How to Become a Biologist with the National Park Service (NPS)

Biologists and biological science technicians in a state or federal park setting work to manage and conserve the native system and the natural and historic objects within the park setting.

Wildlife conservation is a major focus of biologists and biological science technicians, and it is managed in concert with the park’s natural resources and its naturally evolving ecosystem. Therefore, their work involves giving consideration to resource scarcity, diversity, and the genetic and ecological integrity of all animal and plant species native to the park’s ecosystems.

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Biologists within the National Park Service (NPS) may serve as fish biologists, wildlife biologists, bird biologists, and grizzly bear biologists, just to name a few.

The Importance of Ecosystem Management and Recovery

These scientific professionals work through the NPS’ Biological Resource Management Division (BRMD), which provides “scientific expertise and technological assistance” to support the protection and preservation of biological resources and the related ecosystem processes in national parks.

Biologists and biological science technicians may work within individual national parks or for the NPS park system as a whole, in leadership capacities. The efforts of BRMD include:

  • Ecosystem restoration
  • Restoration and management
  • Human dimensions of biological resource management
  • Integrated pest management
  • Invasive species
  • Landscape ecology and conservation
  • Threatened and endangered species
  • Vegetation inventory
  • Wildlife health
  • Wildlife management
  • Exotic plant management
  • Global conservation

Although the NPS, whenever possible, allows natural processes to influence the natural fluctuations in native plant and animals species within national parks, biologist and biological science technicians may be called upon to actively manage species under certain circumstances:

  • When a population of animals occurs at an unnaturally high or low concentration due to human influence
  • To protect threatened, rare or endangered species
  • To protect human health and ensure human safety
  • When an exotic species is introduced due to human actions and it threatens to disrupt natural processes or threatens to displace native species
  • To protect the cultural resources of a park

NPS biologists and biological science technicians may also need to be engaged in ecosystem restoration and management. For example, some of the land within Big Bend National Park has been degraded from intensive land use, leading to soil erosion and a loss of native vegetation. Their work therefore focuses on studies related to short-term stabilization, the long-term condition of the site, and maintaining stabilization in a cost-effective manner.

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Ecosystem management considers not only single-species management, but multiple-species management with a large scale approach. This “big picture” approach manages and serves the entire ecosystem, taking into account all wildlife, vegetation, water flow, rare species, and predators. Ecosystem management also accepts that natural ecosystems are fluid and dynamic and therefore change over time.

The work of the NPS also includes removing barriers to ecosystem recovery, which may include:

  • Biological and/or chemical contaminants
  • Drained wetlands
  • Channelized rivers
  • Alteration of fire patterns
  • Lack of species

The Work of Biologists and Biological Science Technicians

Biologists and biological science technicians, who work alongside biologists, are found throughout many state and national parks. These professionals may be called upon by state agencies or by the National Park Service to provide short- or long-term studies as to understand and gauge current conditions and implement or manage ecosystem management and/or recovery programs.

For example, the NPS had a recent job posting for biological science technicians to assist with aquatic ecology, amphibian, fisheries, and marine ecology projects at Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Parks. Typical of scientific work, programs and studies varied from one location to the next, and so did the job duties of the biological science technicians there:

Mount Rainier National Park

Biological science technicians must inventory and monitor work in amphibian, aquatic ecology, and fisheries projects. This includes conducting surveys according to established protocols and in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and participating in project-related surveys of aquatic ecosystems with park construction projects.

North Cascades National Park

Biological science technicians are responsible for collecting field data related to non-native fish control (eradication) in mountain lakes and streams and conducting biological inventories. This work is designed to support the long-term ecological monitoring and assessments of lakes and streams.

Olympic National Park

Biological science technicians are responsible for monitoring and assisting in stock assessment of sandy beach marine invertebrate communities, rocky intertidal invertebrate, razor clams, and algal communities. They must retrieve data and maintain a network of intertidal temperature data loggers and ocean acidification sensors and collect field data to support to the long-term studies of Lake Crescent and other mountain lakes.

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Biological Science Technician Education Requirements

Biologists are highly skilled and trained scientists with extensive backgrounds and advanced college degrees. The biological science technicians who work alongside biologists also typically possess bachelor degrees or higher in programs in biology or related programs, such as:

  • Marine biology
  • Botany
  • Zoology
  • Molecular biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Ecology

Biological science technicians can expect to work in offices, laboratories, and in the field. Fieldwork may include hiking long distances through any number of environments and carrying heavy loads over long distances. It is typical for teams to camp in backcountry settings for several days when working in the field.

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