What Are the Top-Paying Careers for Nature-Lovers in 2021?

Nature enthusiasts say that even a bad day outdoors is better than a good day indoors. Perhaps it’s an angler sitting and freezing in a boat all day when the rain doesn’t stop and the fish don’t bite. It could be a timber worker who spends a long, tiring day felling trees, or even National Park employees who have to clean up after messy visitors. Even when conditions aren’t ideal, some people simply prefer an occupation or lifestyle allowing them to avoid four walls and a ceiling.

What’s especially treasured is the freedom that being in nature represents. Some outdoor recreation fans will gladly spend summers as river guides and winters as ski instructors, even if they have to earn serious dough in between to make these dream jobs happen. Writers and philosophers wax poetic about the magic and majesty of nature, and being able to work outside is a worthy goal for several reasons.

Being outdoors isn’t just good for the spirit and soul: it can boost your physical health. Recent research shows that people who don’t get up and move regularly are more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, weight problems, and certain cancers and diseases, as well as being more prone to depression and anxiety. Less active seniors are also more at risk for falling or other injuries.

In comparison, getting outside regularly can have all sorts of benefits. While moving, exploring, and sensing one’s environment outdoors, people can enjoy the rush of endorphins, take in some vitamin D, and reap the benefits of other neuro-physiological changes that can improve one’s overall disposition and outlook, as well as stimulate the healing of injuries.

A recent National Geographic article goes even further to suggest that not only is getting outdoors a good thing but being in nature is required to be happy. It featured author Florence Williams, who theorized that our brains physically need the connections outdoor spaces provide. This process not only feels good but helps remove internal contaminations from too much time indoors.

While most lucrative careers require workers to be office- or cubicle-bound, there’s a growing number of well-paying careers for outdoors enthusiasts. Read on to learn about the highest paying careers for nature-lovers in 2021.

2021 Most Lucrative Careers Outdoors

Please note that the following information is based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) and the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The occupations are arranged by the highest average annual salary.

Architectural & Engineering Managers

A leadership role is often required to coordinate the activities of a research team in the fields of architecture and engineering management. These positions combine strong architectural/design skills with the ability to keep people on task, making sure they’re focusing on correct objectives and locations.

In addition to being the point person on location, he or she also is responsible for planning and executing the trip, including allocating appropriate personnel and equipment. The duties also require analyzing gathered data and compiling conclusions once the expedition is complete.

  • Architectural & Engineering Managers (198,1090 employed in the U.S.): $69.62/hour, $144,830/annually on average (BLS 2019)

    • 10th percentile: $92,510
    • 25th percentile: $115,670
    • 50th percentile (median): $144,830
    • 75th percentile: $179,220
    • 90th percentile: $208,000
  • Top-paying industries: Oil and gas extraction; spectator sports; land subdivision; deep-sea coastal, and Great Lakes water transportation, support activities for mining
  • Top-paying states: California, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts
  • Career outlook: 3 percent increase in positions between 2019 and 2029 (5,100 jobs added)
  • Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in engineering, but most firms also prize a master’s degree in architecture and professional experience in the field

Marine Engineers & Naval Architects

Boat-building is as much of a skill as an art, and this position requires precise craftsmanship to create something seaworthy, plus a touch of style to make it memorable. Positions can be found with private companies or military/military contractors.

This career path requires a focus on quality that looks at the overall aesthetics and design of a vessel along with its internal structure, including propulsion, power, stability, and related components. The profession can also go beyond basic drafting of plans in an office to actually testing it out at sea, lake, or other waterways.

  • Marine Engineers & Naval Architects (11,800 employed in the U.S.): $44.42/hourly, $92,400/annually on average (BLS 2019)

    • 10th percentile: $65,090
    • 25th percentile: $74,670
    • 50th percentile (median): $92,560
    • 75th percentile: $118,980
    • 90th percentile: $148,950
  • Top-paying industries: Management of companies and enterprises; inland water transportation; deep sea, coastal, and Great Lakes water transportation; other professional, scientific, and technical services; federal executive branch (OES designation)
  • Top-paying states: California, New York, Washington D.C., Alaska, Maryland
  • Career outlook: 1 percent increase in positions between 2019 and 2029 (200 jobs added)
  • Requirements: At least a bachelor’s degree in an area such as naval architecture or marine engineering; a degree in other fields of engineering such as electrical or mechanical can also be useful

Geoscientists

As long as our economy relies on extracting materials from the earth, we’ll need people to figure out where to dig. Geoscientists study the planet’s surface and interior to learn about its features and recommend where to find valuable products like oil, gas, and minerals.

Though extraction companies always need assistance with research and recommendations of where to look, career options also include working with public agencies and private companies that study the earth for other features, everything from measuring geologic events to seismic activity within the earth and below the oceans. The amount of time outside varies, but fieldwork is often necessary, even if it’s in remote places.

  • Geoscientists (31,800 employed in the U.S.): $44.25/hour, $92,040/annually on average (BLS 2019)

    • 10th percentile: $51,000
    • 25th percentile: $65,180
    • 50th percentile (median): $92,040
    • 75th percentile: $130,870
    • 90th percentile: $187,910
  • Top-paying industries: Management of companies and enterprises; oil and gas extraction; machinery manufacturing; computer systems design and related services; employment services
  • Top-paying states: Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Hawaii, Pennsylvania
  • Career outlook: 5 percent increase in positions between 2019 and 2029 (1,600 jobs added)
  • Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in earth/environmental sciences, master’s degree encouraged

Environmental Engineers

While environmental scientists (profiled below) are charged with investigating possible hazards in a community, environmental engineers do something about them. These professionals work with private companies or municipalities to design systems or processes to prevent environmental hazards, or develop plans to reduce or remove ones that have already taken place. This can include site remediation, pollution control or waste treatment, or working with local, state, and national regulators on a clean-up.

Environmental engineers should be prepared for any working conditions, from offices and labs to natural job sites. For an outdoors fan, it can be enjoyable to figure out ways to mitigate environmental damage or keep it from happening.

  • Environmental Engineers (55,800 employed in the U.S.): $42.72/hourly, $88,860/annually on average (BLS 2019)

    • 10th percentile: $54,330
    • 25th percentile: $68,000
    • 50th percentile (median): $88,860
    • 75th percentile: $114,250
    • 90th percentile: $142,070
  • Top-paying industries: Waste collection; natural gas distribution; aerospace products and parts manufacturing, oil and gas extraction, petroleum and coal products manufacturing
  • Top-paying states: Texas, Idaho, Washington, California, Maryland
  • Career outlook: 3 percent increase in positions between 2019 and 2029 (1,700 jobs added)
  • Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering, or a related engineering field such as chemical, civil, or general engineering

Environmental Scientists & Specialists

This position requires a sense of curiosity plus a strong interest in science to investigate possible sources of pollution or environmental hazards that could affect human or animal populations or the environment. Public health departments, local governments, or private companies (e.g., railroads, petroleum companies) concerned about their environmental footprint may use findings from scientists to create policies or change practices.

Environmental scientists collect evidence in the air, water, food supplies or soil; study historical data; and make recommendations. The position includes work in a lab and office but can include visits to various sites of possible contaminants.

  • Environmental Scientists & Specialists (90,900 employed in the U.S.): $34.31/hourly, $71,360/annually on average (BLS 2019)
    • 10th percentile: $42,810
    • 25th percentile: $54,100
    • 50th percentile (median): $71,360
    • 75th percentile: $95,140
    • 90th percentile: $124,760
  • Top-paying industries: Natural gas distribution; merchant wholesalers, non-durable goods; federal executive branch (OES designation); oil and gas extraction; wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers
  • Top-paying states: Washington, D.C., California, Washington, Virginia, Colorado
  • Career outlook: 8 percent increase in positions between 2019 and 2029 (7,00 jobs added)
  • Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a science-related field such as biology, chemistry, physics, geoscience, or engineering plus professional experience

Landscape Architects

The field represents a perfect opportunity to get creative but still follow technical specifications and wishes of a client for how to develop an outdoor space, whether it’s an individual, business, or municipality. Trained architects may be asked to come up with ideas to improve someone’s personal property or plan and design something impressive for buildings or public spaces.

Architects alternate between working on designs at an office and visiting suppliers or job sites to make sure plans become reality. They also may work with a team of employees and subcontractors.

  • Landscape Architects (24,500 employed in the U.S.): $33.35/hourly, $69,360/annually on average (BLS 2019)

    • 10th percentile: $42,320
    • 25th percentile: $54,600
    • 50th percentile (median): $69,360
    • 75th percentile: $90,090
    • 90th percentile: $112,290
  • Top-paying industries: State government; federal executive branch (OES designation); local government; real estate; residential building construction
  • Top-paying states: Washington, D.C., Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland; California
  • Career outlook: 2 percent decrease in positions between 2019 and 2029 (a decline of 600 jobs)
  • Requirements: A degree in landscape architecture is a good foundation, but hands-on experience is vital, including internships; most commercial projects also require licenses from a particular state or industry association

Zoologist & Wildlife Biologists

A significant component of this occupation includes evaluating animal populations and wildlife systems. This task can require fieldwork such as the collection, observation, and analysis of the habitats of specific animals or larger groups.

Private companies or public land use agencies may ask a biologist or zoologist to determine the possible impact on wildlife populations and waterways from different policies or practices. Opportunities are high for fieldwork, but may include long hours of observation, and sometimes tracking certain animals.

  • Zoologists & Wildlife Biologists (21,000 employed in the U.S.): $30.42/hour, $63,270/annually on average (BLS 2019)

    • 10th percentile: $38,880
    • 25th percentile: $49,860
    • 50th percentile (median): $63,270
    • 75th percentile: $79,000
    • 90th percentile: $101,780
  • Top-paying industries: Computer systems design and related services; federal executive branch (OES designation); architectural, engineering, and related services; scientific research and development services; management of companies and enterprises
  • Top-paying states: Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Maryland, Alaska, Connecticut
  • Career outlook: 4 percent increase in positions between 2019 and 2029 (800 jobs added)
  • Requirements: Bachelor’s degree, especially in biology or zoology (master’s degree preferred), and a PhD is often required to lead research teams

Conservation Scientists & Foresters

This position is in demand for public land agencies and private timber companies. It requires inventorying standing timber and making recommendations, including thinning selected trees, selling larger acreage, improving conditions, opening or closing access, or designating conservation areas. Along with focusing on timber health, foresters can look at a forest’s connections with soil, water, wetlands and wildlife, plus compliance with environmental regulations.

Foresters can recommend which trees can be removed and new ones can be planted, which requires visiting forests and timber stands regularly. Conservation scientists and foresters can focus on other uses, including fire prevention or improving access to recreational activities.

  • Conservation Scientists (36,100 employed in the U.S.): $30.01/hour, $62,410/annually on average (BLS 2019)

    • 10th percentile: $39,270
    • 25th percentile: $49,480
    • 50th percentile (median): $62,660
    • 75th percentile: $79,630
    • 90th percentile: $98,060
  • Top-paying industries: Business, labor, and political organizations; scientific research and development; grantmaking and giving services; federal executive branch (OES designation); colleges, universities and professional schools
  • Top-paying states: Washington D.C., Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, California
  • Career outlook: 5 percent increase in positions for conservation scientists and foresters between 2019 and 2029 (1,700 jobs added)
  • Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in forestry or related environmental science subject

Buyers & Purchasing Agents, Farm Products

Farming successfully in today’s world requires more than just following cycles of planting, harvesting, and selling. Larger purchases of equipment can help farms continue or improve. Buyers can also purchase other farmers’ goods to be resold (or processed and later resold).

This occupation is responsible for arranging items for processing or resale, such as timber/tree farms, contractors, grain brokers/buyers, and tobacco products. Agents may conduct business from an office and visit sites to meet producers and look at crops.

  • Buyers & Purchasing Agents, Farm Products (526,200 employed in the U.S.): $33.46/hour, $69,600/annually on average (BLS 2019)

    • 10th percentile: $38,230
    • 25th percentile: $49,280
    • 50th percentile (median): $64,380
    • 75th percentile: $84,630
    • 90th percentile: $107,510
  • Top-paying industries: Pipeline transportation of crude oil; software publishers; oil and gas extraction; credit intermediation and related activities; federal executive branch (OES designation)
  • Top-paying states: Washington D.C., New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, New York
  • Career outlook: A 6 percent decrease in positions between 2019 and 2029 (37,600 jobs to be eliminated)
  • Requirements: A bachelor’s degree in agriculture, agricultural production, animal science, or a business/commodity field, along with farming experience is recommended

Construction & Building Inspectors

Ironically, one effective way to avoid working in a building all day is by actually building one. The construction industry has plenty of areas that allow people to spend time outdoors. Perhaps nature purists may complain about the encroachment of structures and people into undeveloped spaces, but people who work in this field enjoy being able to work at a site, rather than being stuck in a cubicle.

Inspectors for certain municipalities or private companies can visit a variety of locations throughout their day to make sure that they are following correct standards and specifications, from local building codes to larger structural regulations. They can sign off or flag the project or focus on certain specific areas such as electrical or plumbing systems. The position requires familiarity with the construction process as well as engineering knowledge.

  • Construction & Building Inspectors (120,800 employed in the U.S.): $29.19/hourly, $60,710/annually on average (BLS 2019)

    • 10th percentile: $35,440
    • 25th percentile: $45,920
    • 50th percentile (median): $59,700
    • 75th percentile: $77,400
    • 90th percentile: $97,310
  • Top-paying industries: Electrical power generation, transmission, and distribution; heavy and civil engineering construction; land subdivision, natural gas distribution; rail transportation
  • Top-paying states: California, North Dakota, Alaska, Washington D.C., Washington
  • Career outlook: 3 percent increase in positions between 2019 and 2029 (3,900 jobs added)
  • Requirements: Academic requirements are low (high school diploma), but professional experience is valuable; inspectors often must receive a license from a state or municipality
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