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Wildlife Biologist

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An osprey flies with a fish on the Copperhead course during the final round of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club on March 16, 2014 in Palm Harbor, Florida
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images Sports/Getty Images)

Wildlife biologists are primarily responsible for studying the biology, behavior, and habitats of a variety of animal populations in the wild.

Duties

A wildlife biologist must use their knowledge of wildlife and their habitats to manage and study animal populations. Those working in the field may require the skills needed to trap, tag, or relocate animals for conservation purposes. They may also be responsible for conducting census projects, research studies, and complex data analysis. They also must possess solid communications skills in order to relate their scientific findings to coworkers and other researchers in the field.

Wildlife biologists may be involved with a variety of tasks such as managing forests or wetlands, studying ecosystems, developing land and water use plans, working to save endangered species, evaluating the impact of commercial ventures on local wildlife, or studying diseases transmitted by wildlife. They may also liaise with fish and game wardens and wildlife rehabilitators to coordinate the management of local wildlife.

In addition to routine administrative office work, wildlife biologists frequently work outdoors in changing weather conditions and extreme temperatures. They may interact with and study any number of animal species in the population of local wildlife including deer, moose, raccoons, opossums, migratory birds, birds of prey, reptiles, marine mammals, bats, big cats, fish, and amphibians.

Career Options

Wildlife biologists may find positions in higher education, working as professors at the college level if they hold advanced degrees. They may also work for the state or federal government in conservation or research positions, often within agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Private sector employment may be found with zoos, community centers, environmental research facilities, and consulting firms.

Education & Certification

A wildlife biologist usually possesses a degree in wildlife or fisheries management or a related area. These degrees generally involve the completion of coursework in wildlife conservation and management, population dynamics, animal behavior, genetics, zoology, ecology, anatomy and physiology, biology, botany, chemistry, statistics, and wildlife or environmental law. A bachelor’s degree is required at minimum, while a Masters degree or PhD is generally preferred by most governmental and private employers.

Wildlife biologists must also be very familiar with the use of various computer based technologies and advanced methods of data manipulation. They often utilize specialized computer software designed to track individual animal movements, map population dynamics, and compile statistical data analysis.

The Wildlife Society offers the field’s professional designation: Certified Wildlife Biologist (CWB). CWB applicants must meet educational requirements and have at least five years of professional experience. Wildlife biologists who have not yet achieved the requisite professional experience may be granted Associate Wildlife Biologist (AWB) certification status. Once certified, the wildlife biologist must complete at least 80 hours of continuing education every five years.

Salary

The salary for wildlife biologists may vary based on factors such as type of employment, level of education, and the duties required by their specific position. Online salary data sites such as Indeed.com quote an average salary for a wildlife biologist as being approximately $64,000.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) reported a similar median annual salary of $61,660 ($29.64 per hour) for wildlife biologists in its 2010 salary study. The middle 50 percent of wildlife biologists earned between $43,060 and $70,500. The lowest 10 percent earned under $33,550, while the highest 10 percent earned over $90,850.

Wildlife biologists holding advanced degrees or with specialized knowledge tend to earn higher salaries in the field. According to the 2010 BLS survey data, wildlife biologist positions with the federal government tend to offer the highest level of compensation, with an annual mean wage of $77,030. Research scientists ran a close second on the salary scale, pulling in an annual mean wage of $72,410.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) expects employment of all biological scientists to increase much faster than the average for all occupations, at a rate of just over 20% through 2018. In 2008, zoologists and wildlife biologists held 19,500 positions. The 2010 BLS survey projects that an additional 2,500 positions will be created in the zoology and wildlife biology field through 2018.

Those wildlife biologists that hold Masters or PhD degrees will have the greatest number of career options over the next decade, especially in the areas of research or academia. The largest concentrations of wildlife biologist positions in the United States are found in the following states: California (1,900 jobs), Washington (1,860 jobs), Florida (1,390 jobs), Oregon (1,300 jobs) and Alaska (790 jobs).

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