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Wild Careers: Wildlife Consulting

Amy Reed graduated from UF with a BS in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation in 2007. We spoke to her about her life and career in the decade since.

You graduated from WEC in 2007. What did you do in the years immediately afterwards?

Immediately after graduating in May, I was hired at Environmental Resource Solutions, Inc. (ERS) and started in June 2007. ERS is a full service ecological consulting firm. I started out as just a field technician and was in the field everyday monitoring wetland creation areas, learning how to delineate wetlands, assessing soils, and monitoring bald eagle nests.

Creating salt marsh

What do you do now?

Over 10 years later, I’m still at ERS, although I do not have the same responsibilities. Now, I am a senior Qualified Airport Wildlife Biologist and all of my projects involve aviation. My primary role is to assess the threat of bird or other wildlife strikes to planes at airports. I evaluate what wildlife are using an airport and provide recommendations to the airport on how to mitigate the risk of a potential strike. When I was in college, I had no idea this job existed, and there are a decent number of us – maybe 400 airport biologists nationwide!

That number includes: USDA Wildlife Services biologists, private sector biologists (like me), and biologists that are actually employed by the airports themselves. The major HUB airports all have their own biologists on staff. The smaller airports use consultants and/or the USDA to help them. The military also largely uses consultants and/or USDA.

Airportin’

What led to your decision to go into consulting?

At first, the decision was made for me. I applied to a wide variety of jobs when I was nearing graduation. I even applied to graduate school and took the GRE. In the end, ERS offered the best mix of what I wanted – a chance to use my degree, a livable wage, and a location near my family. At that time, my parents lived in Tampa, Florida where I was raised. However, I stayed with consulting because I found something I was truly passionate about in working for airports and I have a wonderful boss. A supervisor can really make or break a job, no matter how much you love the work or not. Consulting also allows a tremendous amount of flexibility and requires a wide range of skills. These characteristics influenced my decision to stay too. Every day at work is different and not only do I need to be a great biologist and use the skills I learned as a WEC student, but I also have to be good at building relationships with clients to help them understand complex biological principles and, above all else, consulting requires you to be a good writer. There can be a lot of fun field work, but the vast majority of my time now is spent writing. It is constantly challenging me.

Digging out a gopher tortoise

What is your go-to tool?

Binoculars for sure! The majority of my work involves birds because that is the primary threat to aircraft. I would consider myself a bird nerd. Birding was a hobby in college (and throughout my life really). Avian biology was my favorite course at UF. I just found a way to bird for a living! Ha!

If you could call yourself in 2007 and give yourself advice, what would it be?

What a great question! I would tell myself to be more confident and don’t be afraid to lead.

I would also tell myself, “Not everyone will like you, but most people will.” I spent far too much time worrying about what everyone was going to think of me.

Small mammal trapping in Hawaii

What’s a great wildlife/outdoors experience you’ve had outside of work?

I travel a tremendous amount for work – I have to go to where the airports are! So, in 2015, my female co-worker and I challenged two of our male Canadian colleagues to a team Big Year competition – ladies vs. gentlemen. All four of us travel a lot for work so we thought we could cover the majority of the North American continent. Because of this friendly competition, I saw SO MANY cool places in the U.S. that year that I would have never visited. Often, I’m in such a hurry to get home to my family, I never actually enjoy the places I visit. I fly in, work, and fly home. In 2015, thanks to the Big Year, I made extra time to stop at local birding hot spots near my designated work trips. I went to Magee Marsh in May, northern Vermont in September, birded most of Texas, chased a Code 5 in Ft. Lauderdale, and took a pelagic tour 100 miles off of New Smyrna Beach across the Gulf Stream. It was so much fun and I added a ton of lifers.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I feel like sometimes I ended up where I am by accident. One thing just led to another and here I am. I was never sure exactly what I was going to do with my WEC degree, but I always knew it was the right choice for me. I am now one of those incredibly lucky people who loves their job. I’m so glad I followed my passion while at UF instead of a more assured path.

~

This interview by Rhett Barker.

Thanks to Amy Reed for answering our questions!

To learn more about majoring in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, click here!

To learn more about working in wildlife consulting at airports, check out:

The FAA website

And birdstrike.org