At a Glance
Imagine you are sitting in front of a group of wide-eyed boy and girl Scouts. They listen intently as you narrate a story about a lonely wolf residing here in Gaspésie Provincial Park. The story conveys an important lesson about respecting the environment and preserving natural habitat. As a naturalist, you've told this story many times to many different audiences. The Lonely Wolf is your favourite story, and you know it is the perfect way to introduce these young children to the park.
As a naturalist at Gaspésie Provincial Park, you never find your job routine. This group of Scouts is spending the morning touring the park with you as their guide. Once you have finished your story, you take the children on a tour of the Visitors' Centre, where you have created dozens of interactive displays to educate visitors on the park's ecosystem. Each display conveys a different environmental lesson on the types of flora and fauna in the park, as well as the history of the park itself. When the tour is finished, you and the Scouts head outside to begin your hiking tour.
Using your knowledge of natural history, you have designed a brochure and marked a trail specifically for young visitors. Every 100 metres along the trail there is a marker relating an environmental fact about the park and pointing out areas of interest, including the tall, tall tree where the Lonely Wolf found his mate. After the hike, the Scouts complete their visit with a nature craft project you've created to give them a chance to apply their newfound knowledge of the environment.
Once you have said good-bye to this group, you begin preparing for your next presentation, this time to a group of amateur birdwatchers. Your slide show and demonstration gives these birdwatchers an idea of the species of birds they can expect to see in the park before you bring them outside for their hike. Using a lot of creativity and knowledge of the environment, you make people's trips to Gaspésie Provincial Park educational and fun. Being able to switch gears and work with many different kinds of audiences is the part of your job you enjoy most
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a naturalist:
- Lead nature walks and tours for visitors to federal, provincial, and municipal parks and on private land.
- Guide extended excursions, for example, hiking, cycling, canoeing, kayaking, and snowshoeing.
- Train new interpreters and naturalists.
- Plan and organize duties of staff, seasonal workers, and volunteers.
- Write educational handouts, newsletters, and brochures.
- Conduct surveys of parks and wildlife preserves to determine environmental conditions.
- Develop and construct educational, historical, and nature displays for visitors and interpretive centres.
- Advise visitors of infringements such as picking wildflowers or feeding animals.
- Organize and raise funds for environmental projects.
Naturalists work in a variety of locations, including:
In the field:
- Leading nature walks and conducting demonstrations
- Visiting schools, senior citizens, and community groups to educate others
- Taking photographs and videos for displays or presentations
- Working with guides or guiding others on nature expeditions
In the office:
- Developing and constructing displays
- Writing educational handouts and brochures and preparing media releases
- Researching plants and wildlife
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, stakeholders, government departments, colleagues, and experts in the field
Where to Work
There are a number of places naturalists can find employment. They include:
- Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments, including parks
- Not-for-profit and non-governmental environmental organizations
- Cultural and heritage organizations
- Ecotourism and adventure tourism, resorts, and recreation companies
- Outdoor schools and summer camps
Education and Skills
If you are a high school student considering a career as a naturalist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
- Social Studies
- Physical Education/Outdoor Education
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a naturalist is a technical diploma. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a naturalist, the following programs are most applicable:
- Outdoor Recreation
- Parks and Forest Recreation
- Natural Science
Naturalists can have a range of backgrounds in addition to those listed above, including post-secondary education in communications and marketing. Certification is not mandatory in order to work as a naturalist.
Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with business skills. The ECO Academy can help you build the essential skills needed for a successful environmental career. Learn more
Cal Martin’s introduction to the career of a naturalist happened in high school, thanks to an “inspirational teacher” who suggested that Cal volunteer at a local nature centre. Cal signed on and ended up leading guided hikes and working with the centre’s environmental day camp. “I fell in love with the job of educating people about the natural environment.” He loved it so much that Cal spent the next three summers working at the centre. “I knew this was something I was passionate about. Something inside me said ‘This is the line of work you want to get involved in’.” Today, with a Bachelor of Science degree, Cal works full-time as a naturalist with the Greater Vancouver Regional District Parks department.
His job is to understand in detail the cultural and natural resources of the regional parks system and communicate that information in a meaningful way. “When you take a group of people on a guided walk, they expect you to have an intimate understanding of the entire history, geology, botany, and zoology of the park.” As a result of the different demands of his job, Cal spends half his time researching topics, consulting with other naturalists, and developing programs and learning materials. “I love being able to continually learn about new subjects.”
The other half of Cal’s time is spent outdoors, leading everything from guided hikes to evening canoe trips on topics ranging from ethnobotany and intertidal marine life to endangered bat colonies. He enjoys the personal interaction with the public, often pulling from his “goody bag” of props—including skulls and feathers—to help illustrate his point. “When I’m outdoors, I’m not only teaching them but sharing experiences and stories as well…Suddenly, you see this spark ignite in their eyes, and you know you’ve had an impact.” One of the biggest drawbacks to the industry is the seasonality of the work—it’s difficult to find year-round work as a full-time naturalist.
In addition, because of this seasonal nature, the job frequently isn’t considered a legitimate career. “The job of a naturalist is often seen as a summer job instead of a viable long-term profession.” Despite these drawbacks, Cal loves his job. It is the perfect combination of outdoor activity and public interaction. “Being able to work outdoors and teach people about the natural environment is a very fulfilling line of work to be in.”