21 Mar Career Spotlight: Wildlife and Rangeland Ecologists
We’ve said it before: it all starts with the land. It is more important than ever for America’s ranchers to manage land in a way that is beneficial to livestock, wildlife, and the public well-being. Working behind the scenes to fortify and protect our natural resources are rangeland ecologists.
Kent Reeves, owner of The Whole Picture in Sacramento, California, is a man who wears many hats. He’s a poet, a cowboy, and a wildlife and rangeland ecologist. His website touts his dual education: classroom instruction and learning from “the backside of a horse”. His passion for the land and desire to help its stewards comes through in his description of his work.
Reeves earned a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Natural Resource Management from Humboldt State University. He began taking range classes in college and became more and more interested in the work performed by rangeland ecologists. “For a period of time, cowboy was a verb in my life,” he recalls. Seeing the importance of managing land from a practical level with boots on the ground helped launch him in his current career trajectory.
Reeves works with private landowners, land trusts, and other stakeholders to make recommendations on grassland management. Grazing, wildlife conservation, water quality, and brush control are some of the issues on which he consults his clients. He has even worked on projects recently with California vineyards. Essentially, he strives to find the right confluence of agriculture and wildlife to ensure farmers and ranchers are profitable and our natural resources are protected for future generations.
CONSERVING THE BOTTOM LINE
Students with degrees or backgrounds in wildlife or range management may choose to work as rangeland ecologists for non-profit or government entities. Public lands, including our nation’s parks and forests, must be actively managed. Some rangeland ecologists, however, are also focused on the economic benefits associated with proper land management.
“The landowner has to be profitable. They can see that profitability through enhanced quality of the land,” Reeves says. As he has worked with land trusts, Reeves says many of them have learned that the best way to manage the properties under their care is through grazing programs. “I’ve worked with several different land trusts talking to them about how to manage livestock in a way that meets their conservation needs,” he says.
Rangeland ecologists are also helping to solve some of the most pressing issues in agriculture today, namely urban sprawl and water usage. Reeves says one of the most significant threats to rangeland in California is urban development. He estimates that about 400,000 acres of rangeland have been protected through a conservation easement program spearheaded by the California Cattlemen’s Association.
One of the important things rangeland ecologists do is help disseminate information about such programs and the importance of conservation to urban audiences. As more consumers are choosing to source food locally, ranchers are incentivized to tell the story of food production from the most foundational level: the health of the land.
Reeves refers to the open spaces and ranch land in California as “working landscapes”. As ranchers and farmers continue to work the land, so too will rangeland ecologists find work in these environments. Reeves sees the future as a bright one for professionals interested in ecology as a career.
“I’ve been involved in natural resource management for well over thirty years, and I see more and more jobs and opportunity coming out of natural resources compared to when I was a young twenty-something,” he says.
Reeves’ advice to students and young professionals interested in rangeland ecology or natural resource management as a career is simple, yet powerful: follow your passion. Combining that passion with internships, he says, is also extremely helpful because it shows future employers a willingness to work hard in a chosen field of interest for low pay in order to build up the experience.
Hear our entire interview with Kent Reeves here.
If you have an interest in livestock production, native plants, wildlife, and water, life as a rangeland ecologist might be right for you. Drop us a line and let us know what about rangeland ecologists fascinates you most. If you are reading this and already work in wildlife or rangeland ecology, our readers would love to hear from you as well. What is the best part of your job? What are the challenges? What do you look for when hiring other ecologists?
Remember, you can always send us your resume, and if you have questions about this or any other career profile we have written at AgGrad, please email Logan West at firstname.lastname@example.org.