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So you want to be a wildlife biologist?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Mike Canning :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.

View Comments (27)

  • Hi Thomas,We hope you continue to pursue your love of wildlife! Thank you for the comment :)

  • 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.

    • 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!

  • 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.

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

    • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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/.

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

  • 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!

  • Hello, my daughter is at snow college in her second year and is in the natural res program. She is working towards a degree in wildlife res and loves the program. She has had many opportunities to work with the division on deer testing and pheasant release programs. She is struggling to figure out what degree is needed and is concerned about what exactly she needs to possibly work at the division. Is there a list of wildlife degrees or range mang degrees she could look at? She planned to go to usu but is being told to follow finishing at Suu due to over crowding in the usul program. Not to mention in her words all the math ha ha. Any help would be appreciated.