Wildlife Sciences ‘07
Deer Program Manager, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
Orrin graduated from SENR in 2007 after majoring in Wildlife Sciences. During his time in SENR, he was involved in the Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society and completed a summer internship with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). After graduation, Orrin worked as a wildlife field technician on various projects in multiple states. He completed his Master's of Science in Wildlife Management at Utah State University in 2013; he then worked for 3 years as a Wildlife Biologist in Washington state. He is now the Deer Program Manager for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Read the full interview with Orrin:
A Glance at Orrin’s Current Work
I am the statewide Deer Program Manager, or Deer Biologist, for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In my position, there’s not really a typical day of work. Although the main purpose is to conserve and perpetuate healthy deer populations, my tasks vary daily. For example, earlier this week I met with other western deer biologists to discuss deer management tools, techniques, and concerns. Today, I’m analyzing statewide deer survey and harvest data that will be used to set the license numbers and hunting regulations for the next four years. Later this week, I’ll be in the field darting deer to deploy GPS transmitters so we can identify seasonal use areas and migration patterns. Next week I will be back in the office working on statistical methods to improve our aerial deer survey techniques.
I’m in the field approximately 40-50% of the time conducting research or working on management projects, while the remaining time is spent in the office or attending meetings. While in the office, I analyze deer data, develop research and management projects, and answer calls and emails from constituents who have deer-related questions. During the winter, I survey deer from a helicopter and work on ungulate captures for research projects to help the Department answer questions to better manage these big game species. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is a relatively small agency, so in addition to working on deer, I get to help other wildlife biologists with their projects, including other ungulates, avian species, and fish.
What is the most rewarding part of your current job?
I pursued a career in wildlife biology because I developed a passion for wildlife and the outdoors as I grew up hunting and fishing. This career allows me to directly work with wildlife and manage for healthy populations. The most rewarding part of my job is that every day I get to work towards conserving wildlife species so they can be enjoyed for many generations through both consumptive and non-consumptive recreation. I enjoy regularly interacting with and learning from other wildlife enthusiasts and those who are passionate about wildlife management. It’s rewarding to work directly with wildlife during captures and surveys and learn their life histories and management needs.
What were you involved in during college?
Throughout my undergraduate career, I was a member of the Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society. I also worked in a summer internship position with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) in Athens; the internship was a fantastic experience that helped me become more marketable for other positions after I graduated. During the internship, I used radio telemetry to help the ODNR biologists determine wild turkey reproductive success. I also trapped doves to determine survivorship and harvest rates. My side project involved recording and mapping bobcat reports and sightings using ArcGIS mapping software.
What advice would you give to someone who is still in college and hoping to do what you do?
For students considering a career in wildlife biology, wildlife biology and management coursework is important because it’s the main focus. However, make sure to also take advantage of the other classes, such as statistics and communications. These courses are important to help analyze data and convey the results to coworkers and constituents. Wildlife management isn’t just managing wildlife species, but people as well, and you’ll need to know how to effectively communicate with others.
After graduation, I highly recommend working as a field technician for a couple years. These positions are critical for obtaining permanent wildlife biologist positions because they provide the technical skills and knowledge to properly conduct wildlife research and management. Through these positions, you learn the biological needs and life history strategies of various wildlife species, and you are introduced to many wildlife issues for which you wouldn’t get exposure to otherwise.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to as many different experiences as possible. Whether it be joining the student chapter of The Wildlife Society, or volunteering for projects, everyone should take every opportunity presented to gain the experience and exposure to wildlife projects and other professionals. This will expand your knowledge base and may spark an interest that didn’t previously exist. You never know what types of opportunities will arise when you step out of your comfort zone.
What was a challenge you faced in your professional development and how did you overcome it?
A challenge that I faced in my professional development was figuring out what I wanted to do for a career. I grew up in West Virginia and would frequently hunt, fish, and hike in the woods. These experiences helped me develop a passion for wildlife and a curiosity for the natural environment that continues today. Coming out of high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that involved working with wildlife, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t realize wildlife biologist careers existed, so I initially started undergrad as an accounting major with the intent of opening a hunting and fishing store. After a few years as an accounting major, I realized that this path wouldn’t allow me to do what I really wanted: to be outside working directly with wildlife.
Toward the end of my junior year, I took a geology course as part of my general education requirements. I enjoyed the course and the fact that it allowed me to work outdoors. Shortly after, I started exploring more career options that might allow me to more closely pursue my passion. It was at this time that I learned about the School of Environment and Natural Resources and was introduced to the wildlife biologist career path. I also learned that wildlife biologists are paid to research and manage wildlife which involved directly observing and interacting with them. After learning this, I quickly changed majors. This drastic change at the end of my junior year resulted in a year and a half more of undergrad, but it was ultimately the best decision I ever made.
What did you do immediately post-graduation?
After graduation, I accepted a 6-month position as a seasonal field technician for Colorado Division of Wildlife (now Colorado Parks and Wildlife) researching sage-grouse survival and reproductive success. Following that, I worked as a seasonal technician in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Montana, and Utah. During these seasonal positions, I was involved in researching big-game population dynamics, predator-prey interactions, gamebird survival and reproduction, songbird behaviors and habitats, bat presence and species richness, and a variety of other topics. Although being a seasonal technician resulted in moving every 6 months, it was a blast to work on this variety of projects in such beautiful areas. Those experiences were crucial to getting where I am today.
After working as a seasonal technician for about 4 years, I started my Master’s at Utah State University researching sage-grouse. After completing my Master’s program, I was a Wildlife Biologist with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife before being hired as the Deer Program Manager for New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
What was most important to you in your job search?
I initially applied for all types of technician positions across the United States that would give me relevant experience. Although I looked for positions researching game species and predators, I also applied for positions that researched non-game species. Working with a variety of species and in diverse habitats allowed me to gain experiences and techniques that have helped make me a more well-rounded biologist.
Now that I’m more established in my career, I’m more selective on the positions for which I apply. My specialty is in researching or managing ungulates such as deer or elk, so I focus on positions that allow me to work with these species. In addition to looking for jobs with this focus, I also consider where the position is located.
The wildlife field is highly competitive with many applicants vying for a few jobs. As such, you may end up working a few different positions before you land your “dream” job.
What led you to decide to pursue a graduate degree?
There are two main reasons for which I decided to pursue my master's degree. First, because this career field is so competitive, I wanted to be more marketable for permanent wildlife biologist positions. Although it’s possible to obtain positions without a graduate degree, it is recommended and often desired by hiring managers. The second reason was to expand my thought processes and my research and project management abilities. Graduate projects teach you how to conduct sound wildlife research and teach you to think on a broader scale while also teaching the statistical tools necessary to analyze the data.
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Post created July 2021