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I Have a Wildlife Degree

Valerie Carter-Stone absolutely loves her job.  She is a Natural Resources Area Manager with the Cleveland Metroparks.  She manages seven reservations within the park system, which means she’s in charge of maintaining the health and diversity of that piece of land.

The Cleveland Metroparks Natural Resources Division has many biologists and ecologists on staff who specialize in different areas.  They have a wetland ecologist, wildlife ecologist, aquatic biologist and plant ecologist.  Valerie says her job as area manager incorporates a little bit of all these specialties.

Education

Valerie has her bachelor’s degree in wildlife conservation with a minor in forestry.  But she also went back to school for her master’s in forestry and environmental education.

If you’re looking to get into this field, Valerie says you need to be very proactive when you get to college so you pick the correct degree or concentration.  There are a lot of similar sounding degrees in environmental, wildlife, biology and ecology fields and every university has a different name and description for each one. When Valerie went to school, she originally tried environmental engineering and then environmental science, but found out that those fields were not what she wanted to do.  Valerie’s advice is to look at each degree title, read the course description and find out what type of jobs graduates with those degrees get.  She says it helps to ask professors lots of questions to find out exactly which field fits the career you ultimately are interested in pursuing.  She says it wasn’t until she sat down with a professor and explained what she wanted to do each day in her job that the professor was able to point her to wildlife conservation.  But she cautions, a similar degree may have a different name at a different university.

Also if you’re interested in this field, be prepared to do lots of internships (and to get dirty).  While working on her undergraduate degree, Valerie interned at the National Aquarium in Baltimore one summer.  She spent a winter in Belize helping a graduate student mist netting bats. Another summer she helped with a salmon restoration project working at a fish ladder in a fish dam in Connecticut. Valerie says getting all this experience during her internships really helped her land a job after college.  

Valerie warns that many of your first jobs in this field will be dirty, disgusting and unpleasant. One her first jobs was spending a summer in a hot attic with a microscope looking at bear scat (poop) to evaluate what type of food they liked to eat. But, then she was allowed to go to the bear dens and hold bear cubs which made the disgusting experience worth it.

Day in the life

As the land manager, Valerie says every day on the job is different.  She’s in charge of protecting and maintaining the land and animals within her reservation.  Because she’s the manager and in charge, she gets to choose each day whether she gets to go outside and work or stay inside and handle administrative details.

What Valerie loves most about her job is that she gets to work outside even in the winter. Some days she gets to go out and drive the big tractor mowing the fields.  She could be digging holes and planting trees. Some days she’s working on invasive plant management.  That means she has to get rid of plants that aren’t supposed to be growing on the reservation. She may do this by spraying them with herbicides, cutting them down with a chainsaw or even picking them out by hand. When we visited Valerie, she was cutting down some willow trees at a dam, to manage the muskrat population.  She was also managing the water flow from the different waterways within the park.

Valerie says she likes to save the administrative work for the winter season when there is not a lot of work to do outside.  That’s when she creates maps for her seasonal crews or works on management plans for what she wants to accomplish with the reservation. 

Advice for getting into a wildlife or conservation career

Valerie says no matter what age you are if you’re interested in this field you need to spend time outside, especially with field guides.  She suggests you start learning what types of plants and animals you are seeing and hearing. Get some guides to help you figure out the calls and sounds of the birds, toads, and frogs.  She also says joining the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts is also good because older students do a lot of outdoor activities.  Valerie also says volunteering at your local park is a great way to get started. Or join any groups or organizations that specialize in outdoor activities, like a bird-watching group.   

To learn more about the Cleveland Metroparks Division of Natural Resources visit: https://clevelandmetroparks.com/about/conservation/natural-resources

EDUCATION:

Valeria has a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Massachusetts with a major in wildlife conservation and a minor in forestry.

She has a Master of Science Degree from Southern Illinois University with a concentration in forestry and environmental education

SALARY:

Because job titles and descriptions vary greatly depending on what organization you work for, it can be hard to estimate the salary.

Here are a few different salary descriptions from PayScale.com.

Land Conservationist: http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Industry=Land_Conservation_Program/Salary

Natural Resource Management: http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Bachelor%27s_Degree%2c_Natural_Resource_Management/Salary

Wildlife Conservationist: http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Industry=Wildlife_Conservation_Organization/Salary

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