Wildlife career advice straight from the experts

By Dana Kobilinsky

You may know for sure that you want a career in wildlife, but you might not be so sure about which road you should take when looking for careers after graduation.

Attendees at the Career Opportunities Panel Discussion on Tuesday morning during TWS’ 23rd Annual Conference got some insight from people who work in different areas of the wildlife field, including how they got to where they are and the variety of career options that are available.

The event, sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, is the first of its kind at a TWS conference where five panelists spoke about their organizations and what their careers entail. The panel also answered questions from the crowd of students in the audience.

Brian Logan, the national wildlife program leader with the U.S. Forest Service spoke about working and traveling to different locations before landing his USFS position in Washington, D.C. Logan says there are positions from the technician level to district wildlife biologists to regional program leaders, and students can work their way up the ladder in these USFS positions. Logan also stressed the importance of advancing your writing skills for wildlife careers.

It’s not all Discovery Channel,” he said. “There’s some of that at the technician level,” but he added that there’s also a lot of timber harvest, mining, grazing, law regulation and policy associated with working with the USFS.

Rosa Gonzalez with the Wildlife Services also provided some insight into her organization and position dealing with human and wildlife coexistence at the Naval Air Station in Key West, Fla. Gonzalez started school at age 34, which she says shows that non-linear paths in the wildlife field can also lead to success.

“I didn’t know Wildlife Services had so many jobs available,” Gonzalez said. “When I went to school, I was thinking of becoming a park ranger.” Gonzalez also suggests having some writing skills and applying for internships is helpful. “School teaches you the basics, but internships are going to take you all the way,” she said.

Scott Yaich, the chief scientist of Ducks Unlimited, added some key advice for students as they look for jobs in the wildlife field: Be hopeful, be flexible and be ready to know good luck when it happens to you. Yaich says it’s important to seize opportunities that are available. He also stressed the importance of networking. “Network, network, network,” he said. “Who you know is rarely going to get you a job. But who you know can make you aware that an opportunity is available.”

While students may have heard of the previous organizations, Stephen Petron of CH2M spoke about his engineering consulting company that helps resolve issues and solve problems for state and federal governments. “You need to have mentors throughout your career, and that’s not just starting out,” Petron advisesd.

Another organization that wildlifers might not think of when considering careers is Duke Energy. Scott Fletcher, the natural resource manager with Duke Energy, discussed how the organization deals with wind and solar energy projects that often require wildlife and endangered species issues. “One thing I stress for you folks is good communication skills,” Fletcher said, adding that this means good technical writing skills as well as communication skills. “And the other aspect is good teamwork,” he stressed.

Fletcher concluded that 60 percent of the employees in his organization will likely retire in the next 10 years. “There’s plenty of opportunity out there for those in the private sector side,” he said.

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is an associate science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at dkobilinsky@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

Read more of Dana's articles.