What do you picture when you think of conservation in the Smokey Bear era? Was it preventing forest fires and stopping poachers? While these are still important responsibilities of modern environmental conservation officers, the scope of this vital career has grown considerably since Smokey first appeared in the 1940s.

At the time, Smokey Bear’s urgent message was “Remember … Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.” Smokey was the ultimate environmental conservation officer in his day.

The conservation officer is an evolution of the original game warden. The roles and responsibilities of conservation officers have expanded as our environmental consciousness has grown.

In the first part half of the 20th century, as the environmental conservation officer profession developed, poaching was a major problem in the nation’s parks and wildlands. Most conservation officers focused on the protection of wildlife and its natural resources.  .

At the time of Smokey Bear, forest conservation largely focused on the prevention of fires of all sizes and types. While some officials understood that forest ecosystems rely on regular fires to thrive, the stated policy was to suppress all fires. Over time, policies changed and as early as 1958, officially approved prescribed fires were burning in Florida’s Everglades National Park.

Even Smokey refined his approach to fires. In the 2000s, Smokey’s slogan was updated to “Only you can prevent wildfires,” acknowledging that natural forest fires are part of a sustainable forest and efforts should focus on preventing intentional or accidental fires caused by humans.

During that time, we’ve seen the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act, and the 1990 Pollution Prevention Act. Today, conservation is a significant part of our daily lives, and the concept of environmental conservation has grown more nuanced. The conservation officer has kept pace with those changes as these professionals face challenges from widespread droughts, invasive species, and the encroachment of urban populations on the natural environment.

The Evolution of a Career

Today’s environmental conservation officers work tirelessly to preserve and protect our natural resources and wildlife. As sworn officers, they enforce the laws of their jurisdiction and all environmental conservation laws. They engage and inform the public of conservation and protection laws and best practices. As members of law enforcement, they’re trained in a complete range of police skills, and most state and federal agencies require bachelor’s degrees to become an environmental conservation officer.

Environmental conservation officers have demanding jobs and work in a variety of environments. You’ll need to be physically fit to enter basic training where you’ll further develop the physical skills for the job.

Most officers will be hired on a probationary basis and will advance in responsibility and salary as they gain experience on the job. You can earn promotions by passing exams that test your knowledge of conservation law and investigation.

Because the field is competitive, officers are expected to be willing to relocate to wherever their agency needs their service.

If you’re already in conservation law enforcement and ready to take your career to the next level, Unity’s 100 percent online Master’s degree in Conservation Law Enforcement will help you get the educational insight you need for success.

A career in environmental conservation is rigorous and rewarding. It’s a career that is constantly evolving and promises opportunities for growth. It’s a vital part of protecting the natural environment. Are you ready for the challenge?

Learn more about Unity College by visiting online.unity.edu/learn-more or call 1-833-UnityGO.