December 10, 2010
Who wouldn't want to be a Refuge Manager?
Contact your local National Wildlife Refuge: http://www.fws.gov/pacific/refuges/
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Careers: Work in the Great Outdoors
Banding birds. Protecting wild creatures and their habitat. Fighting wildfires. Teaching kids about nature. Sound like a job for you? Then think about becoming a national wildlife refuge manager. Too few people know the job exists.
One thing that refuge managers will tell you: A love of nature can lead to a fulfilling career.
Take Jean Takekawa for instance, refuge manager at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington. Growing up, she camped and hiked with her family every summer, then joined the Youth Conservation Corps and helped improve habitat at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota. She's driven airboats through the San Francisco Bay marshes to radio tag California clapper rails to learn what they need to recover and thrive. Most memorable moment: Watching the first tides in more than a century flow across the restored Nisqually estuary last year. Takekawa, who became a refuge manager in 1999, today is one of more than 60 women and minorities who hold jobs as refuge managers.
Consider Roy Lowe, refuge manager of the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Roy first considered working in natural resource conservation when, as a child, he saw an ad in Sports Afield about becoming a game warden. "I thought, 'Oh my God. You can get a job working in wildlife?'" Job highlight: Conducting aerial photographic surveys of Oregon Coast seabird colonies and bald eagle nests from a chopper with the doors removed for better viewing. "It's like being in an IMAX theater watching Blue Planet, but much better," he says. Proudest moment: Recommending the establishment of what is now a wildlife refuge at Nestucca Bay in Oregon.
Or Joe McCauley, refuge manager for 10 years at Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. In college, he joined a co-op program that today is called the Student Career Experience Program. He mapped wetlands on the St. Lawrence River and then moved to Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, trapping and banding waterfowl, working with students and helping maintenance staff. He found a job that not only engaged him in saving the natural world, but also gave him a chance to share his sense of wonder and commitment with others. Memorable moments: Surveying muskrats via helicopter, conducting prescribed burns, catching poachers, dodging cottonmouths.
"Don't Expect a Knock on Your Door"
Even with a goal in mind, many refuge managers have had to clear hurdles to realize their ambition. Carolyn Bohan, Assistant Regional Director for Refuges in the Pacific Region suggests, "be mobile, be flexible and let your passion for conservation radiate in everything you do."
On the Refuge Management Track
What can you do, beyond taking required courses, to improve your chances of getting on the refuge management track? Refuge managers agree: Volunteer - if not on a refuge, then with any natural resource agency. Cant afford a summer without a paycheck? Then volunteer weekends or just a few days a week.
"When I see a job applicant has meaningful volunteer experience, I take that experience as seriously as paid experience," says Bohan.
Experience Refuges Firsthand
Here are some programs that can help you gain refuge, or related, experience:
Youth in the Great Outdoors, a new initiative of the Department of the Interior, aims to "employ, educate and engage" young people about conservation. The site includes a link to student internship opportunities: http://www.doi.gov/whatwedo/youth/.
Youth Conservation Corps offers outdoor conservation experience to teens, ages 15-19. To learn more, visit http://www.nps.gov/gettinginvolved/youthprograms/ycc.htm.
Student Conservation Association connects high school and college students with paid and unpaid conservation service jobs and internships in refuges, parks, forests and urban communities. To learn more, visit http://www.thesca.org/.
Student Educational Employment Program provides job internships to part- and full-time students in high school, college and graduate school. Look for information about the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) and the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP). SCEP jobs promise experience directly related to a student's academic program and career goals. STEP jobs need not relate to a student's ambitions. SCEP internships can turn into career positions. To learn more, visit http://www.opm.gov/employ/students/intro.asp. For more information about SCEP and STEP positions, see also http://www.makingthedifference.org/federalinternships/employmentprograms.shtml
Because refuge managers deal with a host of complex issues involving biology, communications and law enforcement, among others, academic course requirements are rigorous. Learn what educational background is expected, visit http://www.fws.gov/refuges/about/careerResources.html. Click on the first report, titled "Career Pathways to Senior Leadership". You can also find an older report titled "Refuge Managers Career Pathways Report" on the same site.
View a short video about what it is like to work for the National Wildlife Refuge System, see "Another Day at the Office" at http://www.fws.gov/humancapital/video/another_day.html. The video is available in both Spanish and English. You can also access the video here: http://www.fws.gov/Letsgooutside.