Park Naturalists: Job Duties & Career Requirements

Park naturalists help the public understand the historic, natural and scientific significance of parks. They determine how best to plan, organize and direct programs whether through verbal presentations, practical demonstrations or interactive programs. Read on to learn more about this profession.

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Career Definition

The goal of a park naturalist is to generate interest in the environment and natural world. Park naturalists do this by highlighting historical, ecological or scientific features of outdoor surroundings by organizing nature walks, camping trips, crafts or outdoor skills. Many visit local classrooms to introduce children to the outdoors and teach them of its importance.

Becoming a Park Naturalist

Required Education

Knowledge of the principles of natural history is required to be an informed park naturalist. Most positions require a bachelor's degree in environmental education or wildlife biology and include coursework such as environmental science, ecology, vegetation and earth science. Typically those hired on a full-time basis begin as a volunteer or seasonal worker according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Skills Required

A love for the environment and the ability to share that passion and knowledge with the public is the main skill required for a career as a park naturalist. It's crucial to feel comfortable making presentations, giving lectures and leading tours. Key to success as a park naturalist is an ability to identify and describe points of interests to groups in a way that will hold their interest, which is why teaching experience is also recommended.

Career and Economic Outlook

Jobs in this field are highly coveted despite their relatively low wages due to the flexibility, diversity, outdoor work environment and constant challenges and rewards. Those holding the position should be prepared to work weekends, evenings and holidays. Most park naturalists pursue this line of work for the love of nature, not money. The job outlook and pay will largely depend on the level of specialized training in environmental science, forestry, or conservation techniques.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that, as of May 2012, trained foresters brought in a median annual income of $55,950, while conservation scientists earned $61,100, and environmental science and protection technicians took home a median of $41,240 yearly. There is slower than average job growth of 3% expected for foresters and conservation scientists over the 2012-2022 decade, but environmental science and protection technicians are predicted to see faster-than-average growth of 19%.

Alternate Career Options

Forest and Conservation Worker

With a high school diploma or its equivalent, in addition to on-the-job training, these workers are supervised by foresters and technicians and work towards maintaining, developing and protecting forests. Slower than average job growth of 4% was predicted by the BLS from 2012-2022, and an annual median salary of $24,340 was reported in 2012.

Firefighter

Those interested in a career as a firefighter should earn a high school diploma and emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. Some locations offer apprenticeships, and extensive on-the-job training is required for all firefighters. Other certifications may also be available, and some individuals start out as volunteer firefighters. In 2012, the BLS revealed a median annual wage of $45,250 for firefighters, but predicted slower than average job growth of 7% from 2012-2022.

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