New Conservation Management Degree First in State

Conservation management student Elisa Abeyta works in the field.

Photo: Margaret McKinney/Highlands University

Highlands University freshman and Mora, New Mexico native Elisa Abeyta records side oats grama grass during a field lab for the university’s new conservation management degree program.

Las Vegas, N.M. — A new conservation management B.A. degree program at Highlands University is the first in New Mexico, opening career opportunities for students ranging from forest and resource planning to game wardens and park rangers.

“With this conservation management degree, we offer a whole universe of career options in the conservation arena for our students who want to work in the natural environment,” said forestry professor Craig Conley. “Today, the compelling challenge is to manage a wide array of natural resources including water, wildlife, biodiversity, soil and more. This is all within the context of human wellbeing, which is the difference between whether we just survive or thrive in the future.”

Conley said the new degree program will provide Highlands University students with additional professional tools to take on these natural resources challenges.

“The social, cultural and economic dimensions of these resources issues are at least as challenging as the significant scientific and technical components,” Conley said.

While students take required core science credits in forestry, geology, biology anthropology and chemistry, Conley said it’s the minor options that make the new conservation degree unique and flexible.

“The complimentary minors, which are required for the degree, allow students to customize their education for their career interests. For example, a student interested in environmental conflict resolution could minor in psychology, someone with their sites set on being a science writer could minor in English, a student interested in environmental restoration could minor in business,” Conley said.

The conservation management degree is within the university’s Department of Natural Resources Management.

Albuquerque native Elia Fasanella is enrolled in the new degree program. The 30-year-old U.S. Army National Guardsman researched universities while deployed in the Sinai Peninsula in 2012.

“I was attracted to Highlands because it has the only accredited forestry degree program in New Mexico, and I knew I wanted to work in the outdoors,” Fasanella said. “I’m most interested in the ecology and restoration of landscapes so this new program is a perfect fit for me.”

Fasanella plans to pursue a master’s degree in natural resources management at Highlands with an emphasis in restoration ecology. His career goal is work for a state land management agency like New Mexico Game and Fish or a federal agency like the Bureau of Land Management.

“The job outlook is very strong in conservation management now,” Conley said. “In the public sector, a big wave of retirement is driving demand to fill these positions. Jobs are also growing in private industry for consultants in environmental assessment and field work.”  

Conley took the lead in developing the conservation management degree, working closing with fellow forestry professors Sara Brown and David Hacker, as well as natural resources management professor Edward Martí­nez.

For more information about the new conservation management B.A. degree, go to