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Dr. Ken Ashely and student on field working on ecological restoration

BCIT

Job: Ecological restoration biologist

The role: Ecological restoration biologists are tasked with identifying potentially damaged or degraded natural habitats, assessing the extent of the damage and making recommendations for its repair. In some cases, they also apply for funding and help lead the restoration effort.

“If somebody says there’s something wrong, someone needs to quantify that, verify that and show it’s for real,” says Ken Ashley, director of the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Rivers Institute.

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Mr. Ashley likens it to a doctor visit for an ecosystem. “The first step is identification, the second step is writing the prescription, and the third step is making sure you follow it and implement it,” he says.

Mr. Ashley adds that there are four primary employers of ecological restoration biologists in Canada: government, private sector contractors, non-government organizations and First Nations communities.

Practitioners typically split their time between the field – where they collect samples, conduct tests and lead restoration efforts – and the office, where they write up reports about their findings.

“You’re in and out all the time, collecting data, and then analyzing it, and then writing it up, and then putting it in a format that people can understand and invariably ask for funding to do the work,” Mr. Ashley says.

Salary: Restoration biologists typically earn a starting salary between $33,000 and $38,500 a year, according to a report by Eco Canada, with more experienced practitioners earning between $47,300 and $78,500 annually.

“With a master’s degree, you can usually add $10,000 per year on top of that,” adds Mr. Ashley. “With a lot of experience, with a bachelor’s degree you’d be up in the $70,000′s and with a master’s degree up in the $80,000’s or $90,000’s.”

Education: While educational standards vary by province, the majority require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in ecological restoration. Some provinces, such as British Columbia, also require practitioners to have a registered professional (RP) designation.

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“In the RP-Bio, you go to university and get your ecological restoration bachelor’s or master’s degree, then you still have to go out and put in the requisite number of work experience, usually three years, and write a major report that you’re the soul author of,” Mr. Ashley explains. “Then the school of applied biologists will designate you, after a painfully long application form.”

Job prospects: Earlier this year, the United Nations General Assembly declared the next decade as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Canada, like many UN members, is currently seeking to increase its already significant investments in ecological restoration, and demand is expected to skyrocket in the coming years along with the increased funding. “Sadly, it’s a growth industry,” Mr. Ashley says.

Challenges: The greatest challenge for ecological restoration biologists is often the years of education and experience required to launch their careers. Mr. Ashley adds that it can also be emotionally difficult to discover ecosystems and even species that are too damaged to repair.

“You wouldn’t say, ‘Don’t wear a seat belt because you know if you get into an accident you’ll go to the hospital and they’ll fix you up,’ ” he says. “Ecological restoration is expensive, complex, there’s no guarantee it’s going to work, so yes it’s a necessary field, but it would be better if we didn’t need it in the first place."

Misconceptions: While ecological restoration biologists can, in some cases, completely restore damaged ecosystems, Mr. Ashley emphasizes that some are simply too far-gone and that the role shouldn’t be considered a substitute for habitat protection.

“It’s got to be comparable to a doctor when someone comes in an ambulance and walks out smiling," Mr. Ashley says. "The ecosystem can’t talk, but you can certainly see when it starts to function again, and if you care about the planet we live on I don’t think there’s a more satisfying job than putting it back together again.”

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