A water conservationist collects water samples in a bucket

A soil and water conservationist could...

Advise farmers on how to rotate different crops to avoid depleting the soil of nutrients and to conserve water. Two men look at a laptop in the middle of a crop field Travel to areas that are experiencing erosion and develop plans to control it. Two conservationists measure mud patches in a crop field
Advise landowners on ways in which they can safely use their land for recreation, without degrading its quality. A person walks along a wooden pathway through a forest Help ranchers determine the number and kinds of animals to graze, and during what seasons to graze them. A man sits on a horse next to a herd of cattle
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Soil and water are two of Earth's most important natural resources. Earth would not be able to sustain life without nutritive soil to grow food and clean water to drink. Soil and water conservationists foster the science and art of natural resource conservation. The scientists work to discover, develop, implement, and constantly improve ways to use land that sustains its productive capacity, and enhances the environment at the same time. Soil and water conservationists are involved in improving conservation policy by bringing science and professional judgment to bear in shaping local, state, and federal policy.
Key Requirements An interest in social and environmental issues, critical thinking, deductive reasoning, the ability to speak clearly and convincingly on important issues, active listening skills
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, algebra, algebra II, calculus, statistics, English
Median Salary
Soil and Water Conservationist
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)
Interview Read this interview with Kate Zultner, a coastal planning specialist.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Conservation scientist jobs require a bachelor's degree. Research and teaching positions usually need a graduate degree. To work in certain areas of conservation might require a professional license.

Education and Training

Conservation scientists generally have at least a bachelor's degree in fields such as ecology, natural resource management, agriculture, biology, or environmental science. A master's degree or PhD is usually required for teaching and research positions.

Very few colleges and universities offer degrees in soil conservation. Most soil conservationists have degrees in environmental studies, agronomy, general agriculture, hydrology, or crop or soil science; a few have degrees in related fields such as wildlife biology, forestry, and range management. Programs of study usually include 30 semester hours in natural resources or agriculture, including at least 3 hours in soil science.

Other Qualifications

Conservation scientists usually enjoy working outdoors, are able to tolerate extensive walking and other types of physical exertion, and are willing to relocate to find work. They also must work well with people and have good communication skills.

Nature of the Work

Forests and rangelands supply wood products, livestock forage, minerals, and water. They serve as sites for recreational activities and provide habitats for wildlife. Conservation scientists help to protect our national resources. Most conservation work falls into one of two categories: conservation science focusing on range lands and conservation science focusing on farming and soil.

Watch this video to learn more about the responsibilities of a soil conservationist. A soil conservationist is part scientist, part educator, and part environmentalist.

Conservation scientists manage, improve, and protect the country's natural resources. They work with landowners and Federal, State, and local governments to devise ways to use and improve the land while safeguarding the environment. Conservation scientists mainly advise farmers, farm managers, and ranchers on how they can improve their land for agricultural purposes and to control erosion. A growing number of conservation scientists are also advising landowners and governments on recreational uses for the land.

Soil and water conservationists provide technical assistance to farmers, ranchers, forest managers, State and local agencies, and others concerned with the conservation of soil, water, and related natural resources. They develop programs for private landowners designed to make the most productive use of land without damaging it. Soil conservationists also assist landowners by visiting areas with erosion problems, finding the source of the problem, and helping landowners and managers develop management practices to combat it. Water conservationists also assist private landowners and federal, state, and local governments by advising on water quality, preserving water supplies, groundwater contamination, and management and conservation of water resources.

Work Environment

Working conditions vary considerably. Some conservation scientists work regular hours in offices or labs, but others may split their time between fieldwork and office work. Independent consultants and new, less experienced workers spend the majority of their time outdoors overseeing or participating in hands-on work. Fieldwork can involve long hours alone.

The work can be physically demanding. Some conservation scientists work outdoors in all types of weather, sometimes in isolated areas, and consequently may need to walk long distances through densely wooded land to carry out their work. Natural disasters may also cause conservation scientists to work long hours during emergencies. For example, conservation scientists often are called to prevent erosion after a forest fire and to provide emergency help after floods, mudslides, and tropical storms.

On the Job

  • Develop and maintain working relationships with local government staff and board members.
  • Apply principles of specialized fields of science, such as agronomy, soil science, forestry, or agriculture, to achieve conservation objectives.
  • Advise land users, such as farmers and ranchers, on conservation plans, problems and alternative solutions, and provide technical and planning assistance.
  • Plan soil management and conservation practices, such as crop rotation, reforestation, permanent vegetation, contour plowing, or terracing, to maintain soil and conserve water.
  • Visit areas affected by erosion problems to seek sources and solutions.
  • Monitor projects during and after construction to ensure projects conform to design specifications.
  • Compute design specifications for implementation of conservation practices, using survey and field information technical guides, engineering manuals, and calculators.
  • Revisit land users to view implemented land use practices and plans.
  • Coordinate and implement technical, financial, and administrative assistance programs for local government units to ensure efficient program implementation and timely responses to requests for assistance.
  • Analyze results of investigations to determine measures needed to maintain or restore proper soil management.
  • Participate on work teams to plan, develop, and implement water and land management programs and policies.
  • Develop, conduct, or participate in surveys, studies, and investigations of various land uses, gathering information for use in developing corrective action plans.
  • Survey property to mark locations and measurements, using surveying instruments.
  • Compute cost estimates of different conservation practices, based on needs of land users, maintenance requirements, and life expectancy of practices.
  • Provide information, knowledge, expertise, and training to government agencies at all levels to solve water and soil management problems and to assure coordination of resource protection activities.
  • Respond to complaints and questions on wetland jurisdiction, providing information and clarification.
  • Initiate, schedule, and conduct annual audits and compliance checks of program implementation by local government.
  • Compile and interpret wetland biodata to determine extent and type of wetland and to aid in program formulation.
  • Manage field offices and involve staff in cooperative ventures.
  • Review and approve amendments to comprehensive local water plans and conservation district plans.
  • Review proposed wetland restoration easements and provide technical recommendations.
  • Review grant applications and make funding recommendations.
  • Conduct fact finding and mediation sessions among government units, landowners, and other agencies to resolve disputes.
  • Review annual reports of counties, conservation districts, and watershed management organizations, certifying compliance with mandated reporting requirements.
  • Provide access to programs and training to assist in completion of government groundwater protection plans.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Soil and Water Conservationists

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

Science Fair Project Idea
Soil erosion can cost the world billions of dollars every year by washing pollutants into our streams and rivers and by causing the loss of farmland. What can you do about this problem? Help save the world (and some money!) with nothing more than a few plants! Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Water is a valuable resource, and water shortages are a serious problem in many parts of the world. The problem can be made worse by people who waste water; for example, by watering a garden or using sprinklers on their lawn (or a farmer taking care of an entire field) when it has rained recently or the soil is already moist. How can you help conserve water and prevent such waste? One way is to build an electronic soil moisture sensor. This project will show you how to build a circuit that… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever seen a river from far above? It is fascinating how they carve their way through the landscape. But what makes the water in a river flow? Where does a river start and end? And why is it that rivers usually have lots of turns or bends and almost never flow straight? In this science project, you will make river models using aluminum foil and water to explore how water flow inside a river changes based on its shape. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever left your bike outside in the rain? If so, you might have discovered unpleasant surprises afterwards—reddish-brown patches, known as rust, and your wheels, brakes, and gears might have stopped working so smoothly. In this chemistry science fair project, you'll learn why rust, a type of corrosion, is a serious problem. You'll also discover that not all rains are the same! Find out which ones can speed up the rusting process. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you or your family have a lawn, garden, or potted plants that you water regularly? Irrigation—or the artificial application of water to plants and landscaping—accounts for over two-thirds of the world's freshwater consumption (U.S. Geological Survey, 2016)! While that total includes farms, in the United States landscape irrigation still accounts for almost one-third of residential water use. As much as half of that water is wasted due to inefficient watering methods (WaterSense,… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever wondered why a plant that grows well in one environment may not survive in a different environment? For example, plants that grow well in a wet jungle would probably not do so well in a dry desert, lacking enough water. This is because plants have adapted to their specific environment. Some plants have even adapted to tolerate chemicals that would usually be toxic, such as various heavy metals. In this plant biology science project, you will investigate whether different… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Did you know that soils can be alkaline, neutral, or acidic? Most plants grow best in soil near neutral pH, but some plants prefer slightly acidic and others slightly alkaline soil. What is the pH of the soil in your garden? What happens to the pH of water that comes in contact with soil? In this science project you will get to find out. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Living in the industrialized world, like the United States, we are fortunate because we don't have to worry about the quality of our drinking water. Your community has the means to clean and provide water to you. But in many parts of the world, people don't have this luxury. Whether it is due to war or poverty, the lack of clean water leads to many health and social problems. In this environmental engineering science project, you will learn about different methods to filter out impurities in… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
One way to conserve water is to find safe ways to use it more than once. Here is a project to test whether greywater (water that has been used for washing or bathing) can be used for watering ornamental plants. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you know that many consumer products, such as sports clothes, cosmetics, and even food containers contain tiny silver particles? These so-called nanoparticles—usually 1–100 nanometers (a billionth of a meter) in size—are toxic to bacteria and fungi and therefore, are used to prevent them from growing on everyday items you use. But what happens if the silver nanoparticles get into the water; for example, when you wash off your makeup or clean your clothes? Do they… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
How much water do you use? Conserving water can do more than save your parents' money, it can also save freshwater ecosystems, wetlands, and watersheds. Some companies are trying to help fix the problem by making low flow faucets and showerheads. How well do they work? How much water can you save? Go to the hardware store to buy a few of the water saving products. Compare the amount of water that you run over a period of time to determine how much water you can save. Which water saving… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Landslides are powerful geological events that happen suddenly, causing fear in people who live in areas with unstable hills, slopes, and cliff sides. Landslides damage the surrounding habitat and can destroy homes in their path. But what causes landslides? Can slides happen on any slope, or do slopes have to have certain characteristics, such as a steep angle and a specific material mass? In this geology science project, you will learn about the different types of landslides and the… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever had fun playing with sand and water, observing how little rivers you create carve their way down to the lowest point of the sandbox, backyard or beach? Some meander, others braid, and some carve a path straight down. Hyrdologists (or scientists who study water) do very much the same thing! Only they set up the model in a particular way, so observing their mini-rivers helps them answer questions about how water flow affects the environment. In this geology science project, you… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Here is an interesting project that could be approached from several different scientific angles: Environmental Science, Weather & Atmosphere, Chemistry, or Plant Biology. You can probably think of your own variations to emphasize the scientific area that most interests you. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Every day farmers around the world apply commercial fertilizer to their fruits and vegetables to improve plant health and yield. But applying commercial fertilizer is expensive and not economically possible for some farmers in developing countries. What if they could find a way to fertilize plants cheaply? It turns out that human urine is rich in the nutrients that plants need to grow. Could urine serve as a fertilizer substitute? Find out for yourself in this plant growth science project. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Most of us live in areas where sources of water exist nearby as oceans, rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, reservoirs, wells, or even underground streams. But in some places, like the desert, water is hard to find and a precious resource. In this environmental engineering science project, you will investigate one way that people living in arid regions can collect water inexpensively: dew traps. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
This project is inspired by the Banaue Rice Terraces, 2,000 year old structures carved into mountainsides in the Philippines. See if you can recreate the water flow of this ancient marvel, often called the Eighth Wonder of the World, using just household materials! The 2017 Fluor Engineering Challenge is over but you can still try out the project and compare your design to the high scores, or use the idea for a science fair or classroom activity. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
What happens to the food leftovers in your home? Do they go in the trash? Down the garbage disposal? Or get gobbled up by the family dog? Food leftovers are a type of organic waste, a waste that comes from a plant or animal. Organic waste—like table scraps, agricultural waste, and human and animal waste—is biodegradable. This means, it can be chemically broken down by bacteria, fungi, or other living organisms into very small parts. Figure 1. This… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you have any great-grandparents who lived through the Great Depression in the United States during the 1930's? If so, they might have stories to tell about terrible dust storms that blackened the skies, from the Midwest to the east coast. Severe drought was a factor in causing this "Dust Bowl" era, but decades of poor farming practices contributed to it, too. In this environmental science fair project, you'll learn about farming methods that help keep dirt from drying up into dust, and help… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Some plants grow only in water-logged environments. These plants are usually native to wetlands and are important for the sustainability of aquatic ecosystems. Wetland ecosystems are very fragile and susceptible to the toxic dumping of sewage and fertilizer run-off from neighboring farm land. One very common aquatic plant called duckweed inhabits many wetland marshes. Duckweed grows by asexual reproduction and floats at the surface of the water with tiny roots extending into the water below.… Read more

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