Job: Wildlife biologist
The role: The primary objective of a wildlife biologist is to maintain and conserve wildlife populations. As biologists, they use scientific methods and data collection to help shape wildlife management policies in the public sector and assist with compliance and conservation targets in the private sector.
"They're doing ongoing studies, from an environmental perspective, to understand how human behavioural changes are impacting different species, their survival, their growth rates, and looking at leading indicators around disease and nutrition and habitat and population changes," said Michael Kerford, the president and chief executive officer of Environmental Careers Organization of Canada (ECO Canada), a not-for-profit online resource for environmental jobs, certification and training.
Government bodies at the provincial, federal and municipal levels employ wildlife biologists to provide environmental impact assessments, reintroduce wildlife into reclaimed territory and advise on policy initiatives. Wildlife biologists can also be found in academic instructions and environmental consulting firms, and often specialize in a particular species or geographical region.
"They're experts in their field, so a lot of times they're being called in front of government committees and court cases to provide expert testimony," Mr. Kerford said. "They contribute to environmental impact assessments with a specific focus on the impact of development projects on wildlife species."
Education: While there are biology technician programs available at the college level, Mr. Kerford says that most wildlife biologists in Canada have a university education.
"The baseline would be the undergrad, but a pretty high percentage in all of our scientific and engineering fields within the environment, you're seeing that credential creep, and a lot of people are going back for graduate education," he said. "You have a high degree of master's– and PhD-level biologists working in the environment sector in particular."
Mr. Kerford adds that ECO Canada offers an Environmental Professional (EP) certification, which can be attained following an assessment of the individual's expertise in their particular field of specialization.
Though level of education is an important consideration for employers, requirements range depending on geographical locations, specializations and positions.
The educational requirements vary by project, and are usually set by the professional associations in each province, Mr. Kerford said. "It's a very patchwork regulatory environment in Canada. It differs by province, and some provinces don't even have a professional biologist designation at all, so it's not a requirement."
Salary: In 2013, ECO Canada conducted a survey of those employed in the environmental industry, and found that the average starting salary of wildlife biologists was $47,405 a year. The survey also found that the average salary of wildlife biologists during their fifth year of employment was $75,050.
"Once we get to 10 years out, the data is not nearly as precise, because a lot of the time people are not practising in that particular field any more; they're often more in a managerial capacity, so the data gets a little skewed," said Mr. Kerford, adding that many wildlife biologists move on to become subject matter experts or project managers. "In either of those paths, after seven to 10 years' experience, you're starting to move towards a six-figure salary."
Job prospects: Increased public awareness of environmental issues has led to steady growth in job prospects for wildlife biologists across the country. According to Mr. Kerford, consumers are making more informed choices about the impact the products they buy have on the environment, which has led more corporations to embrace environmentally sustainable practices.
Furthermore, public demands have also put pressure on politicians, who work in tandem with wildlife biologists when drafting regulations.
"As regulations get more strict, it requires more scientific data to inform regulations and certainly more work is created to comply with that framework," Mr. Kerford said. "As these issues become more obvious, and individuals and the general public become more aware of them, it has a positive impact on environmental employment."
Challenges: Working in remote areas for long periods of time might seem like a significant challenge to some, but Mr. Kerford says that spending time in natural landscapes often serves as motivation. He says the biggest professional drawback for many wildlife biologists is having to mediate between competing interests.
"There's a general challenge for anyone working in the environment to maintain balance between economic considerations and business considerations around development, and what's best for the environment and the species that they're looking at," he said. "That stress that exists, they're in the middle of that, trying to broker conversations between a community and a developer."
Why they do it: Mr. Kerford explains that many wildlife biologists enjoy spending time working outdoors, but typically enter the industry because they want to pursue a career that can make a positive impact.
"These are individuals who are really committed to making a difference, and they want to solve meaningful scientific and technical problems that have global implications," he said.
Misconceptions: Though many perceive wildlife biology as a discipline that is largely confined to labs and field work, scientists in the industry must have strong communication and people skills. Much of the job relies on communicating complex research and analyses to the public and private sectors in a way that can be easily understood, as well as bridging gaps between stakeholders.
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