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Is a career in Wildlife Biology sustainable?

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I love the outdoors and wildlife, but heard a career in wildlife biology is too competitive and a low salary. Is there any fact to this? #wildlife-biology #wildlife

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12 answers

Zachary’s Answer

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A close friend of mine chose Wildlife Biology as his career path, and my understanding is that the jobs are very competitive, often seasonal, and often for quite low pay. However, he has generally loved most of the seasonal jobs he's taken. He's done work in Texas, West Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona in the 10 years since graduating from college, but has had to rely on the retail & customer service sector between seasons and still has struggled to land a permanent full time position somewhere.


If you're in college, or will be going soon, I would recommend finding as many ways as possible to diversify your education and experience. Join as many clubs and organizations as possible. If possible, minor or dual major in Geographic Information Systems (GIS); GIS is an important tool to lots of Wildlife Biology research and work. Not only would that give you a backup plan for a career in GIS if opportunities in Wildlife Biology are tough to find, but it would also add a valuable commodity to your resume when being considered for jobs in that field.

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John’s Answer

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Yes, a career in wildlife biology is possible and sustainable. And yes, it's a competitive field. I retired last year after 30+ years working as a wildlife ecologist - so it is a viable, long-term career. Much depends on what kind of wildlife work you like - much of the work is outdoors running a tractor, managing grasslands, forests of marshes. Some of the work involves field research - counting and sampling animals. And some of the work is working with people - hunters, landowners, visitors. Many wildlife biology jobs require a related college degree, but the job also requires some skills you may not learn in school (colleges don't teach you how to drive a tractor with a seed harvester, or how to operate a chainsaw. Like many jobs, there's an irony in that employers want applicants with experience, but it's hard to get that experience when you start. It isn't like engineering, or high-tech jobs where employers are looking for you. All that said, it's a very rewarding job, where you see the results of your hard work, get to spend times in the outdoors instead of an office, and where you know you're serving others. The people you work with love the same things you do, so there's great comradeship. Starting pay isn't great, but there are many employers (state government, federal government, forestry, agriculture, timber industry, city and state parks, consultants). I think the federal government pays the most in the longer term.

John recommends the following next steps:

  • Get a college degree that includes field ecology, or wildlife management. There are jobs that don't require degrees (technician jobs), but a degree is always prefered.
  • Get field ecology and restoration experience. Volunteer, look for summer, seasonal, or part-time jobs.
  • Network - get to know some wildlife biologists, perhaps by volunteering. Or join and attend local meetings of The Wildlife Society, or Society for Conservation Biology, or Society for Range Management. These folks can tip you off on job openings, and vouch for you as references.
  • Be flexible in applying for jobs - you may need to move to where wildlife biology jobs are; that may not be where you're living now.
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Lisa’s Answer

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Hi Britney,

A career in wildlife biology is possible. Wildlife biologist jobs have been few and far between, but they are gaining traction. You won't make millions of dollars, but you will be able to make a decent living. Starting off is always hard (just like many other jobs) as you are required to have real-world skills that you have not acquired. The best thing to do is to volunteer or go on naturalist walks to understand wildlife and the environment they live in. Wildlife biologist isn't just about working with wildlife, but also working with people to care about and protect wildlife. There are different places where you can work: consulting, government, or non-profit. Each has it's pluses and minuses and different experience. You can do anything from working as a land manager to protect wildlife, to conducting wildlife surveys for an area that is going to be developed. There are many fields and different types of jobs to explore.

Lisa recommends the following next steps:

  • volunteer or go on naturalist walks
  • talk to organizations in the area where you live to see what kind of wildlife biologist jobs are in the area
  • get a degree in some sort of biological field
  • apply for seasonal or temporary jobs while in school to get some experience. Or, travel abroad to get some experience
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Jose Daniel’s Answer

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Hi Britney,

Yes, a career in wildlife biology is both competitive and sustainable. I'm a wildlife biologist and I graduated from college at the beginning of the economic recession in 2008. At that time it was very hard for a recent graduate to find a job that was not an internship or that paid above the minimum rate. Fortunately things have improved drastically since then and it is now possible to find a decent job even right out of collage. Don't be discourage by what people say, it is true that a career in biology is not as lucrative as other professions but if you love traveling, wildlife and the outdoors, you will find it extremely rewarding.

I recommendation that you get a biology or biology related degree in college. Right now it is hard to get a biology job without a degree. While in college I encourage you to take statistics, ecology, and Global Information System (GIS) courses. I think most biology degrees require statistics and ecology but not GIS which is a shame because knowing GIS is pretty much a requirement in most well paid biology jobs. Knowing how to use a GPS and a compass can be very useful. If you can, do an internship with your university, this experience will help you greatly after you graduate. If you have never hiked or camp outdoors before, I recommend you try it. Some jobs might require you hike long distances and even camp outside for days, so having experience doing it can help you get a job.

In the end Wildlife Biology is not for everyone. This is a career for those who truly love to travel, the outdoors and wildlife.



Jose Daniel recommends the following next steps:

  • Get a college degree in Biology or biology related career
  • Take GIS, ecology, and statistics in College
  • Go hiking and camping
  • Do an internship while in College
  • Graduate and apply for your first Biology Job
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Jeremy’s Answer

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I think this is a great question to ask! I would strongly encourage you to look at job boards (Texas A&M Wildlife Job Board, State Hiring Centers, USA Jobs, etc.) to get a better idea of what salary you might expect with a career in wildlife biology. Also when looking at these job boards keep a close eye on how long these jobs last and what benefits they come with, especially health benefits. Some state wildlife agencies are loosing funding as hunter participation decreases and there has been an increase in short-term, OPS, and time-limited positions. Moving every couple of years can be very expensive and personally difficult. At the state level you can also expect very few raises, depending on which state you work.


I think besides salary or competition, it is important to keep in mind future flexibility in job locations. In many cases, fish and wildlife offices are located in a limited number of locations across the state and it may make things difficult if you want to end up living near family or friends.


Additionally, I would highly recommend talking with a biologist that works in an area that you might be interested. Wildlife work may involve a lot of traveling and seeing new places when you are in the beginning of your career but the vast majority of a wildlife biologists work time is spent sitting in front of a computer or in a truck/car.


Finally, as a previous person has stated, if you do end up pursuing a B.S. degree in wildlife biology then expect to end up getting a M.S. to be competitive. Try your best to gain as much experience as possible with GIS (ArcGIS/QGIS/Python), Biostatistics, Program R, SAS, etc. These are very important to skills to have in wildlife biology and they are great backups if you do end up pursing a job in another STEM field. Also, the feds (USFWS, USGS, USFS) are easily some of the highest paid wildlife biologists in the country. Try your best to make yourself as hirable as possible to a federal agency!




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Philip’s Answer

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A career in Wildlige Biology is certainly a "sustainable" career but it is also VERY competitive. But don't let that discourage you from entering the field. Your success will largely depend on how well you do in college and internship positions. Depending on how far you want to go in your career, the vast majority of government agency positions will require a graduate degree to stay competitive and move higher up in the agency. You can get a position with some agencies with a 2 or 4 year undergraduate degree, but if you want to further your career past the Technician level, I would suggest planning on going to grad school to obtain your Master's.


It won't necessarily be a high paying job unless you work your way up through the ranks of an agency for many years or find a job in the private sector, which are generally even more competitive and harder to find. But don't let the pay discourage you. The majority of biologists do this job because we love the work, love the animals, and love science, not because we want to make money. Agency positions generally have great benefits to go along with a salary, and you can certainly raise a family with a biologist's pay. A former boss of mine said it best; "A career in wildlife biology will not make you rich in life, but it will make your life rich".


Another piece of advice that I wish someone had told me before I started my professional program in college is that you should be prepared to move. Wildlife biologist positions are not the type of job found in every town. You might not even be able to stay in state. If you want to stay "close to home", this field might not be the right fit for you. Even finding the right college program for you might take you to another state. My friends in the program from college are scattered all over the country and even in other countries.


But if you truly love being outdoors, working with animals and with people, it's pretty hard to beat the job of a Wildlife Biologist! Best wishes.

Philip recommends the following next steps:

  • Figure out what sector you have the greatest interest in and which direction you want to follow in your career (e.g. game management, endangered species, shorebirds, hepatology, etc.) and start researching College programs that "specialize" in that area. It's not as important in your undergrad studies, but it will give you direction and a goal.
  • Research undergrad programs, starting in your state, and find the best fit for you. Call the school and speak with someone about your next steps in preparation and applying to the school.
  • Intern/volunteer as much as possible! Moving ahead in this field is all about networking and your past experience. Seasonal internships are a great way to build experience and get your foot in the door with many agencies, NGOs, etc.
  • Do your best in your school program of choice. Even your undergrad performance will have an effect on the graduate programs available to you and therefore your career advancement.
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Nick’s Answer

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Yes, it's definitely a good career choice and can provide a comfortable living. In my experience, it took a while after college working seasonal contracts, but that was actually the most fun I had working. Like most careers, the higher up in a field you get, the less fun stuff you get to do, but it's still a very rewarding career path. And once you get higher up, you can help influence decisions and policies to conserve and protect our natural resources.

I would recommend trying to be as involved as you can, whether that's with a high school or college club or internship. That way you can figure out if you really like doing the work and that can help you shape your education. Also, it helps a ton to have some experience in the field already when looking for that first job.

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Ameire’s Answer

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Anything is sustainable, it’s up to you to make the effort and work for it. You may start off small, but it will grow over time with experience.

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Yasmine’s Answer

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Wildlife protection is the protection of threatened species of flora and fauna as well as their habitat. One of the goals of wildlife protection is to ensure that nature exists for future generations to enjoy wildlife and land and to realize its importance to humans. [1] Several government agencies are involved in wildlife protection, which help implement policies to protect wildlife. Many independent non-profit organizations promote various issues related to wildlife protection. [2]


Wildlife protection has become an increasingly important practice because of the negative effects of human behavior on wildlife. Conservation biology plays a role in protecting wildlife. Environmental ethics, in addition to the pressure exerted by environmentalists, have made this issue an important environmental issue.

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Jamie’s Answer

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No it's not. I would absolutely go for it.

Jamie recommends the following next steps:

  • Go ahead and apply
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Kareesa’s Answer

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These are all great answers. I've been in the industry for about 10+ years now and I will say it can be difficult however it's really about what you want and what you ENJOY doing. First off let me start by mentioning I've worked in consulting mostly. There are other avenues for wildlife biologist including but not limited to; conservation work, non=profits, and government work. I cannot speak to these. For consulting you can go two main routes, seasonal/independent contracting or full time salary. You will most likely start seasonal either way with an option to carry on full time, given it's the right match for you. I remained seasonal for my entire career and it's a long but rewarding road. If you choose this you will learn to manage your own time, budget, projects, and schedule. You will be advocating for yourself mostly and dipping into skill that are more related to a business major. With that being said these skills are all transferable should you want to start any business of your own someday. If you move into a salaried position know that it will change from mostly field work to some field work and mostly report writing. In general if you work in the consulting industry you will be asked to do something called construction monitoring. This type of work is not for everyone. It can be hard for us nature lovers and a bit of a curve ball if you are not expecting it. Construction monitoring will require a basic level (and interest) of construction management. When I first discovered this, I was actually surprised out how I enjoyed learning about it (like a little kid playing with his/her Tonka trucks). However it get's old fast. Botany experience is highly sought after and makes you more hirable for field work outside of construction monitoring. Last but not least if you stay in the field for the majority of your career and remain independent know that the consulting firms will pit you against other field staff and I have seen a decline in hourly pay since I first began working. Even if you are just starting out base pay used to be $25/hr. It's hard work no matter your experience and the base requirement is in fact a B.S. Degree that you have already paid into. Don't let them lower the bar on you. If you know other beginning biologists, stick together and ask for a fair introductory rate. Now this is assuming you have the outdoor skills to literally jump from the couch to the field. What I mean is, the wildlife skills are mostly site specific (threatened and endangered species of a particular geographical area) and can be learned in a day or two during surveys, but outdoors skills and resilience is something that you must already have an interest and experience with. For example, long miles (6-10miles a day), variable environmental conditions, extreme heat or cold, mapping/navigational skills and remote locations. I was an outdoor major with a minor in biology so this was my way into the career.

If all of that resonates with you it can be an epic adventure!

Also reach out if you do have any more questions, and if/when you start working as seasonal staff (which most everyone starts out as) reach out and do your market research! Find out what others are getting paid and the terms of the contract/projects. The consulting firms charge the client about 3 times as much as you make hourly. So if you make $25/hr they are charging $100/hr for your expertise and degree in biology (and/or related).

Hope this helps!

Kindly,
Kareesa

PS. There is another submission on here that gave some really good 'next steps.' I would second that, with the volunteering and what not. I did that for many years while I was in college which is what mainly made me hirable after college. Volunteer research projects, field work, and conservation work. It's also fun work if you love the outdoors.
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Nathan’s Answer

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Hi Britney,


It’s definitely doable but you may have to sacrifice a lot in the beginning of your career. Starting out, you will very likely only be able to land seasonal work; February – August is the common season. Fall and Winter jobs are rare and hard to come by. During the “off-season”, I have been lucky to find some wildlife work but other seasons I have worked seasonal retail jobs and done substitute teaching.


Supportive parents/family/friends are a godsend. Not everyone will be patient and understanding with the type of work you do for such little pay. I am fortunate to have understanding parents that I can move back in with when work is scarce (the off-season).


The work is not always exciting and is not for the faint of heart. You get to be outdoors most of the time which is great but sometimes it involves a lot of sitting and waiting during observations. But if you are patient you will experience the coolest things!  Handling California Condors, tracking Greater Sage-Grouse through the snow, and missions to locate Spotted Owls in the redwood forests make the top of my list!


If you have a passion for nature, travel, meeting new people, and knowing that your career is making a difference this may be the career for you. But it is certainly not the life for everyone. Like I said, early in your career especially will be tough and will require many sacrifices (job stability, good pay, social life stability, comfort, literally anything that costs money…the list goes on).


I have yet to land a permanent wildlife biology job after 3.5 years in the game but I’m confident that if I stick with it I will get there.


I recommend trying it out during the summer while you pursue a degree in Biology. There are opportunities all over the states for students during the summer. Try applying for REU positions Late Fall-Early Spring for the Summer. Or try looking for volunteer opportunities in your local area. To be a volunteer you do not always need to have a lot of experience. Get a good look at typical jobs on the Texas A&M Fisheries and Wildlife job board. https://wfscjobs.tamu.edu/job-board/


Good Luck!

Nathan recommends the following next steps:

  • Volunteer
  • Degree in Wildlife Biology, Ecology, Biology, or related field
  • Good idea to double major or minor in GIS
  • Summer Internships while pursuing a degree to really get a taste of the life and work
  • If you love it, keep at it!
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