Ecological careers in nature‐based non‐governmental organizations
A parcel of land in northeast Ohio recently came into the crosshairs of a natural gas pipeline company. Land owners on either end of the proposed route had already signed contracts. The first difficult decision was to realize that the goal was negotiating to minimize the impact on the fragile wetland the pipeline would be crossing, not stopping the project. While gathering data on river water quality, wetland plants, and amphibians, a bald eagle's nest with eaglets was found perched high in a sycamore near the proposed route. Data in hand, a team from The Wilderness Center went to the table and succeeded in negotiating the pipeline route away from the nest and mostly away from the wetland. Finally, the agreement stipulated that they drill the pipeline tunnel well below the river. Local resource management experience provided the seat at the table, scientific knowledge provided the basis for negotiation, and communication skills allowed this non‐governmental organization (NGO) to mitigate impacts in the midst of a fierce economic headwind.
If you want to save the world, work for an NGO. Seriously, there is no better job…to do the job. NGOs are ideal employers for people who want to apply what they've learned to improve how we conserve and manage nature, deal with the ongoing biodiversity crisis, and adjust to climate change. Many choose NGO careers because NGOs protect nature more directly than universities and advocate for nature more directly than government agencies.
In addition to the mission‐oriented benefits of an NGO career, the career opportunities and pathways in nature‐based NGOs are incredibly diverse. Many, such as the thousands of large and small land trusts, own land or manage conservation easements. Others specialize in working with communities to help people better protect their natural resources. Still others may primarily function in areas less relevant to ecology and biodiversity, but work on environmental sustainability and hence hire ecologists. Finally, some work in the realm of policy to advocate for change – others collaborate with decision makers and some act as watch dogs to ensure that governmental decisions do not harm the environment. There are myriad NGOs hiring ecologists – the key is to choose one whose mission matches your own.