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Careers in Natural Sciences and Conservation

Want a thriving outdoor career? The conservation field needs an inflow of diverse, younger professionals. You can start now by going outdoors and learning on your own. Then get a degree in natural resources. Then take over the jobs being vacated by the Baby Boomers. And that is coming up fast!

From 1980 to 2003, undergraduate enrollment in natural resource programs has fallen, according to research conducted at Utah State University. Interpreting hard statistics prior to 1980 are problematic, says Terry Sharik, a professor at Utah State's College of Natural Resources. But he estimates that if the '70s are factored in, enrollment may have fallen by half.

"We've got to find out why this is happening," he says. "If we don't answer that question, our academic departments and conservationists may soon be seen as irrelevant, if they aren't already seen that way."

Sharik and Charles point to decreased physical involvement of children in nature – and the difficulty conservationists have communicating what they do.

Environmental organizations are also concerned about generational attrition. So is business. The Outdoor Industry Association, which represents hundreds of companies selling everything from backpacks to kayaks, reports healthy sales of upscale products. But sales of traditional entry-level gear are nearly dead in the water. Discouraged by the trend, some companies have decided to drop their entry-level product lines. Thus, worry about the trend may be self-fulfilling.

Government conservation agencies face a similar pattern. Most agencies don't seem to have much of a recruitment problem – yet. That gap will likely occur when the boomers retire. A more immediate concern for the agencies is ethnic diversity, recruiting new workers who represent the changing populations they serve.

SOURCE: Richard Louv, San Diego Union:

But times are changing, and careers are changing as well. Not only do conservationists go out in the field and take readings, but they handle complex computer models, deal with agriculture, weather forecasting, wildlife migration patterns, and more. Bradley Smith, president of the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors and a dean at Western Washington University, predicts exciting new careers for the coming decades, "During the next 40 years we're going to have to do everything differently," he says. From green architecture to organic farming to new alternative energy industries, he foresees an array of exciting careers emerging.

Growing Conservation Careers

Green architecture

Green architecture and housing is a complex field that involves development of new building materials, architectural techniques that maximize conservation of energy, and quality of life planning that covers ideas such as greywater systems, zero-energy homes, living off the grid, and even reviving ancient building techniques such as mud-based building with cob, strawbale and rammed earth techniques. Strawbale building is coming into the mainstream, and it's a matter of months before entire housing developments are build with alternative architectural methods. Solar and passive solar fields are thriving to match the demand for alternative building methods.

Organic farming

Organic agriculture is as diverse as growing cotton and baby food. It is small scale farming as well as large scale hydroponics. The food industry is being significantly changed by consumer preferences for quality food and organic methods. The supply of organic food is struggling to keep up with demand in 2005, and the forecasts are that the demand will continue to grow as people become more chemically sensitive, and aware of their chemical sensitivities.

Alternative energy industries

From biodiesel to hybrid cars, to wind generation and nanotechnology, alternative energy is a growing segment of the energy industry. As oil reserves are depleted, alternative sources will continue to grow.