The median pay for just about any type of conservationist with a bachelor's degree working in both the public and private sectors is about $50k per year. However, wages can vary a lot, depending on the type of employer and your level of education and experience. Those in the federal government may make an average of $70k a year, while those in state or local government might be closer to $50k. If you're working for a botanic garden like our friend Rustle, with the host of extra responsibilities you have (managing, hiring, firing, dealing with the Board of Directors), you may earn more, up to $85k-$90k a year.
Of course, you could end up being the "one percent" that the politicians love to talk about (and not admit they live there—and comfortably so). Those top earners make more than $343k a year. Can going into a field that promotes preservation and awareness of nature and natural resources get you into the exclusive club?
Take Michael Pollan, one of the best-known modern naturalist/conservationists in the world. He's made a sizable fortune writing about food, where it comes from, and the culture we’ve built around it. His books (Food Rules, Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food) have sold millions upon millions of copies; he created the Oscar-nominated documentary Food Inc.; he's appeared on Oprah; and he's been the subject of articles in the New York Times magazine, Time magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. While his worth isn’t available for public scrutiny, it’s a good bet that he makes more than $90k a year.
Maybe you could find that kind of monetary and social success by finding the cure for malaria; that it was right there all along, ironically, in the brackish water that breeds mosquitos. Maybe Bill Gates will decide not to give away all his billions before he dies but save some for you personally. Or perhaps you'll be hired as Oprah's personal conservationist as she changes her focus to putting a stop to the scourge of global warming and skinny jeans.
Please. Make it stop.
But for the very large majority of folks, this isn't a career where you’re going to get filthy rich quickly (or, frankly, slowly, either). This is one of those professions that's a labor of love, whether for animals, the land, people's health, or anything else in the physical world on which you'd like to make an impact.