Land Trust or Preserve Managers


Exploring this Job

There are many ways to explore a career in land and water conservation. Read up on land and water conservation in the library; contact nonprofit land trusts or federal agencies for information about current projects, volunteer opportunities and internships, publications, and membership; or check out the degree programs at local universities. The Internet is another rich source of up-to-date information; some sites are listed at the end of this article.

The Job

Land trusts acquire land by buying it, getting the landowner to donate it, arranging for easements on it, or purchasing the development rights to it. Land acquisition may be just one of many tasks of a land trust employee, such as the executive director; or, in larger land trusts, it may be the sole job of one or more land acquisition professionals.

What is involved with managing a land trust or preserve? That depends on the specific land or water involved and its needs, who is doing the managing, how much funding and staffing is available, and other factors. 

Staffing of land trusts can be minimal, particularly in the early years of the trust. At first, one person might do everything from handling correspondence to walking the land. If the land trust grows larger, it may add more people who can then focus on specific tasks, including management of the land. A few land trusts, particularly some of the large statewide land trusts, are large enough to have a staff of 30 paid people or more.

As for federally managed lands, these, too, can have varying levels of staffing and funding that affect what specific work is done. But the federal government employs about 75 percent of all people working in land and water conservation, and in general the federal agencies have greater resources than private land trusts. For example, all national parks have natural resource management departments that carry out tasks from ensuring environmental compliance to specialized conservation/preservation work.

Specific work varies in different parts of the country, from Eastern forests to the Everglades to coastal areas, and ranges from simply monitoring the land to doing specialized work like re-creating destroyed ecosystems. Examples include:

  • Planning for better use of land and water. If the land is a recreational area, for example, managers might plan how to prevent overuse.
  • Species inventory. Cataloging plant and animal species (in terms of the type of species, species diversity, health of species, age of species, etc.) helps establish the baseline needed to create short- and long-term plans for the land.
  • Restoration or re-creation of damaged or destroyed ecosystems. Returning an area to how it used to be may involve cleaning up pollution, bringing back native species, and getting rid of nonnative species. Landscape architects, biologists, botanists, ecologists, and others may help do such work. Restoration of wetlands, one example of this work, including forest wetlands, may involve wetlands ecologists, fish and wildlife scientists, and botanists.
  • Habitat protection. Protecting wildlife habitats, particularly those of rare or endangered species, is another important task. As of October 25, 2019, there were 2,416 plants and animals in the United States alone that were listed as endangered or threatened, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Prescribed burnings. Management of prairies, forests, or rangelands may involve controlled burnings. After the fire, specialists may go in and inventory species. Pitch pine communities in New York and New Jersey and long-leaf pine forests in Virginia, Texas, and other parts of the South, are just some areas handled this way.
  • Rangeland management. In addition to prescribed burns, this may involve controlled grazing by bison or cattle to keep plant life under control.