A Wildlife Nomad

Having spent several seasons working as a Small Game & Waterfowl Research Technician for Colorado Parks & Wildlife, I thought it interesting to share this short post. Included within, is a video of one of many Fixed Wing Aerial Waterfowl Surveys that we conducted while doing the job. This is also somewhat of an “ode” to the seasonal research “nomads” that drift in, out, and around some of the most remote and rugged areas of the United States and World – living the dream.

The jobs are glamours on paper. The resume of a nomadic seasonal wildlife researcher can be several pages long indeed. “CV-envy” is a thing which I discovered while working in this field. Looking at my fellow nomad’s projects, locations, and experiences can make one downright jealous and downtrodden. Of course it is always a pleasure to tell others (outsiders) that you are involved in wildlife research. It is that look someone gives you when you say “I am a wildlife researcher”… and the questions that follow: make you feel like a out-right true scientist. And to some extent it is that way; as you are gaining valuable experience and pursuing your career. But the hard truth is, as a seasonal or temp (if you will), there is nothing glamours about it.

For those not in the know, most, if not all scientific research is conducted by local, state, federal, or nongovernmental agencies. And usually (I say this to CMA in case I missed one) research is headed by a Scientist/Biologist or team of them. These scientists have – 9 times out of 10 – PhD’s/Master Degrees and several years of experience. As such, these Program Leaders or Unit Leaders (the PhD’s) employ teams of researchers. It’s quite often that these teams of researchers are just other scientists and biologists with PhD s or MS degrees. This is where we, the seasonal researcher (the nomad), come into the equation.

Photo of the airfield break room
Taking a break at the local landing strip – having a coffee

We work for the scientists/biologists leading the projects or work group. Seasonal researchers usually only work for a couple months at a time – as long as they pay us – then move on to other projects in other areas, states, or even countries. We work in remote areas, usually far away from big cities and in small groups. It is really fun to meet new people and live off the grid while perfecting our passion. One thing that immediately bonds us all is our love for the outdoors and for conservation. Every project is brand new, with brand new faces – complete strangers; but we all share this one commonality.

The pay isn’t great, there are little benefits to speak of (other then the experience gained & connections to new friends and places – which is priceless) but it can be rough on a person. The travel, sacrificing time with loved ones, the feeling of isolation – it all adds up. It can all add up to serious stress and constant worries about the future. In some cases, you’ll meet seasonal workers that are in their 50’s and still trying to land their full time, permanent position. Needless to say, the field of wildlife conservation is competitive and crowded.

However, the time spent in nature, with unique people all sharing a passion and love for the great outdoors is something few people experience these days. As we go our separate ways to new projects, turning the pages to new chapters, we nomads never forget the times and experiences had. It is a lifestyle which we all hope will turn into a full fledged career but one thing is for sure – the times spent as a seasonal researcher are some of the most fun. This is to you all.

Flying over the South Platte River in Northern Colorado conducting waterfowl population estimates

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