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 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

Consortium Coordinator Job Opening!

JRA is seeking a Consortium Coordinator as a part-time employee or contract position for 9 months with the option to renew based on performance and funding. This position would work 20 hours per week. The primary focus of this position will report to JRA’s Restoration Director/Consortium Convener with activities directly related to the Consortium including communication, logistics for meetings, and administrative tasks across Action Teams.

This opportunity is a perfect match for individuals wanting to learn about regional scale restoration collaboratives, engaging partners across sectors to reach a common vision, and facilitation. This position will receive training on collaboratives and meeting facilitation.  The majority of work can be done remotely with the option to work from home or at one of JRA’s offices in Scottsville or Richmond. There will be some travel to Consortium meetings and activities across the Upper and Middle James Watershed.

Learn more about the Consortium by exploring THIS website. You can apply and learn more about the job at

The James River Association is Hiring a GIS and Water Quality Programs Manager

The James River Association is seeking a full-time GIS and Water Quality Program Manager to act as the primary administrator for GIS needs throughout the organization and will coordinate JRA’s James River Watch water quality monitoring program. To read all about the positions, visit

Apply by sending your resume and cover letter to This position will remain open until filled; interviews will begin after April 10, 2024.

The Virginia Department of Forestry is Hiring Sentinel Landscape Coordinators in the Tidewater and Potomac Regions

The Virginia Security Corridor is comprised of two sentinel landscapes: Potomac and Tidewater. This region encompasses over 2.9 million acres of land and water in Virginia’s “Golden Crescent,” an area of high military concentration, population growth, urban sprawl, and a growing technology industry. This coordinator will lead an array of public and private partners to achieve diverse natural resource conservation goals within the Partnership’s geographic boundaries. This is an exceptional opportunity to help advance an extraordinary natural resources conservation partnership to achieve landscape scale conservation projects that improve the lives of Virginians.

To learn more, or to apply, visit the job postings at:

The James River Association is Hiring a Database Manager

The James River Association (JRA) is seeking a full-time Database Manager to join the JRA Development Team. The Database Manager is an important member of the fundraising team, who will manage all aspects of JRA’s Salesforce database and related software. Primary responsibility is ensuring optimal use of database to support development program goals including processing all donations and gift data, creating various reports, as well as managing donor correspondence, contacts with donors, grants calendar and solicitation schedules.

To learn more, or to apply, visit:

Rivanna River Company is Hiring

Rivanna River Company is looking towards the upcoming river season and has some great summer opportunities available! Come join the team of hard-working, fun-loving and dedicated staff at the Rivanna River Company. The positions open are: drivers, shop/customer service/logistical coordinator, and river hands.

Visit the website for more job info and a link to our online application!

The Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group is Hiring a Stewardship Manager

The Stewardship Manager will oversee the implementation of natural resource management activities including (but not limited to): prescribed fire, forest management, invasive species control, wildlife habitat establishment and maintenance, tree/shrub planting, field surveys and assessments and biodiversity restoration work. This is a leadership position and the Manager will be responsible for planning, hiring and overseeing technicians as needed. Specifically related to prescribed fire, the Stewardship Manager will be the company’s lead fire officer or “burn boss” and will develop plans and conduct operations.

To learn more, or to apply, visit

The James River Association is Hiring an Upper James Seasonal Environmental Educator

The James River Association is seeking a seasonal environmental educator to be based out of our Lynchburg office who will lead education programs for elementary, middle, and high school students.

This position will work within a team of environmental educators and assist with educational programs within the Lynchburg area. Education programs typically extend from February-November (10 month contract).

To learn more, or to apply, visit:

The Center for Urban Habitats is Hiring a Stewardship Technician

Join the Center for Urban Habitats as a Stewardship Technician and help install and maintain landscapes on public and private lands that will increase local native biodiversity in the Piedmont of Virginia. This is an opportunity to fill a vital role in the success of our mission while working to build place-based knowledge, spread an awareness of Piedmont natural history, and inspire future generations of stewards in Virginia’s most heavily populated region.

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!