Conservation Jobs, Explained: What is Conservation, and Which Careers Apply?


Within the wonderful, multifaceted world of green professions, confusion often exists between careers in conservation and those that focus on the environment. While you won’t go wrong with either, it is important to know the difference between the two in order to steer your ecological interests and studies in the right direction. In today’s post, we’ll explain that distinction and offer some practical examples of careers in conservation.  

Conservation vs. Environmentalism

Let’s start with the semantics. According to the National Geographic Society, “the Earth’s natural resources include air, water, soil, minerals, fuels, plants, and animals. Conservation is the practice of caring for these resources so all living things can benefit from them now and in the future.” The primary focus of conservationists, then, is to care for and manage existing resources, with a primary focus on sustaining biological diversity.

Whereas conservation tends to focus on human relationships with nature, environmental science is more concerned with natural processes – how the complicated dynamics of our air, water, and soil interact. A shorthand way of putting it is that those in the environmental sciences study overarching causes, while conservationists focus more on working with the practical effects of those causes. In practice, however, there is a significant degree of overlap between the two areas, as the human factor in environmental processes is clearly very large.

This distinction also plays itself out in programs of study. Environmental science programs are often more interdisciplinary in nature, including courses in math and statistics, science, the humanities, and social sciences such as politics or economics. Conservation programs, meanwhile, are heavier on the sciences and education, although a social-science component is usually present, as well.

Conservation Careers

So what kinds of careers can conservationists look for? Here are just a few:

  • Wildlife Biologist: Wildlife biologists study animal behaviors, determining their roles in ecosystems and their interactions with human beings. The health of a certain animal population may be studied, for example, in terms of pollution and its effect on reproduction rates. Aside from field work, wildlife biologists may also work conducting experiments and research in labs.
  • Horticulturist: If plants are more your thing, then this career may be for you. Horticulturists apply their expertise in plants to designing ecological landscapes; promoting sustainable, pesticide-free growing; managing green spaces; running a nursery or garden center; or advising towns and cities on green practices.    
  • Sustainability Coordinator: Not all conservation jobs are out in nature! Sustainability coordinators are hired by governments, businesses, and other institutions to help them perform their activities in a more sustainable manner. Together with developing, coordinating, and promoting sustainability initiatives, such positions may also include education, research, and reporting.
  • Conservation Scientist: Conservation scientists manage the quality of an area of land, be it a forest or park, rangeland or prairie. They will advise users of the land on best practices, establishing plans for resource management, supervising timber activities to reduce environmental impact, or creating fire-suppression programs.

Conservation careers are as broad and varied as nature itself. And now that you know the distinction between the fields of environmentalism and conservation, you’ll have a better sense of where to direct your interest. Are you a young person-or do you know a young person-who wants to get involved in conservation? Check out our program page for more information on conservation opportunities for ages 15 – 25. And for more ideas on green jobs in general, visit our post on making green your career choice.