Careers in Conservation


Opportunities Abound

There is a growing need for professionals who work in conservation, especially around riparian forest buffers. If you have interest and/or experience in the areas below, this may be a good time to pursue education and a career in this area.

Positions range from 1) primarily indoor focused like grant writing, communications and marketing, and program management, 2) hybrid positions split between indoor and outdoor work like doing site designs, meeting with property owners, and volunteer management, to those that are primarily outdoor focused like planting, buffer and landscape maintenance, and growing trees.

Here are some of the jobs available in the field:

  • Arborists and Foresters
  • Engineers
  • Green Infrastructure, Low Impact Development (LID), Stormwater Professionals
  • Grounds Managers and other maintenance professionals
  • Horticulturists
  • Landscape architects and designers
  • Integrated pest management (IPM) technicians or licensed pesticide applicators
  • Landscape contractors and technicians
  • Nutrient management (fertilizer) planners
  • Soil and Environmental Scientists
  • Urban Planners
  • Agricultural and Natural Resources
  • Other Related Professionals
2023 Business of Buffers Report

Within the James River Watershed, existing riparian buffer contractors are seeing an increase in the demand for their services but are struggling to recruit and train the workforce needed to fulfill existing contracts, limiting their capacity to take on more work. In addition, the cost of doing business has risen (materials, fuel, equipment, labor rates), profits have decreased, there aren’t always enough seedlings to meet demand, and there have been disruptions in the supply chain for tree tubes. In 2023, CBLP and JRA organized a Business of Buffers roundtable to inform the following:

  1. Small Business Engagement with Buffer Projects
  2. Ongoing Outreach Activities for the Riparian Consortium
  3. Contractor Capacity Building
  4. Planning and Delivery of Training and Professional Development Workshops

Read the Report to see their findings and recommended actions »

Seed Your Future

The Seed Your Future movement was founded to address a critical issue in the horticulture industry – the lack of enough qualified candidates for all of the open jobs across the art, science, technology and business of plants. Learn more »

Meet the Pros

See highlights from people in the field and hear about their career path.

Are you a conservation professional? Share your story »

Meet Lauren Huey

Director of Environmental Communications at Green Fin Studio

Meet Lindsay Spotts

Upper James River Field Technician at Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Meet David Wise

Watershed Restoration Manager at Stroud Water Research Center

Meet Shereen Hughes

Assistant Director of Wetlands Watch and Virginia CBLP Co-Coordinator

Meet Kelly Snoddy

Senior Conservation Specialist with the Peter Francisco Soil & Water Conservation District

Meet Luke Longanecker

Conservation Programs Manager with the Thomas Jefferson Soil & Water Conservation District

Meet Bill Sweeney

Western Regional Watershed Specialist with the Virginia Dept. of Forestry.

Meet Amber Ellis

Restoration Director with the James River Association.

Early Career, Internships & Volunteering

Whether you are just out of high school, college, or looking for a change in your career path, figuring out how to get your foot in the door can be hard! It’s also a time where you might want to try some things out to see what you like and don’t like. Internships and volunteering are both great options to learn more about the conservation world, meet potential employers, and get your feet wet.

Internships & Fellowships

The James River Stewardship Program offers 12-week positions to support James River riparian buffer maintenance. Internships typically start in late May to late August and recruitment starts in February. More info » 

The Virginia Department of Forestry offers paid summer internships each year. They have entry level jobs that do not require a forestry degree. Many have significant fire-response duties. Careers in Forestry brochure »

The Virginia Cooperative Extension, a Virginia Tech program, offers paid summer internships across the state, primarily in agriculture or 4-H youth development. More info »

The Student Conservation Association offers stipened internships across the country. Reach out to them directly and ask for advice on curating your profile to get matched with an opportunity that is right for you.  More info »

The National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates offer fellowships that can help  if you are looking to get into a Masters program. More info »

The Appalachian Conservation Corps partners with land management agencies and organizations to accomplish critical conservation projects and offers internships and AmeriCorps positions . More info »

The Allegheny Mountain Institute offers tuition-free farm fellowships designed for individuals interested in rural agriculture and sustainable farming. More info »


The Virginia Master Naturalist Training runs intensive volunteer training courses that cover all kinds of ecology topics. Learn more »

Your city may have an active Tree Stewards group. Here are a few from around Virginia:

Join the James River Association and Chesapeake Bay Foundation to plant riparian buffers or become a Riparian Steward to help care for them. Volunteer information »

Continued Learning

Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional (CBLP) Certification

Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional (CBLP) Program is a system of materials and consistent instruction across the region, creating a community of certified professionals to be better stormwater partners and environmental stewards.

Visit the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional website for complete information »


CBLP also offers a series of certificate programs including CBLP-Buffers, a comprehensive riparian buffer training program developed with Pennsylvania partners and members of the James Riparian Consortium.

CBLP-Buffers is taught in 3 sessions, and is comprised of a series of videos, webinars, and in-person field workshops. Field workshops are held in Maryland, Pennsylvania, or Virginia. More info »


Certified Pesticide Applicator

Virginia Dept of Agriculture and Consumer ServicesThe Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services outlines the steps for becoming a commercial applicator or registered technician. Visit the VDACS website for complete information »

Nutrient Management Certification

Virginia Dept of Conservation and RecreationThe Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation offers training to receive nutrient management certification in either an Agriculture or Turf and Landscape category. Visit the VDCR website for complete information »

Sustainable Landscape Design with  Woody Plants Certificate Program

This certificate program will familiarize you with woody plant identification, appropriate plant use, and design and landscape establishment in various human-impacted landscapes. Learn more »

Workshops & Training

There are a variety of workshops and training opportunities for you to build your knowledge of the latest and greatest in conservation practices and emerging needs. Keep an eye on our Consortium Calendar for related events.

Check out the calendar »

Job Opportunities

Rivanna Conservation Alliance is Hiring a Watershed Coordinator

The Watershed Coordinator will be responsible for promoting the health and resilience of the Rivanna River and its watershed by supporting RCA’s water quality restoration and monitoring programs through program planning, coordination, and field work. The level of effort put towards each program, and the specific activities carried out under each, will vary by season and the specific funding sources supporting the position. Water quality restoration work will include projects such as planting and maintaining riparian forest buffers and conservation landscaping, promoting forest health by managing invasive plants, implementing stormwater management practices, and stabilizing and restoring streams. Water quality monitoring work will include sampling streams for E. coli and turbidity, collecting data on stream health through benthic macroinvertebrate sampling, and tracking pollution incidents and sources through chemical sampling.

To read more, or to apply, visit

Rivanna Conservation Alliance is Hiring a River Steward

The River Steward will be responsible for coordinating and implementing RCA’s environmental education, river stewardship, and river outreach and advocacy work. They will engage students of all ages in hands-on watershed education activities; help raise community awareness, concern, and support for the Rivanna River; and lead community members in caring for the river 2 through volunteer stewardship activities. The River Steward will work closely with other RCA staff members, community partners, and volunteers to accomplish their work.

To read more, or to apply, visit

Virginia Tech is Hiring an Associate Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources (Goochland County)

An Associate Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources, provides leadership in determining, implementing, and evaluating educational programs that are designed to solve social, economic, and environmental problems. The agent is an educator, an information provider, a needs assessor, and a problem-solving resource for clientele. The agent networks with the agriculture industry, Extension agents and specialists, and agency representatives.

To read more, or to apply, visit

Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) is Hiring a Plantings for the Piedmont Program Coordinator

The Plantings for the Piedmont Program Coordinator will work on a portfolio of public engagement and natural resource stewardship projects focusing on the enhancement of wildlife habitat and restoration of land and water resources in PEC’s nine-county service area. The Coordinator will work directly with landowners, conservation partners, and contractors to organize and execute riparian restoration and afforestation tree plantings on private and public properties through the Plantings for the Piedmont Program.

To read more, or to apply, visit

Piedmont Environmental Council is Hiring a Public Relations & Media Coordinator

The Public Relations & Media Coordinator will develop and deploy media relations and public relations strategies to elevate PEC’s profile in the Virginia Piedmont region and beyond. Goals of this position include building a network of reliable activists, donors, and members as well as increasing positive awareness of PEC and build support for a full range of programs.

To read more, or to apply, visit

James River Association (JRA) is Hiring a Director of Marketing and Communications

JRA is seeking a full-time Director of Marketing and Communications. This role involves managing marketing strategies, overseeing communications, handling media relations, coordinating outreach, and raising awareness of JRA. Reporting to the President and CEO and working closely with the Senior Digital Marketing Manager, the Director will ensure consistent messaging and branding across all programs and activities.

To read more, or to apply, visit

James River Association (JRA) is Hiring a Grants Coordinator

The James River Association (JRA) is a non-profit organization on a mission to protect the James River and connect people to it. Each year, JRA executes a robust grants program to secure essential funding for JRA programs. This funding is sourced from a diverse array of entities, including family foundations, corporations, private foundations, and governmental agencies. Once grants are secured, they require meticulous administration, which encompasses tracking expenditures, monitoring grant activities against approved budgets, managing invoices, reporting, and overseeing contracts. This position will collaborate with program staff to assist with various aspects of grants management and ensure compliance with funder requirements. JRA is seeking a Grants Coordinator who is passionate about making a difference and is readily able to add value.

To read more, or to apply, visit

James River Association (JRA) is Hiring an Upper James Environmental Educator

In this role, you’ll team up with other JRA staff to organize and develop both existing and new education initiatives. You’ll play a key part in fostering a supportive, positive team environment that values an inclusive, community-focused approach to educational programs. You’ll also assist a seasonal educator in creating and understanding curriculum and educational techniques. Reporting to the Upper James Education Manager and working closely with seasonal educators, you’ll ensure exceptional service to our stakeholders and schools.

We’re looking for someone with excellent communication and interpersonal skills, a passion for environmental education and curriculum development, and a personal interest in the James River.

To read more, or to apply, visit

James River Association (JRA) is Hiring a Seasonal Environmental Educator

The James River Association (JRA) is a non-profit organization on a mission to protect the James River and connect people to it. JRA is excited to announce an opening for an Seasonal Environmental Educator based in Richmond, VA! In this role, you’ll team up with other JRA staff to implement both existing and new education initiatives. You’ll participate in a supportive, positive team environment that values an inclusive, community-focused approach to educational programs.

You’ll be working an average of 30 hours/week, including occasional weekends, with contract renewal at the end of the fall season (December 1). Reporting to an Education Manager and working closely with other educators, you’ll ensure exceptional service to our stakeholders and schools.

To read more, or to apply, visit

Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group is Hiring Seasonal and Full-Time Natural Resource Management Technicians

The technicians will be part of a field management crew. Activities will include (but are not limited to) the implementation of natural resource management activities: primarily invasive species control (75%), prescribed fire, forest management, wildlife habitat establishment and maintenance, tree/shrub planting, field surveys and assessments and biodiversity restoration work. Excellent communication with company principals, staff and clients (private landowners, public agencies and non-profit organizations) is an important part of the position.

To learn more, or to apply, visit

Places to post or look for jobs

Submit your job post to the Buffer Consortium newsletter by emailing Jordan Bennett and make sure to sign up to receive our newsletter!