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How to Become a Certified Wildlife Biologist

Find out how to become a certified wildlife biologist. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in wildlife biology.

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Do I Want to Be a Certified Wildlife Biologist?

In general, wildlife biologists collect and analyze data about many aspects of wildlife, which may include behavior, biology, ecology, physiology, and genetics. Wildlife biologists use the information to make decisions regarding management and policies, as well as contributing to the knowledge of various species and their habitats. Fieldwork might involve travel to remote locations or working long and irregular hours, possibly during poor weather conditions.

Job Requirements

Certification as a wildlife biologist is granted by the Wildlife Society to those who satisfy its rigorous education and experience requirements. The path to certification typically includes a minimum of a bachelor's degree and at least five years of practical experience. Those with advanced degrees in the field may also apply for certification. The following table lists common requirements for becoming a certified wildlife biologist:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree (minimum); master's and PhD degrees are also applicable*
Degree Field Wildlife biology*
Certification After meeting education and experience requirements, apply for certification with The Wildlife Society**
Experience Five years minimum for certification; for wildlife biologists jobs in general, experience requirements vary with each position and hiring agency***
Key Skills Strong skills in science, communications, organization, writing, and active learning****
Computer Skills Spreadsheet and word processing software (e.g. Microsoft Office), scientific software used to analyze data****
Technical Skills Knowledge of traps that safely contain wildlife****

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **The Wildlife Society, ***Job postings (July 2012), ****O*Net OnLine.

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree in Wildlife Biology or Related Subject

The Wildlife Society requires all applicants to hold bachelor's degfoncrees in a subject directly related to wildlife biology. They have very specific requirements regarding the type of courses taken in the degree program. The majority of courses should be from the areas of wildlife biology and management, botany, ecology, and zoology. Another important area is communication, which may include courses in English composition and public speaking. Courses unique to the field include topics in administration, law, and policies that are specific to the field of wildlife biology and management; these courses are usually found in a wildlife biology degree program.

Success Tip:

  • Earn experience by volunteering or interning. Although this experience is not considered professional experience by the Wildlife Society, and thus does not count towards the 5-year experience requirement for certification, the hands-on experience earned while working on a bachelor's degree might help in acquiring a professional position after graduation. Professional references for future jobs may also be accrued through this route as well.

Step 2: Apply for Certification as an Associate Wildlife Biologist

This is a certification that the Wildlife Society offers those who don't yet have the experience, but do fulfill the education requirements, such as holding a bachelor's degree. The Wildlife Society has very strict standards regarding professionalism and ethical behavior, and those who are granted certification as Associate Wildlife Biologists are deemed to possess the qualities the society looks for. A person may hold this certification for up to ten years after it is awarded. During this time, associate certification holders should build experience and apply to become a Certified Wildlife Biologist before the certification expires.

Step 3: Gain Experience as a Professional Wildlife Biologist

Professional experience is defined by the Wildlife Society as work accomplished in the field of wildlife biology after completing at least a bachelor's degree program. After graduation, experience can be acquired in several ways. One way is to work as a wildlife biologist for a state or federal agency, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Park Service. Some volunteer work may count as well. It is important to note that all of this work must relate specifically to the field of professional wildlife biology; experience as a fish biologist, park ranger, and even a wildlife technician doesn't count.

Another way to add to the experience requirement is to complete either a master's or PhD degree program in wildlife biology or related subject. A master's degree counts for one year of experience, a PhD counts for two years, and a person who holds both degrees may be granted the equivalent of three years of experience. Not only do these degrees count towards experience requirements for certification, they will allow one to be qualified for research-level job positions in the field of wildlife biology.

Success Tip:

  • Maintain strong ethics in the field and develop professional relationships with potential references. During the time when one is gaining experience, whether through professional employment, advanced education, or both, one should strive to meet the Wildlife Society's strict ethical guidelines. Those who review applications for certification at the Wildlife Society pay close attention to references regarding behavior that is deemed professional, ethical, and in support of the goals of the society and the wildlife biology community.

Step 4: Become a Certified Wildlife Biologist

After fulfilling the minimum requirements, one may apply to the Wildlife Society to become a Certified Wildlife Biologist. The process includes a very detailed application review, with college transcripts and professional references included, and a fee. If granted, the certification is good for five years, after which a wildlife biologist can apply for renewal. The renewal process must be done every five years to remain certified. In order to qualify for renewal, a Certified Wildlife Biologist must prove he or she upheld certain guidelines required of them while working with the certification. Although the requirements are specific and demanding, gaining certification can enhance a wildlife biologist's career, since employers of wildlife biologists might look more favorably upon those with the certification over those without it.

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    Areas of study you may find at University of Vermont include:
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