Professional Ecologist Certifications

History: Defining a Standard

Since the 1960’s, ecologists have been actively involved in setting environmental policy and influencing decision-making in our society. The Ecological Society of America strives to enhance the quality of this advice by instituting a Code of Ethics and providing a professional certification program designed to evaluate the education and professional experience of ecologists. Professional certification means that ecologists have demonstrated an appropriate level of education and experience in applying ecological principles in their professional environmental careers.

About Professional Certification

The Case for Professional Certification:

A Frontiers Editorial by the Board of Professional Certification (PDF)

There is an increasing nation-wide demand for certification credentials in the environmental arena. Most notably is the recent U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) call for certified professionals to act as Technical Service Providers to help farmers, ranchers, and other private landowners protect and restore resources through conservation planning. 

Besides natural resource management, ecological expertise is needed on a host of other current environmental problems including: biotechnology, ecological restoration, ozone depletion, global climate change, ecosystem management, nitrogen deposition, species extinction and loss of biological diversity, invasive species, habitat alteration and destruction, and sustainable ecological systems. This expertise is provided by ecologists in academia, government, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. However, it has been shown that only a small minority of individuals with graduate degrees find full-time employment in academic institutions.

Private environmental companies, Federal, state, and local environmental and natural resource agencies, applied research laboratories, and non-governmental organizations, including private foundations offer major employment opportunities for ecologists.

Recognizing this new direction for professional ecologists, the Ecological Society of America provides the certification program for its members, as well as nonmembers and the public who desire a statement of their professional qualifications.

The professional certification program, begun in 1981, recognizes ecologists who seek to incorporate ecological principles in decision-making, who meet a minimum set of standards in education and experience, and who adhere to high ethical standards. It is clear that a formal identification of minimum standards for ecologists is needed and that society needs, welcomes, and now recognizes the ESA Certification Program as a means of identifying well-trained and reliable professionals who meet criteria of competence. Other scientific environmental organizations have furthered their certification programs in response to the requirement for professional certification credentials.

The demand for professional certification is apparent. Ecologists need to meet that demand in order to ensure that ecological science is considered in environmental policy and decision making be it on the local, regional, national, or international level. Formal certification is an important criteria to be met by ecologists, whether they are employed in the private or public sector or in academia. Clearly ecological certification will define the standards, formally identify the profession, and increase the respectability of ecologists in environmental affairs.

The goal of certification is to foster the incorporation of ecological principles in the decision-making process of the Society. To meet this goal, the Ecological Society of America recognizes individuals whose education, training and experience meet the established standards of the Society.

The ESA certification program provides ready access to professional ecologists for advice and technical guidance on public policy and regulatory issues facing society.

Though certification does not guarantee the competence of individuals to address specific matters, the Society attests that certified members have met minimum education and experience requirement for various certification levels. Each certified member also acknowledges adherence to the ESA Code of Ethics.



    • To serve the needs of ecologists who wish to establish and validate their professional credentials.
    • To guide biologists, government agencies, courts, and the public in defining minimum standards of education and experience for professional ecologists, and to encourage all practicing ecologists to meet such standards.
    • To create and maintain public confidence in the advice and opinions of Certified Ecologists as well as educated and experienced professionals who have pledged to uphold the Code of Ethics of the Ecological Society of America and to act in the best interest of the public.
    • To assist the public in identifying ecologists by establishing a procedure for critical peer evaluation based upon defined minimum education, experience, and ethical requirements.