Wildlife Vocalizations: Michelle Kemner

Wildlife Vocalizations is a collection of short personal perspectives from people in the field of wildlife sciences.

Since I was 5 or 6 years of old, I knew I wanted to be a wildlife biologist, although growing up I thought they were called park rangers. When I told my high school counselor I wanted to be a park ranger, they scoffed and told me there was no such career.

I went to college on a music scholarship and ended up working at a touristy restaurant in the high mountains of Colorado between my sophomore and junior year of college. I miraculously met some folks from the University of Toronto working on a white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura) project. They needed a field assistant, and I begged for the job (having no experience other than actually knowing what a white-tailed ptarmigan was and growing up in the mountains of Colorado). They were desperate, and I landed the job that would ultimately decide my fate.

I was lucky enough to work for Kathy Martin (a well-respected grouse researcher and a woman) and Clait Braun (retired Avian Research Manager at Colorado Department of Wildlife), both of whom had full faith in me and my abilities. I never, ever doubted that I would become a wildlife biologist someday. They were my inspiration to change my career path to what I had always wanted to do in the first place.

An elk hunt. Credit: Erin Kemner

I went back to school that fall and took the minimum classes I needed to keep my scholarship, including as many biology classes as possible. I ultimately graduated with a biology minor and immediately went to graduate school where I had to take a full load of classes on top of doing my graduate research, since I lacked all the classes required to land a job in wildlife management. I worked very hard and took all the opportunities I could get.

Martin and Braun offered endless advice and encouragement, and I ultimately became a professional wildlife biologist in 1998 working for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. I joined The Wildlife Society in 1996 and immediately got involved in chapter representation in 1999 as treasurer of the Idaho Chapter of TWS. I served two and a half terms as vice president for the Northwest Section and two and a half terms as secretary/treasurer of the Northwest Section between 2010 and now.

Kemner trains the next generation of wildlife biologists, while conducting mule deer herd composition surveys from a Bell 47 helicopter. Credit: Amber Kornak

In my early career, I was very thankful to have had male supervisors (John W. Connelly and Tom Hemker) who did not care that I was a female. They saw good biologists and poor biologists and never doubted my abilities. I’ve also had my fair share of horrible supervisors/leaders who think women should be teachers and nurses. Although these people threw wrenches in my spokes, I never doubted that I am good at what I do and have a lot of respect from people across the West. Women in this field will always face adversity, but we also seem to take the punches thrown at us and keep our heads held high.

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For questions, please contact Jamila Blake.