Wildlife Ecology

As the world’s human population and its demands on the earth’s limited resources steadily grow, the welfare of wildlife species and the chances for their continued coexistence with man will depend on enlightened conservation and management programs. Wildlife ecology is the study of animal populations with a special view to understanding their interactions with people. Wildlife ecologists study endangered species, game species, nongame species, and wildlife pests, and try to find ways to maintain these animals in numbers that are in the overall best interests of society, whether these interests be aesthetic, ecological, economic or recreational.

The Department of Wildlife Ecology was the first wildlife program in an American university and had its origin in 1933 when the UW-Madison created a Chair in Game Management for Professor Aldo Leopold. Leopold is generally considered the father of wildlife management. Under his guidance the Department began its development. Today, the Wildlife Ecology major is part of the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and is one of the leading wildlife research and teaching programs in the world.

Does Wildlife Ecology Fit Your Interests?

Do you feel a strong sense of responsibility for our wildlife resources? Would you like to help assure the perpetuation of wildlife populations? Do you like the outdoors? Do you like helping others understand and appreciate wildlife? Do you consider yourself an environmentalist, a conservationist, a student of natural history? Do some of your personal interests deal with wildlife-related recreation? If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, consider a career in wildlife.

Putting Wildlife Ecology Training to Work

An undergraduate wildlife degree provides a solid background in the basic sciences and ecology. This background can prepare you for graduate work in wildlife and related fields, such as veterinary medicine. Some technical positions in public agencies, business, and law enforcement are open to graduates with only a bachelor’s degree, but increasingly a graduate education is a pre-requisite for career success.

Leadership or supervisory positions in research, management, education, extension and administration generally require completion of a master’s degree or doctorate. Most career opportunities are with public resource management agencies and educational institutions. Some career opportunities are available with private organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation or The Nature Conservancy and with businesses such as pest control consultants or property managers.

Study Programs

The Wildlife Ecology major offers two tracks for undergraduate coursework. Because of the importance of continuing your education through the master’s degree, both options emphasize training that will help you compete successfully for admission into graduate school. Both options include coursework that will qualify you for certification as a wildlife biologist by The Wildlife Society, the professional organization representing wildlife professionals throughout North America.

Specialized scholarships for undergraduate students with conservation-related interests are available from the College.

  • Natural Resources Track The Natural Resources Track is aimed at preparing you for a career in wildlife management. It provides a solid background in the biological sciences but also exposes students to the social sciences, because most wildlife conservation problems ultimately relate to people. This track is a good choice if you wish to become professionally involved with a government agency. If you are unsure about going on to graduate school, this is the option you should choose.
  • Natural Sciences Track The Natural Sciences Track is your choice if you want a career in wildlife research or higher education. It provides a strong background in the biological and physical sciences and is designed to help you become a competent scientist. This track is especially appropriate if you are sure that you want to attend graduate school and obtain advanced training.

Experience Outside of Class

Experience is vital to acceptance in a graduate program and eventually to employment. The Wildlife Ecology major offers a wide range of options including internships, summer jobs, class projects, and volunteer work with natural resource agencies and conservation groups. Department research projects often employ students as field and laboratory technicians. In addition, students can do original research under faculty supervision while enrolled in independent study courses.

More informal experience is available through the activities of the Wildlife Club and personal hobbies such as birding, hunting and photography.

Where You’ll be Learning

About 125 undergraduate and 30 graduate students are currently enrolled in the Wildlife Ecology program. The staff includes 7 research, teaching and extension professors, the Leader and Assistant Leader of the Wisconsin Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, 3 active emeritus professors and a team of staff specialists and support personnel.

The Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology is housed in Russell Laboratories. A new Aldo Leopold wing has recently doubled existing laboratory and office space. The major’s faculty and students work on research projects throughout the world. Students gain broad experience on field trips and class projects throughout Wisconsin. Recent research projects have taken students to South America, Alaska, Hawaii, Iceland, Europe, Scandinavia, China and across North America.

Financial Assistance

The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences offers many scholarships that are granted based on academic performance, need or extracurricular activities. For more information on scholarships, loans and work-study programs contact the UW-Madison Office of Financial Services.

For more information contact the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology:

Prospective Student Services: College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Office of Academic Affairs

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