• Approximately 1,500 black bears live in the national park.

    Great Smoky Mountains

    National Park NC,TN

There are park alerts in effect.
hide Alerts »
  • Trail Advisory

    Several trails in the park are temporarily closed. Please check the "Backcountry Facilities" section of the Temporary Road and Facilities Closures page for further details. More »

And for those in school... Issue 3

A white-tailed deer near Gregory Bald.

A white-tailed deer near Gregory Bald.

NPS photo.

Are you interested in being out in the field with bears, bats, elk, and wild hogs? If you like spending your days tracking wildlife and thinking about population dynamics, animal safety, and even some human management in the National Parks, here are some suggestions about how to get there:

In high school: Take biology, chemistry, earth science, geography, and math courses geared for college-bound students, because these will prepare you best for challenging college courses. Ask parks if they have high school summer internships, as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park does.

In college and/or graduate school: It's essential to know the difference between studying wildlife, either a species or relationships between populations, and managing wildlife. Managing wildlife can include the tough jobs of trapping, relocating, and euthanizing human-conditioned animals, and hunting invasive animals. It also means making decisions based on long-term goals for wildlife populations in your specific park.

That said, if you love biology, ecology, geography, forestry, look for research, jobs, or internships (see below for more on this) to gain more classroom and field experience.

Some internships at the high school level allow you to gain experience in the wildlife management field. You need at least a high school diploma or GED for most seasonal jobs, and you should plan on getting a bachelor's degree to continue in the field. As with many careers in the National Parks, a B.A. or B.S. in a related field (wildlife management, wildlife biology, and ecology, to name a few) helps you find opportunities and know what you're doing! A master’s degree and research in wildlife biology or wildlife ecology, along with many seasons of hands-on work with animals, are essential to being a subject expert in the field. Many of the biologists here have PhDs in addition to years of experience. Start early, and be sure you love what you do!

Gaining other experience: Showing that you are interested and have field experience is vital. You can gain experience for a career through internships and seasonal jobs. Find internships in public lands with the Student Conservation Association. You can search through Natural Resource internships using your available dates.

Examples of current internships in wildlife management include Wildlife Management Intern, Rare Species Survey Intern, Waterfowl Survey Intern, Hunting Program Intern, Natural Resource Conservation Intern, and Fisheries Technician Intern. An upcoming elk internship at the Smokies will have an intern do the following:

"Patrol areas where elk commonly feed, contact visitors to answer questions and provide information, 30%; assist researchers locate elk and bears via radio telemetry 40%; assist with trail and stream patrol, boundary marking, exotic wild hog control, and black bear management, 10%; assist researchers locate elk via radio telemetry, 10%; assist with search and rescue activities, 10%."

Find jobs during the summers while you are a college or graduate student through the STEP (Student Temporary Employment Program), which offers you non-competitive positions. Call or write parks directly for information about this program. Also, check out the Federal Jobs website for current, competitive job openings: you will probably start as a seasonal Wildlife or Biological Technician.

Good luck, and have fun!

Return to Dispatches from the Field: Issue 3.

Did You Know?

Fall leaf colors are most vivid at low to mid elevations.

About 100 native tree species make their home in Great Smoky Mountains National Park—more than in all of northern Europe. The park also contains one of the largest blocks of old-growth temperate deciduous forest in North America. More...