Wildlife Ecology Major

Bobcat Photo-credit-Herbert Lange_WDNRFlickr

What is Wildlife Ecology

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The Department of Wildlife Ecology was the first wildlife program in an American university and had its origin in 1933 when the UW-Madison created a Chair in Game Management for Professor Aldo Leopold. Leopold is generally considered the “father of wildlife management” and was a leading conservationist of his time.  

Under his guidance, the Department began its development. Today, the Wildlife Ecology major is part of the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and is one of the leading wildlife research and teaching programs in the world. An undergraduate wildlife degree provides a solid background in the basic sciences and ecology that can prepare you for graduate work in wildlife and related fields, such as veterinary medicine. Some technical positions in public agencies, business, and law enforcement are open to graduates with only a bachelor’s degree, but increasingly a graduate education is a pre-requisite for career success. 

How to Declare

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To declare the Wildlife Ecology major, current UW Madison students must meet with CALS Advising a Services or Allee Hochmuth, the Russell Labs Academic Advising Manager. If you have questions about the field of Wildlife Ecology, please contact Dr. Jim Berkelman, chair of the department’s Undergraduate Affairs Committee in Wildlife Ecology. For general information on admissions to the University of Wisconsin-Madison please visit the Undergraduate Admissions website. For general information on admissions to the University of Wisconsin-Madison please visit the Undergraduate Admissions website. 

Looking for more information and resources? Please visit the Russell Labs Hub Student Services page. 

Major and Degree Requirements

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Information regarding general education and requirements, as well a sample 4-year plan, can he found in the UW-Madison Guide. 

There may be overlap between University, CALS, and Wildlife Ecology major requirements. Students are strongly encouraged to work with their advisor to strategize and understand how requirements can be met. 

Careful selection of major electives can be used to satisfy the educational requirements for wildlife biologist certification through the Wildlife Society 

Consult with an academic advisor, Course Guide, and Department Course Rotation Schedules for additional information on course sequencing. The Forest & Wildlife Ecology Course Planning Tip Sheet is another valuable resource designed to help students plan for future semesters. 

The Wildlife Ecology 4-year Plan Example provides an overview of how degree requirements may be met. 

Course Exception Requests

Students who wish to substitute a course requirement with another course taken at UW-Madison, on study abroad, or at another institution must receive permission for the course exception in advance of taking the course. Students should consult with their academic advisor for more information. 

Independent Study Credits 

Any student completing either F&W ECOL 299 or 699 credits are required to complete the Forest & Wildlife Ecology Independent Study Agreement form with their independent study instructor.  A copy of this form should be kept by both the student and the instructor.  The only exception is for students using the independent study credits for their capstone, those students should use the capstone agreement form below. 

Independent Study Capstone

The majority of Wildlife Ecology majors complete one of the two capstone courses (F&W ECOL 577 or 599), but students also have the option of completing an independent study capstone, typically F&W ECOL 699.  Students who wish to pursue this option will need to submit the independent study capstone form to their faculty advisor in order to receive permission to use the independent study option towards the capstone requirement for graduation.

Wildlife Ecology Learning Goals

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For a complete list of competencies required, please see the Learning Outcomes listed on the UW-Madison Guide page.

Wildlife Ecology Summer Field Camp at Kemp Natural Resources Station

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Every other summer, Wildlife Ecology students have the option of participating in the Wildlife Ecology Summer Field Camp at Kemp Natural Resources Station in northern Wisconsin as F&W ECOL 424 Wildlife Ecology Summer Field Practicum. The two-week field class emphasizes research and habitat management techniques through individual and group field work, tours, demonstrations and lectures. Transportation and lodging are provided for all participants. 

Undergraduate Advising in Wildlife Ecology

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All undergraduate students are assigned to a faculty and staff advisor after they declare the major. Staff advisors serve as primary academic advisors, and faculty advisors serve in a mentorship role, especially for students interested in research and advanced study. 

Freshman, sophomores, transfer students, and any student who has recently declared the major are required to consult with their staff and/or faculty advisor at least once per semester. This consultation must occur prior to enrollment for the upcoming term. Students may have an enrollment hold placed on their record that can be lifted after consulting with an advisor. Most often, consulting happens through an advising appointment scheduled through Starfish, but can also be done through drop-ins or via email. Students who have built their 4-year plan and have it saved as their “Primary Plan” in Degree Planner are encouraged to meet with an advisor regularly to discuss electives and progress towards degree completion. 

Although drop-ins can be accommodated by someone in the department, students are best served through individual advising appointments. See the Russell Labs Student Services web page for up-to-date information on drop-in advising services.


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Even though it is not required for graduation, Wildlife Ecology students often elect to do a summer internship to gain additional skills. Students are encouraged to talk to their advisor about internship possibilities, departmental internship policies and how to receive credit (F&W ECOL 399) for an internship. The Forest and Wildlife Ecology department strongly encourages all students pursuing an internship to use the following two forms: 

Students should note that any internship done for credit will require a faculty sponsor to enroll in a section of F&W ECOL399 Coordinated Internship/Cooperative Education.

The Wildlife Society

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There is a UW-Madison chapter of the Wildlife Society. For more information on the society please visit the Wildlife Society University of Wisconsin-Madison Student Chapter Facebook Page.

Careers and Professional Development

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Undergraduates in wildlife ecology prepare for a variety of careers. They can become wildlife biologists, habitat restoration technicians, attorneys, wildlife enforcement officers, researchers, and more. Students are also well prepared to pursue advanced degrees in wildlife and related fields, including veterinary medicine. Graduates of the program work for many organizations, such as state departments of natural resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Chicago Zoological Society, and The Nature Conservancy. 

For more information on careers available to Forest & Wildlife Ecology students please visit our Internship & Job Resources page. For more information on other academic, co-curricular, financial aid, and career opportunities and services available to Forest & Wildlife Ecology students, please visit the CALS Career Resources page. 

For More Information

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