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Careers in Fish & Wildlife Conservation

Planning a Career in Resource Management

Begin Your Career in High School

  • Take up hobbies that will help you develop useful skills and knowledge about the out-of-doors, such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching, and nature photography.
  • Prepare yourself for advanced schooling. Take courses in science, mathematics, computers, geography, social science and language arts.
  • Work or volunteer at parks, recreation departments, nature centers, or other local resource agencies.

Plan on a Post High School Education

Choose a field of natural resource management that interests you. The choices are many: Fisheries Management, Wildlife Management, Range Management, Forestry, Soils, Hydrology, Wildlife Law Enforcement, Environmental Education, Park Management, Outdoor Recreation, Aquaculture, Oceanography, and others. Work with a career counselor to learn about specific fields of study in natural resources.

Find out what the educational trend is for the field you are interested in by talking with a counselor or working professional. Most natural resource jobs are now filled by applicants holding a college degree. The level of training you are going to need will range from Associate to Doctorate depending on the field you enter, the type of work you want to do, and the amount of advancement you foresee for yourself.

Attend a university that has a degree program available in your desired field of study and follow their course outline. Or, begin your higher education at a liberal arts, state or junior college. You may transfer to a university at a later point. If this is your plan, be sure to select courses that will transfer. In either case, concentrate the first two years on completing required course work. The last two years will be spent on specialized course work in your chosen field.

Take elective courses that broaden your training and make you a more attractive candidate for employment. Additional courses in communications, speech and technical writing are highly recommended for all students. Adding other majors or minors offers you greater flexibility in pursuing jobs that may require a combination of talents such as forest recreation, forest economy, conservation education, sports marketing, outdoor writing, public administration and hatchery management.

Consider Graduate Study

Many positions in resource management are now held by people with advanced degrees of study. They include positions in research, teaching, management and administration. These types of opportunities are available mainly to people with more thorough and specialized training. At an early date in your undergraduate training, consider graduate studies to secure a master or doctorate degree. This may influence your undergraduate course of study.

Job Opportunities

The competition for positions is strong in most resource management fields. The major employers continue to be state, federal, city and county government agencies. However, more progressive private corporations are increasingly employing trained resource specialists. Your university's employment counseling center should have job opportunity lists and information on obtaining governmental job listings. Remember that employers will be looking at your level of academic achievement as well as relevant work experience. Being able to show summer, part time, volunteer or intern work related to your field will be valuable towards securing full time employment.

Aquaculture

Aquaculture is the intensive "farming" of fish and other aquatic animals and plants. Aquaculturalists are employed in both the public and private sector. In the public sector, they help manage our natural resources through their work at hatcheries and research facilities. Here their work involves such jobs as raising fish for stocking into public fishing waters, propagating species for recovery programs, developing propagation techniques, conducting genetic research, and more. Positions in the governmental aquaculture field range from university professors and consultants to hatchery managers and entry level technicians. The latter comprise the primary technical labor force in the hatchery facilities. Aquaculturalists can also find a career in the private sector where commercial aquaculture is rapidly growing. It accounts for many jobs. Here, however, the emphasis is primarily on the farming of aquatic animals for human consumption. Positions will range from technicians to business managers.

Duties of a Culturalist

  • Maintain rearing units
  • Maintain feeding regiment for stock
  • Provide remedial treatment for diseases
  • Transport and stock fish or other aquatic wildlife
  • Provide facility tours
  • Fabricate and repair equipment
  • Assist biological/research staff on field projects

Qualifications

Applicants for entry-level culturalist positions should have a high school diploma. However, many of these jobs are filled by applicants who hold an Associate or Bachelor degree or who are trying to gain work experience. Positions beyond culturalist require progressively more experience and education. Candidates for upper level positions usually hold a Bachelor of Science degree or an advanced degree in Aquaculture or a closely related field.

Fisheries Management

If you're an angler by pastime, you may feel compelled to turn that interest into a career in fisheries management. Here you will find yourself managing fish populations and their supporting habitats for others to enjoy. A career in this field can take several directions. Research biologists specialize in conducting studies on such things as the status of fish populations, the relationships between fish and other aquatic lifeforms, effects of contaminants on aquatic life, the distribution of species, habitat requirements, behaviors, disease and more.

Management biologists put this information to use in the field where they design practices that improve fish populations and fishing opportunities for anglers. Included in these practices are such things as fish stocking, water level manipulation, vegetation control, fertilization and liming of water, development of fishing regulations, in-stream and off-stream habitat improvement projects and conducting environmental impact assessments. Fisheries technicians are often hired to assist with the technical labor parts of field practices. Also, a crucial part of any biologist's job is public speaking; biologists must be willing and able to give presentations on such topics as aquatic stewardship and responsible angling.

Duties of a Fisheries Biologist

  • Monitor and evaluate species or populations through sampling
  • Develop aquatic community management plans
  • Develop fishing regulations and laws
  • Perform habitat evaluations and implement enhancement projects
  • Conduct educational programs
  • Provide technical assistance to public and private landowners
  • Conduct environmental assessments
  • Evaluate fish kills

Qualifications

For the job of Biologist, most successful job candidates will hold a Master of Science degree and have work experience in Fisheries Management or research. Most entry-level technicians will have a Bachelor of Science degree in Fisheries Biology, Wildlife Management, Aquatic Ecology or closely related field.

Natural Resource Education

People who enjoy teaching others and who have a spirited kinship with the out-of-doors will probably find resource education very appealing. Natural Resource Education, in a broad context, is teaching people to be responsible users of our natural resources. Resource educators are hired by resource management agencies, parks and recreation departments, nature centers, camps, private organizations, youth education organizations, and some private corporations. They design, implement and manage education programs that foster the resource goals and philosophies of the organization. For example, environmental educators teach skills needed for investigating environmental issues; adventure educators highlight risk-taking activities; conservation educators try to develop behaviors consistent with the concept of wise use; and outdoor educators teach others how to use the outdoors as a classroom for interdisciplinary studies.

Duties of a Resource Educator

  • Design comprehensive education plans
  • Develop and administer education programs
  • Develop, conduct or coordinate training for educators
  • Prepare and present educational programs
  • Recruit and manage volunteers
  • Provide assistance in curriculum planning and development
  • Produce instructional aids, publications and audio-visuals

Qualifications

Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Education, Outdoor Education, Resource Management, Biology, Wildlife, Forestry, Natural Science, Environmental Studies, Outdoor Recreation, Education or closely related subject. Most now hold a Master of Science degree in one or more of the above fields and have practical experience in teaching, developing or administering outdoor programs.

Wildlife Management

Wildlife Management is the science of managing wild animal populations. It is accomplished through the work of biologists in the public and private sectors. Research biologists specialize in conducting studies that determine the status of animal populations. With this type of information, wildlife managers develop field practices and regulations that provide for the welfare and enhancement of wildlife populations. Practices include such things as selective timbering, controlled burning, the establishment of hunting seasons and bag limits, and reintroductions. Management biologists, together with wildlife technicians, work in the field to put various land practices into place that will help to meet the management goals. Biologists who are employed by government agencies will spend much of their time educating private landholders about habitat enhancement and assisting them with management plans.

Duties of a Wildlife Biologist

  • Perform habitat evaluations and make management recommendations
  • Monitor and evaluate species populations
  • Develop species management plans
  • Provide technical assistance to public and private landowners
  • Conduct educational programs
  • Recommend hunting regulations and wildlife laws
  • Plan and execute habitat improvement projects
  • Coordinate wildlife management activities with other agencies

Qualifications

Those seeking employment as a Wildlife Biologist or above should have a Master of Science degree and past work experience in wildlife management to be competitive. To compete for entry-level technician positions, candidates should hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Biology, Wildlife Management, Wildlife Ecology, or a closely related field.

Law Enforcement

People who are interested in a law enforcement career could easily find themselves migrating into the field of natural resources where exciting job opportunities await them as Conservation Police Officers, Water Patrol Officers, Park Rangers, Back Country Rangers and more. These law enforcement professionals dedicate their lives to the protection of fish, forest and wildlife resources by enforcing laws that regulate the activities of the sportsmen and women who use them. Most job opportunities in wildlife law enforcement are found in state and federal fish and wildlife agencies and state, federal and county park authorities. Before pursuing this career, candidates should consider both the attraction of working in the fields and forests as well as the dangers and demands of the jobs. Post high school education is now the norm for most law enforcement careers. In addition, agencies will require that their recruits obtain specialized training. The amount and type of training will depend on the level of authority and the skills needed in each position.

Duties of a Natural Resource Law Enforcement Officer

  • Enforce laws
  • Investigate law violations
  • Investigate outdoor recreation accidents
  • Conduct surveillance
  • Assist other law enforcement agencies
  • Conduct search and rescue operations
  • Coordinate and conduct educational programs
  • Carry out public relations assignments
  • Assist fisheries/wildlife management efforts

Qualifications

Most successful applicants hold a Bachelor of Science degree in fish or wildlife biology, natural resource management, criminal justice or a related field of study. Many agencies will also have their own physical, psychological, fitness and legal requirements. More information about a career as a Virginia Conservation Police Officer is available on this Web site.

More Information

For more information about positions available with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, contact the Department's Human Resources section at (804) 367-1000 or email us at dgifweb@dgif.virginia.gov.