Soil and Water Conservationist
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.||Travel to areas that are experiencing erosion and develop plans to control it.|
|Advise landowners on ways in which they can safely use their land for recreation, without degrading its quality.||Help ranchers determine the number and kinds of animals to graze, and during what seasons to graze them.|
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|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)|
|Interview||Read this interview with Kate Zultner, a coastal planning specialist.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
Companies That Hire Soil and Water Conservationists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Toxic Test: Can Plants Be Genetically Resistant to Heavy Metals?
- Can Mulch Reduce Garden Water Requirements?
- Can Plants Stop Soil Erosion?
- Can Water Plants Be Used to Determine Water Quality?
- Do Plants Promote Pesticide Breakdown?
- Dust Busters: How No-Plow Farmers Try to Save Our Soil
- Follow the Flow
- From Contaminated to Clean: How Filtering Can Clean Water
- From Your John to the School Lawn: Is Recycled Water Really Safe?
- Get Rid of Those Leftovers: How Much Organic Waste Can Composting Worms Eat?
- Getting Carried Away: Measuring Soil Erosion
- Go with the Flow: Model Rivers with Cornmeal, Sand, & Water
- Growing Great Gardens: Using Human Urine as a Fertilizer
- Household Water Usage
- How Can Your Faucet Save Water?
- How Does Soil Affect the pH of Water?
- It's Raining, It's Pouring: Chemical Analysis of Rainwater
- Landscapes and Water Usage
- Landslides: What Causes Rocks to Slide Down a Slope?
- Looking Downstream: Could Nanosilver in Consumer Products Affect Pond Life?
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Soil and Water Conservationist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- BLS. (2016). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2016 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- Sea Grant Marine Careers. (2009.) Profiles in Social & Policy Science: Kate Zultner. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
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