There are a few different definitions of the term ‘naturalist’. Merriam Webster defines the term as both ‘one that advocates or practices naturalism (the doctrine that scientific laws are adequate to account for all phenomena)’ or ‘a student of natural history, especially a field biologist’. EnvironmentalScience.org, on the other hand, defines naturalism as a field of science similar to but ultimately different from biology, as it’s more concerned with relationships rather than genetics.
Professional naturalists, like those who work in state parks, often have an educational background in ecology, forestry, biology, botany, zoology, wildlife management, or environmental science. Other jobs for naturalists include working for federal agencies like the National Park Service or Environmental Protection Agency, as teachers or professors in high schools or colleges, or as consultants. Nonprofit work, like AmeriCorps placements, is also a possibility for naturalists!
Being a naturalist isn’t confined to a professional career, as many people are also hobby naturalists and citizen scientists. Apps like iNaturalist allow everyday folks identify species while out in nature while also providing larger data samples to scientists. The Whale Trail has over 100 sites along the west coast of the United States and Canada that allow folks to see all sorts of marine mammals from shore.
Artistic endeavors like photography, drawing, and journaling can all be great ways to connect with nature. John Muir Laws, The Nature Journal Club, and the Journaling With Nature podcast are all great resources for artists, educators, and people who want to start nature journaling! An important part of journaling is to let go of perfectionism and just start. Drawing and journaling, like any skill, takes time to practice but it can be so much fun to just try.
There are so many ways to be a naturalist and plenty of areas to study. Whether you go the professional or hobby route, being a naturalist involves a passion and appreciation for nature and our planet.