The charm of becoming a wildlife biologist is that there is so much room to grow. And if you are willing to evolve you can reach lofty heights.
While it's not the easiest path on the planet, you will have multiple hurdles standing in your way, as well as the physical aspects that play a role in this career. If you are aware of all of that, willing to over come them, then it is definitely possible to make a career of it. And there is no doubt that it can be a fulfilling job for the right person.
If you are just starting out make sure that you gain experience with:
- compass work
- tree canopy height
- tree canopy cover estimation
- topo maps
- Understanding topo maps is the most important (imo) as is the ability to follow different protocols.
And while these are not crucial wildlife oriented skills, not in the same manner as the ones I just mentioned, they are important:
operating a 4 wheel drive vehicle
- hiking in rough terrain
- If you have or can acquire backpacking and unique hiking type experiences recreationally it can really help you get your foot in the door.
I want to look at the different skills a little bit more and hopefully shine some light on areas that you may find interesting.
This is what everything comes down to. Are you dedicated?
- Show initiative early.
- Any type of effort/motion forwards regardless of the specific experience shows how intense your devotion is.
- This is a difficult field with a high dropout rate; show people you are serious.
- Think hard and decisively about how to stand out on paper.
- Over time you can paint a picture of your personality, intelligence, passion, and competency and make them your strongest attributes.
There are some universal skills as well as path-specific investments. Whether it's birds, mammals, fish, herpetofauna, habitat restoration, wetland based work et cetra.
Here are some areas to look at:
Lots of jobs and a lot of wildlife tech positions are out of reach without general knowledge and experience.
An important thing to note is that it is very easy to get pigeon holed in this type of work because of it's relevance and the difficulties of lining up preferred seasonal jobs back to back.
- GIS- A rapidly developing field with high demand and universal applications to natural science fields.
- Wilderness Medicine-a Wilderness First Responder certification is an important supplementary skill.
- If Wilderness First Responder is too tall on an order, Wilderness First Aid is just as good in most circumstances.
- 4x4 and ATV operation and maintenance
- General outdoor skills in remote settings, extreme environments, and rough terrain.
- Data entry, analysis, examples of technical writing.
- Displayed skill and adaptability to different types of survey technologies. Some examples of what I mean are:
- water quality testing
- acoustic tech for bats
- radio telemetry
- mist netting
- firearm safety and operation.
- Handling of wildlife
- You can approach this by volunteering at rehabilitation clinics, there are plenty of them around the country.
- Working at night is a skill in and of itself, and if you are comfortable in this situation you can also open a few doors.
- If you will be working around any larger body of water or river, boat experience is a good skill to have. Here are some aspects to focus on:
- Outboard motor operation
- General oar/rowing experience.
- Boating license when necessary
- Complimentary to this would be a Swift Water Rescue Certification, this is similar to Wilderness First Responder.
- Use of spotting scopes and binoculars for bird related work.
- It's pretty easy to find low paying or volunteer work to get some bird experience.
- Vegetation sampling, habitat delineation/surveying, and/or plant identification in the respective ecosystem of interest.
- Travel or take specific coursework of relevance.
- The basic question here is show diversity, tolerance, and adaptive knowledge bases.
- Ornithology is a big employment field within wildlife biology and many volunteer positions are available everywhere.
From what I have seen networking with advisors and teachers has gotten pretty much all of my classmates their first job.
Forget All the Illusions
Forget all illusions and romantic stereotypes of working outside. Working outside is great and I really enjoy it, but you have to ask yourself are you the type of person who doesn't mind getting hot and sweaty in the piss pouring rain for 10 hours a day? Will you mind being knee deep in mud/animal shit or snow? Take a look at the climate you live in as you will have to be dealing with it everyday.
Scout the Job Market (First!)
Look for jobs you could get once you finish whatever course you plan to do. The trouble is that forestry is mainly carried out by the government, or at least influenced by it.
Unfortunately in times of budget cuts environmental issues are usually the first to go meaning that finding a job in the field is pretty hard here.
If you are in another country I have no idea what the job market would be like but it would definitely be some thing to look in to.
It Is A Science
Forestry is a scientific subject like any other, the question is "how can you make the most money in the quickest time".
You will see plantations where trees are grown and harvested like corn and work sites where the environment is mistreated just like the animals you mentioned. It seems like the industrial process of farming has put you off the Animal Science, but you'll often find the same sort of thing in forestry.
A plant isn't just a plant. And so there are many different paths for you to take into the forest.
For example, conservation biology. There are schools with that major, offering courses that are specifically designed with conservation in mind.
Also conservation jobs usually judge experience on the same level as education, so I would really recommend volunteering with a local organisation. Luckily these types of organisation are pretty common and only too happy to have people aboard.
You have to remember that trees take a long time to grow and therefore forestry is a very slow process.
On the Other Hand
A lot of jobs in forestry deal with the cutting down and management of forests for economic use. In fact classifying forests and soils to be cut down is where the money is.
I don't want to discourage you. We need people that are going to look at and push for better practices, but the economic driver is cutting the trees down. If you don't like how production animals are treated, you may be in for a shock to understand how we treat our forests for production. It is what it is.
A lot of jobs rely on it.
The demand for wood is huge.
There are no minor accidents with a chainsaw. And no matter what you do, you can never be 100% safe when you work with them. One slip in judgement and you may have to live with the scars your whole life. Or you won't, in which case you will be dead.
Chainsaws are very dangerous and people who don't know how to work with them shouldn't work with them. Getting training, and learning what can go wrong will never be certain. Every situation is different and when you are out in the wild even a little injury (there are no minor accidents with a chainsaw) can cost you your life.
I wear full protective equipment every time I start one. I look like a total dork, but I don't care.
That means hard hat, chaps, the works.
The chainsaw "chaps" actually will have "strings" of fabric pull out of them that will hopefully clog the sprocket in the saw. While I will admit that having protective clothing that use strings to clog the sprocket sounds a little bit crude, it is effective. These strings will jam the sprocket, and make the clutch slip. The chain stops. In this fashion the pants stop the cutting before the can get through. You may be bruised (in most cases you will be), but you shouldn't get cut.
The helmet with face protection should stop a kickback. And that can be deadly if it strikes you in the shoulder. Training can help here, as it will show you how important body position is.
When cutting, have the saw positioned so if it kicks straight up, it will be to your right-hand side. Instead of cutting in front of you, where it would kick into your face/shoulder. If something bad does happen there is little gurantee that you will escape all injury. Nine times out of ten the answer is, probably not, but if everything goes "right" (there is no right in an accident) you will hopefully be less hurt.
I have seen this first hand, and I can attest to the danger of a saw that is not actively being used. The majority of injuries with a chainsaw happen after the throttle has been released.
Usually taking a step immediately after making a cut.
People have died and lost limbs while engine rpm has been winding down. Most chainsaws rev out to over 13k rpm.
This means that you could easily saw through a 2x4 with a chainsaw after you let go of the throttle. My father made the mistake of letting his guard down and only suffered a tearing cut that ran down the length of his left thigh. The cut was mostly cosmetic so he was one of the lucky ones.
Things could have went very differnt for him.
He was wearing jeans.
Don't cheap out on your life jacket. They vary greatly in quality. But the biggest issue is comfort. That may sound odd but if its comfortable you will wear it and the best life jacket is the one you wear. Try one on in the store and then look online for a possible better deal to ensure sizing and fit.
There are lifejackets designed for kayaking that don't ride up when you sit down and are cut in a way that allows free movement of your arms without rubbing and chafing.
Some people will suggest a paddle leash, and while they may sound like a good idea, I'd advise against a paddle leash, especially in moving water - where one of the main hazards is entrapment. Getting entangled in anything in moving water is pretty much a death sentence.
As far as which kayak, which is your biggest piece of equipment, it really depends on your budget and the water you'll be on.
If you intend to fish a lot, or get in and out of the boat frequently, you may consider a sit on top, rather than a sit in.
There are numerous brands and designs, and I would recommend you find a local store where someone knows what the water is like and can recommend a good starter boat based on that. Do a couple a kayak trips, rent a kayak or kayaking test trips. My local shop does test days where you can try over 30 different kayaks.
Try out quite a few before you buy one so that you understand the different feel that the avialable styles have to offer. Generally speaking boats that are sold in big-box stores are only suitable for lakes and slow rivers. They are designed to be easy to get in and out of and easy to handle without training, but that comes with a huge cost in terms of control and capability.
I think that it has to do with my age, the fact that either my friends have gone ahead and gotten married or are in the process of getting married. It is just natural. For me now, at this stage of my life, married seems a long way away. But with so many things you experience it when you least expect it.
I can't speak for all of you but I feel that my friends do represent at least a certain part of our society. And though I am certain that things may look different where you live. ~25 is a common age to get married. I am still studying, and I tend to move around a lot, with my "permanent residence" still marked as my parent's home. Mainly since I do not want to spend more money on an apartment that I will rarely use. Anyone that has gone through the programs I have, who has realized that their true love is the forest, and has chosen to make it their career knows that it can be disruptive for close relationships. Dating is sort of out for the foreseeable future.
I have two friends that married while still studying, and it has worked out very well for them. Another friend just got married a couple of months ago in a really beautiful open air summer wedding. And now, I have another wedding coming up later this fall. Since all of my friends share similar interests as I do, though not necessarily the same career path, it goes without saying that nature, and namely the forest has been (at least to some extent represented) in their weddings.
But is that common.
For me, this is perfect, it is everything that I expected a wedding to be.
My Dream Wedding In the Trees
I seriously never thought about my wedding. I guess you could say that I was always a little different.
When I was maybe eleven or twelve I remember being over at my best friend's house. She and her sister, myself, and another friend sat in her room and talked, this was common. But the topic turned toward boys, dating, and marriage. I recall feeling a little bit put on the spot since I had never really thought of what they called their "dream wedding." Seriously, how could you plan your dream wedding even before you met your Mr. Right?
It was awkward and I remember stuttering around and making something silly up. It was going to be a big white wedding with lots of Cala Lilies and this and that. And in essences I wasn't being true to myself. Since even at that age, none of those things really expressed who I was. I could have been more honest, but I would have gotten laughed at. As it stood I was just the uncreative one out of the group. The one that was going to have the generic white wedding. And I was fine with that.
In truth I wasn't even sure if I was going to get married. It just never seemed like something that I had on my todo list. It was on my maybe list.
Now, older (at least a little bit) and more mature (at least a little bit) I realize that I would very much like to get married some day and start a family.
And while I am not in the process of planning my dream wedding I would be lying if I told you I had not made some thoughts about it.
The real reason that it has come up for me so much is because I have experienced so many in the last couple of years. It is one thing to talk about them when you are kids, it is another to be there, to experience it first hand, and to see how happy your friends are.
It really is a magical moment for them, and as a guest you get to experience a little bit of it yourself. I have been really blessed with wonderful friends and I was thankful for the chance to be there and celebrate their happiness and things like that are contagious. I ended up getting caught up in the whole thing.
I guess that it is normal. At least it is when you hear people talk. So I guess I am like the rest of the girls I know.
My Woodland Wedding
I think that I was born in the right time. When my mother got married she really did have the white wedding. She married her first boyfriend and they had stayed together throughout high school and college and then, once they graduated they got married. A couple of years later I was born. It was the romance that we all dream about. It was one that you see idealized in movies and TV, just that their's is real, and it is just as strong today as it was then.
As I had said though, the white wedding just really isn't me. And while as nice as my mom's wedding was I really couldn't see myself in the same situation. But do I really have to be?
I say no.
Today there is so much variety, so many different ways "to get married" that it almost feels like you could get overwhelmed if you didn't have an idea of what you wanted for your big day.
And I most certainly do.
As you may have noticed from my site I am rather obsessed with nature. And more specifically the forest. It really is a glorious gift from God and it is a resource that needs to be cared for. That said I really like the way some wedding take a more rustic look. I could totally see myself with a flower crown in some fancy, yet practical dress. You can get pretty much anything you want for a wedding; invitations with a rustic woodland theme are easy to find depending on what you want to emphasis in them. And on top of that, the outdoor wedding is more common today than it has been in a long time.
It all depends on what you want to do.
There are plenty of options you just have to know what you want. Master of Forestry is a two year coursework based masters and tends to be catered towards people who have a bachelor's in a different field. If you have a bachelor's in natural resources, it would be possible to finish the degree in one year. Depending on what you want to do, your options range from getting an AS in Forest Technology to getting a BS in Forestry to getting an MF (Masters of Forestry).
As you would expect, job prospects are much higher with an Master of Forestry. Most Masters programs are meant to be completed in 2 years, but without experience in things like dendrology (tree ID) it could take you at least an extra year to get caught up with the basics before you can really delve into Master's level forestry studies.
Getting in to the field is easy, getting the position you really want is another thing entirely.
I can't stress enough that university shouldn't be your only route to research.
The Thompson School
The professors at the University of New Hampshire write the SAF standards for all SAF accredited schools.
The Thompson school owns a Timberjack cable skidder, brand new CAT 574 forwarder, professional sawmill, grapple truck, and industrial wood chipper. You'll learn how to manage a forest, harvest a forest, mill products from that forest, grade wood products, climb trees, write a professional forest management plan, write and manage a controlled burn and draw maps using a tape and compass.
The professors also own the equipment that make it possible for Stihl to put on the lumberjack competitions.
Oregon State University
Oregon State University has an excellent College of Forestry. Multiple family members of mine are graduates with successful careers. Their forest engineering program has money, excellent teachers, and smack dab in the middle of some good timber.
Oregon state is probably best in the west, but if you want to stay in the south there are probably better schools
University of Montana
University of Montana has one of the most respected forestry schools around. They actually own a very large experimental forest right by the University.
Additionally with all the forest service land around its relatively easy to get seasonal forestry work. Added bonus, Missoula is an awesome college town.
If you're feeling adventurous, Wageningen University in the Netherlands offers an excellent Bsc (and Msc) that combines forestry with wider nature management and a solid policy/society perspective.
You wouldn't be the first American and it's a very internationally oriented university. Good facilities and most courses are taught in English!