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So you want to be a wildlife biologist?

How to get one of the best jobs in the world

Michael "Mike" Canning serves as the Division's assistant director and has spent most of his career working on wildlife habitat and land management issues. Prior to becoming assistant director, Mike worked as GIS Coordinator and Habitat Section chief.

DO YOU LOVE wildlife watching, hunting or fishing? If so, you’re not alone. You’ve probably even wondered how you could earn a living working with wildlife.

Although there are many good options for wildlife careers, no other organization works more closely with Utah’s wildlife than the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR). The DWR is the state’s wildlife management agency, and we serve the people of Utah as trustee and guardian of the state’s wildlife.

A passion for wildlife

We get to work with wildlife every day. It’s our passion, we love it and we are always looking for new employees who feel the same way. If this describes you, and you want a fulfilling job that means more than just a paycheck, then the DWR may be the place for you.

Depending on your interests, there are many career paths at the DWR. We hire conservation officers, accountants, shooting range managers, heavy equipment operators, media specialists and wildlife biologists, to name just a few.

A DWR technician with a fish during an East Canyon survey.

A DWR technician with a fish during an East Canyon survey.

Because most of our employees are wildlife biologists, or served as biologists at some point in their careers, this post focuses on how to become a wildlife biologist. (Although the following approach generally applies to all jobs at the DWR.)

Gain wildlife experience

The first thing you must do to prepare for a job as a wildlife biologist is to gain relevant experience however you can. If possible, try to obtain a seasonal (short-term) position with the DWR or another wildlife agency so you can learn about multiple aspects of wildlife management.

If you can’t find a short-term position or your schedule isn’t flexible, you still have some options:

  • Volunteer to help with habitat-restoration projects, wildlife transplants or bird counts.
  • Join a wildlife conservation organization and volunteer to help build a wildlife guzzler.
  • Spend time in the field observing wildlife and learning as much as you can.
  • Read about wildlife management, including some of the most recent research on your favorite species.
  • Learn a lot, become an expert and be able to speak intelligently about your area of expertise.

Build a network of contacts

While you are busy gaining experience, start building a network of contacts in the wildlife community. If you want a career at the DWR, it is helpful to build relationships with DWR employees. Over time, you can demonstrate that you are a highly qualified worker who gets the job done and does it well.

Mike Kinghorn and Kirt Enright taking a lively young bighorn sheep to be transplanted from Antelope Island to the Newfoundland Mountains.

Mike Kinghorn and Kirt Enright taking a lively young bighorn sheep to be transplanted from Antelope Island to the Newfoundland Mountains.

Build the largest network you can and don’t just focus on the DWR. Get to know members of conservation organizations, university professors, members of other state and federal agencies, community leaders and even wildlife students. You never know who will let you know about the perfect job opportunity.

Understand the public’s interest in wildlife management

If you’ve read this far, you already know that it takes a passion for wildlife and lots of preparation to become a DWR biologist. In addition, it’s tremendously helpful if you are a hunter, angler or wildlife watcher who also enjoys working with the public. The skills you gain while hunting, fishing and wildlife watching will enhance your understanding of wildlife and their behaviors. This will also make it easier for you to understand and work with the DWR’s primary customers, the sportsmen and sportswomen of Utah.

The importance of valuing and communicating with the public cannot be overstated. Some people are attracted to a career in biology because they want to work only with animals — not other people. Unfortunately, that attitude will doom a biologist to failure in the DWR, where we work closely with the citizens of our state to be successful. Anyone seeking a career as a DWR biologist must be willing and able to work with the public on a regular basis.

Obtain a degree

In addition to everything discussed above, all DWR biologists are required to have a bachelor’s degree. This degree can come from any institution of higher learning, but most of our biologists attended either Utah State University (USU) or Brigham Young University (BYU). They majored in areas such as fisheries and wildlife, wildlife science, range science or biology.

Biologist Rich Hansen during waterfowl banding operations.

Biologist Rich Hansen during waterfowl banding operations.

USU and BYU both have historically strong wildlife programs, and they have good track records of preparing students to become professional wildlife biologists. In fact, the DWR has recently partnered with these universities to develop undergraduate internship programs.

Participation in the internship programs is competitive, but the students who are selected get to spend a summer being paid to work for the DWR. As an intern, you can get hands-on experience in wildlife management, build your professional networks, and determine if a career with the agency would be a good fit.

Pursue an advanced degree

Finally, although a master’s degree is not required to become a DWR biologist, it helps tremendously. Students who obtain a master’s degree not only learn a great deal about wildlife management, but they also learn how to conduct research projects and become much better writers. Along the way, they often gain a lot of confidence.

During job interviews for new hires, applicants with a master’s degree definitely stand out. A master’s degree will also help you throughout your career. It makes you more competitive, whether you’re seeking a promotion within the DWR or considering a move to a new employer.

If you are interested in pursuing a master’s degree in a wildlife field in Utah, the same recommendations apply: Both USU and BYU are great options. The DWR currently funds multiple research projects at both universities, and these projects allow graduate students many opportunities. They can conduct interesting research, work closely with DWR staff and build networks with wildlife professionals — all while earning their degrees.

Many DWR biologists (including me!) started off as university students working on projects funded by the DWR, and that led them to a career with the agency. It’s a great path if you are truly serious about becoming a professional biologist.

If you have what it takes and are willing to put in the effort, I hope you will consider a career with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. It’s a great place to work, and you can make important contributions to wildlife conservation. Having a career where I can help make a lasting difference on the ground has always meant the world to me. Come join us if you feel the same way.

26 Responses to So you want to be a wildlife biologist?

  1. Thank you for putting this out here. I’ve always wanted to be a fish and game warden or at least work with the DWR. I love to be out side and work outdoors. I’ve been hunting and fishing for a long time now. And fish and game has always had a impact on my life and I hope that after I graduate high school ill be able to go to collage and be able to do the Thu g I’ve always dreamed of happening. Thanks again.

  2. Hi my name is Nicholas Ridge Armstrong. I am fourteen and I’m looking for a DWR related eagle project. I love anything to do with the outdoors and I hope to pursue a career as a DWR officer. So please get back to me as soon as you can.
    Sincerely, Ridge Armstrong

  3. Seeing what has been said , I see that besides having a job in DWR.The use of heavy equipment is used is there positions for mechanics within the DWR.?

  4. We hope you continue to pursue your love of wildlife! Thank you for the comment.

  5. Hi Nicholas,

    Please get in touch with our volunteer coordinator, Bryan Christensen: 801-538-4710 or bryanchristensen@utah.gov. Thanks for your interest!

  6. Hi Kevin,

    Normally we rent the heavy equipment we use on large projects, so there isn’t a lot of opportunity here for mechanics. We appreciate your comment and your interest!

  7. I am a undergrad studying biology at the UofU and I am super interested in becoming a wildlife biologist in the future and I am trying to get as much exposure to the field as I can. Do you have any part time job openings or volunteer openings I can apply for?? Thanks!

  8. Hi Jackson,

    Thank you for your interest! The part time seasonal positions around here normally open in the late winter and early spring. You can view them and apply at https://naturalresources.utah.gov/seasonal-employment.

  9. Hello,
    I was thinking of applying for a Fisheries Technician position that I found through the Texas A&M fisheries job board. The position is in located in Vernal and I was wondering if there is any temporary housing available to seasonal employees through the DWR?

  10. Hi Thomas,

    Yes, this position would have housing at a very reduced rate — $100/mo or so. Thank you for your interest!

  11. I would love to lean more

  12. I am a freshman at Carbon high school I am planning on studying to go into a wildlife biologist postion I was wondering how do you get started with the service projects and is there a certain age to be able to begin helping and volunteering? I was also wondering at what age could I get a part time job with the DWR

  13. This information will be forwardsed to my daughter

  14. Hi Dalton,

    We recommend calling our Southeastern Region office (435-613-3700) and asking about local volunteer opportunities. And as far as paid job with the Division, I believe the age requirement is 18 years. You can view seasonal job positions at https://naturalresources.utah.gov/seasonal-employment. Thank you for your interest!
    —Crystal *UDWR Social Media Coordinator*

  15. Hi Thomas,We hope you continue to pursue your love of wildlife! Thank you for the comment 🙂

  16. i am wondering if you guys need a hounds men to be able to pursue cougars and bears so you can put tracking collars on them and do your guys other stuff.

  17. Thanks for checking with us, Chance. We don’t have a dedicated houndsman on staff. We do, however, work with the Utah Houndsmen Association when we need tracking assistance. You might want to contact them, if you aren’t already a member.

    You could also reach out to the DWR office closest to you, and let your local biologists know you’re willing to help. Thanks!

  18. Hey everyone,
    I was wondering if you guys had a list link for up coming volunteer opportunities?? I have started this last year in school with the outcome to be a wildlife biologist, so i wanted to begin my volunteering now so four years down the road im ready to role. any information will help. thanks again for all the opportunities.

  19. Hello my name is Ryan and I am fourteen years old. I am interested in volunteer positions working with ducks or geese.

  20. Hello. I am fourteen years old. I would like to learn more about wildlife biology. I am interested in volunteer positions working with ducks or geese. Do you have anything available for a 14 year old to help with? Thank you.

  21. I currently work for skywest airlines as a level III a&p mechanic. I’m 58 yrs old and looking for something new. Any possibilities of field mechanics for all types of aviation with utah dwr?

  22. Hi Tyler,

    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, but now is a great time of year to apply for seasonal positions within our department. You can find a list of seasonal positions here: https://naturalresources.utah.gov/seasonal-employment

    You may also want to check into some of our volunteer opportunities: https://wildlife.utah.gov/available-projects/category/239-all-categories.html

    Thanks again for your interest!

  23. Hi Ryan — In June of every year, we invite the public to help us round up and relocate urban geese that have become a nuisance. That sounds like it would be a great fit for your interests! Here’s a Facebook post about it from June of 2016: http://bit.ly/urban_goose_2016

    We’re planning to share the details about the 2018 banding schedule on our Facebook page in early June. If you or a family member are on Facebook, that’s the best way to spot the schedule once it’s available. Thanks for your interest in helping with ducks and geese!

  24. Hi Joseph — Thank you for your interest. The DWR doesn’t have any airplane mechanics on staff. UDOT’s Division of Aeronautics actually handles mechanical issues and maintenance for us. If you’re interested in working with them, though, you may want to check the State of Utah Jobs website at http://statejobs.utah.gov/jobseeker/.

  25. brooklyn anderson

    hello I’m 13. I want to become a wildlife biologist and live in Utah. I need help understanding what to start doing now.!!!!

  26. Hey! I am currently a freshman in college and I am majoring in Biology with the intent of being a wildlife biologist. I was just curious if it would be possible for me to be an intern for you guys in 2019 when school is done? This is a career I have always wanted to do and would love to get some hands on experience and get to meet some new people.
    Thank you!

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