Many young Montanans, curious about becoming a wildlife biologist, gather their impressions from magazines, television, school counselors, or contacts with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks personnel. As varied as these sources are, they only tell part of the story of what the profession of wildlife biology is really about.
A career in wildlife biology is more than just a job. Because the wildlife resources belong to all the people and demands on these resources are growing exponentially, biologists find themselves as the guardians of the public’s trust, often making a lifetime commitment to the work.
As a result, wildlife biologists may spend as much time dealing with people as they do with wild animals. People-management responsibilities include public presentations, hunter harvest surveys, meetings, landowner contacts, negotiating hunter access and developing a public consensus on the future direction of wildlife management programs.
This doesn't dim the pleasure these biologists take in their work. Much of it is still spent out-of-doors working independently with wildlife in some beautiful habitats. With that freedom comes responsibility. In Montana, most are responsible for determining the status of wildlife populations in a particular area. Are the antelope numbers up or down this year? How much? Why?
Biologists also recommend hunting season strategies to the public. Hunting is the most effective tool a biologist has for keeping game populations in balance with available food supplies and the tolerance of private landowners. Biologists continually strive to maintain and improve hunting opportunities for the public on private property.
Career opportunities are mostly in government agencies. Both federal and state governments hire biologists. The departments of Agriculture and Interior employ wildlife biologists on the federal level, while fish and wildlife agencies employ most at the state level. A survey of university wildlife graduates found that 41 percent were hired by state agencies, 29 percent by the federal government, 17 percent by the private sector and 12 percent by colleges and universities for teaching and research.
According to Dr. Dan Pletscher, Dean of Wildlife Biology at the University of Montana, wildlife career opportunities are becoming more diversified due to non-traditional agencies such as departments of transportation, seeking wildlife biologists. The wildlife department at the University of Montana receives approximately six to eight job announcements per day.
Like most employers of wildlife graduates, FWP requires a master's degree and frequently, at least one year of experience. In 2001, the agency offered only eight job openings for wildlife biologist-type positions with an average of 15 applicants for each position. Starting salaries with FWP for such positions begin at $32,811 annually.
Biologists gain their career satisfaction in special ways. They receive great satisfaction from the smile of a young hunter having his or her first deer checked at a checking station. Hearing a wild turkey gobbler announce another beautiful spring sunrise may be reward enough for a biologist's efforts that day. These natural rewards are what nourish a biologist's continued commitment to wildlife.