My name is Kelsey Bernard, I am 25 years old and grew up on the beautiful coast of Washington state. I obtained my Bachelors of Science in Zoology from Washington State University in 2017, and have since been pursuing my career as a Wildlife Biologist! As an early career professional, I have had opportunities to work in different sectors including non-profits, universities, and government agencies.
Essentially, a wildlife biologist is someone who studies and manages wild animals. However, I think it is important to note that this field is truly full of diverse skills, and interests. Many people imagine a wildlife biologist as a person who is outdoors handling wild animals, collecting data, and producing research. While this certainly is one avenue of being a biologist, there are so many others! I work closely with conservation photographers, artists, lawyers, journalists, educators, and many more that all have an incredible impact on wildlife science, and conservation.
I was fortunate to grow up on a farm with the Olympic National Forest as my backyard, so it just seemed natural that I had grown a love for wildlife and nature at a very young age. When I first attended college I actually wanted to become a veterinarian! Still, after investigating the different professions I could pursue with animals, I began exploring wildlife biology. My first research experience was with grizzlies, and I haven’t looked back since.
Both images taken by Kelsey Bernard
Furthermore, my second job is being a science communicator. The common definition of a science communicator is someone who educates and raises awareness of science in others. My goal is to connect people to nature and to increase understanding of wildlife; with a particular lens on predators. I do this by sharing my own experiences, while also using education as a tool to encourage coexistence with these often misunderstood animals. To teach communities, I exercise my use of many different outreach strategies in science communication. Some include social media platforms such as; blogs, producing educational videos, submitting articles to the press, and presentations to local communities.
I can distinctly remember the day that I had realized that science communication was so important for the work I do. I was working on a river restoration project in Idaho while I was in college. In this area, beavers had been extirpated because people thought they were a nuisance. Yet I was being paid to essentially do the work that a beaver would have provided for free. It was at this moment I realized that there was a huge disconnect. People just didn’t understand the benefits of having beavers, and how their presence positively affected the landscapes, and essentially our own living.
My morning routine is highly dependent upon what I will be doing for the day. If I am in the field on a project, I will likely be waking up in a tent that is set up in the backcountry. Then, I set up my Jet-Boil to have a hot breakfast and some coffee. The rest of the morning is spent reviewing the plan for the day, which includes time spent looking over data collection points, maps, GPS devices and having safety talks.
When I’m not in the field, my morning can often include a lot of coffee, shuffling through emails, and organising my day in a planner. A lot of science communication is brainstorming, writing, and collaboration.
If I am in the field, our days are typically 10 hours long and are always different. A lot of time is spent driving and hiking to collection sites. Once we reach these locations we perform whatever procedure we need to do in order to collect the data. I make it a point to document key parts of my day, whether that entails taking pictures or videos, or writing down my experiences so that I can share them.
Also, as a science communicator, I help develop education and outreach programs for communities. Much of the day is spent creating materials for projects and collaborating in meetings. With the additional duties of posting to social media, hosting live events, and participating in webinars.
However, when I am not working, I’ve always been interested in photography as a hobby, and that interest has only grown with age. Something that is unique about my career is that it involves a lot of travelling to remote, “unseen” places! So the pictures I take are actually from wherever I am working – which has been throughout much of the Pacific Northwest and as far south as Texas. Whether it is a picture taken by a hobby photographer like myself or a professional, pictures, and videos are one of the most impactful ways to share our experiences, and wildlife with the public. Visual media is incredibly important in conservation work, and I utilise it every day.
Although I have worked with quite a few different species, my interests, and experiences have primarily been with large carnivores. As far as having a favourite, it would be between wolves and mountain lions; both of these animals are truly incredible, and I love continuing to learn about them every day. When I worked in Northern Idaho, I collected data on Bull Trout which are an endangered species in the area. In addition, I work closely with the Southern and Central Coast mountain lion populations who are candidate species under the California Endangered Species Act.
With this job, just simply being outdoors is one of the most rewarding parts of my day, especially being out there for such a great purpose. When I am getting to speak to the community or individuals, I love helping people learn and explore their curiosities about our natural world. Helping people confidently and successfully live alongside their wild neighbours is truly amazing.
Both images taken by Kelsey Bernard
Then, at the end of the workday, the goal is to have completed the necessary tasks, and get everyone home safely! Followed by a lot of stretching, eating good food, and getting plenty of rest!
For anyone reading this wanting to pursue wildlife biology, or conservation, as a career, my advice would be to gain experience in as many fields of biology that you can; find what you’re passionate about, and then connect with people who are doing that work. Finding a mentor that I could trust, learn from, and be inspired by has been pivotal in my career.