what it takes to get to where you want to go. 

2. Volunteer Somewhere

Volunteering can be a helpful step for people who are interested in an environmental career but lack the education and skills to get an entry level or seasonal job. Volunteering is a great way to gain some technical and specialized skills that you might need for these jobs but don’t have.

But more importantly, volunteering can help you gain important insight into a career.

See if you actually want to do it. Reality is often different from our perceptions. Volunteering can help you decide if a career path is really right for you (before you spend years in school preparing for it).

If you look around in your area, you will likely find environmental organizations and university research labs that have low-intensity opportunities for you to help with a project 5 or 10 hours per week.

If you are looking for something higher intensity, then organizations like conservation corps offer longer term, full time volunteer opportunities that include some financial and educational benefits.

3. Learn GIS

Geographic Information Systems. It is one of the most useful tools for environmental and conservation work.

It allows you to make sense of mountains of data. Much of environmental work is intrinsically linked to space (as in spatial position, not stars and planets and stuff… leave that to the astronomers), which makes GIS invaluable to many projects. It’s also an invaluable addition to your resume.

If you have time, you can learn GIS or build your skills if you have a background in it. Luckily, a multitude of online resources can help you accomplish this. Courses range from beginner to expert and from free to not-so-free.

Free GIS Resources 

Esri is a great place to start. 

Paid Courses and Certificate Programs

Certificate programs are a series of courses. They can provide a deeper education in GIS than individual online resources. They cost money – sometimes a lot of money –  but they lead to an official certification that you can showcase on your resume.

Here’s a relatively inexpensive certification program (offered by UC Davis) through Coursera. 

4. Build Your Specialized Skills

Ecology teaches us that specialization can lead to tremendous success. And there are many careers under the environmental umbrella that utilize very specialized skills.

Data Science Programs

For example, much of environmental work exists in the realm of science and data. R and Python are the 2 most widely used programs. You can spend 10 summers measuring tree trunks in Guatemala. But it won’t mean anything to anyone unless you can properly analyze all those carefully collected numbers. 

But learning R or Python requires learning a new language. The language of programming. And this requires time and study. But, like GIS, there are numerous courses online to choose from. Datacamp has courses in all the major data science programs, and you can find courses on Coursera (R, Python) as well.

Scientific Illustration

If you’re artistically inclined or have amazing attention for detail, scientific illustration might interest you. Though photography and videos are robust tools, there are still limitations. Scientific illustrators use art to help us visualize concepts and objects that are beyond the scope of the eyeball.

EdX offers this online course. There is a free audit option or an affordable certificate. You can also find internships or and graduate certificate programs at various universities and institutions. Like CSU Monterey Bay, California Academy of Sciences or University of Washington.

Capture-Mark-Recapture (CMR)

Learning CMR can boost your resume tremendously for wildlife-related jobs. Scientists use CRM to estimate wildlife populations. This data helps us assess the health of ecosystems so we can create sound management plans and policy.

CMR is not widely taught. But if you want to work in the wildlife profession, learning this specialized skill could help your career. This online course can help you learn the basics.

5. Read Journal Articles

Reading scientific journal articles on a daily basis can be a great way to increase your knowledge and broaden your understanding of the field.  Everyday, scientific journals in your field of interest are publishing articles with new research findings and ideas. 

When you read journal articles, it can help you in many ways. It can better inform you for school, interviews or jobs. It can broaden your understanding of your field which can help you develop your career path and research interests – it may even open your eyes to areas of your field that you didn’t know existed.

Reading journal articles is a great way to explore the possibilities of graduate school.

When you find an article that especially piques your interest, you can explore more articles through the references. This can be a great way to find research labs for graduate school. You can email study authors to ask questions about the study.

So how do you find journal articles to read? You can start off with the leading scientific journals in your area of interest (ask around if you need recommendations). If you don’t have library access to articles, you may want to select open-source options. Then, bookmark their table of contents webpages that show new articles each day as they are approved (or follow them in a reader application).  For example, here is the table of contents page for the journal Ecology. Then each day, check in and review the new abstracts. When you find an interesting abstract, add the full article link to your “To Read List.” Try the “30 Articles in 30 Days Challenge.” Make reading journal articles a “habit”.

6. Attend Conferences

You don’t have to be at the forefront of your field to attend a conference. They are great opportunities for you to learn and stay updated about current research and professional developments. 

Learning is a key goal here. But the connections you make at conferences can be just as valuable. It’s much easier to network when you have multiple people you want to connect with – all in the same spot.

Unfortunately, during COVID, these opportunities are limited. But they are not gone completely. Many of these events have moved to online platforms. You won’t be in the same physical space as these folks. But you can still work the virtual room to build your network.

WASET and Conference Next are great resources for finding conferences in different disciplines. There are many databases like these online. You can also find events by talking to people in your field. Ask a biologist friend or your ecology professor if they’ve got any conferences on their calendar. And maybe tag along… 

7. Participate in Citizen Science

Citizen science projects are scientific research studies in which “ordinary” people are helping with the data collection.

These are great opportunities to practice and learn all kinds of valuable skills.

Among other things, you can assist with data entry, identify different organisms, or identify individual animals. You can get exposure to different aspects of science through these projects.

Zooniverse is great because it’s easy to browse specific topics and find an array of interesting studies. You can use the vast list to find things that really interest you. There’s a huge variety. 

Find studies like SquirrelMapper, which tracks the selection for specific color morphs in your favorite rodent. Or Aurora Zoo, which looks at the tiniest shapes within the aurora borealis to better understand our atmosphere.

Citizen science projects can be powerful. Entirely new species have been discovered with crowdsourced science! It can help your career and it also feels really good to contribute. iNaturalist and eBird are other popular citizen science sites.

8. Practice Your Naturalist Skills

Seriously. Just go outside and remember why you wanted to get into this field. 

Learn about the natural history of your area. Go on a walk and bring a field guide. Find a Nature Mystery and work to solve it. Keep a nature journal. Practice plant ID. Look closely at the rocks. Learn bird language. Practice tracking. Get connected.

So often, as we move forward in our careers, we narrow our focus to the specifics of our niche. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There is a lot of value in building expertise on a subject.

But backing up and remembering to look at the big picture will help you combat tunnel vision.

And it has the potential to invite epiphany in your own field. One of the major points we learn in our ecological and environmental classes is that everything is connected. 

So pay attention to all of your surroundings and you just might discover those connections.