Conservation means ensuring that the next generation has the full benefit of all the natural resources we enjoy today — the wildlife and wild places, healthy streams and rivers, and diverse habitats that provide outdoor recreational opportunities, generate jobs, and ensure the continued sustainability of Earth’s natural systems. Critical to those efforts is the need to prepare today’s students to take on the conservation mantle and meet new and burgeoning challenges.

That need was the driver behind a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Both organizations recognize that providing students with an understanding of conservation principles, coordinating educational opportunities, and facilitating hands-on experiences will not only benefit the environment in the long run, but also enhance student career development and provide a better-qualified pool of graduates to fill future Fish and Wildlife Service employment needs — a win-win for students and the service’s conservation mission.

“The college is committed to providing students a rich and rewarding education that emphasizes hands-on experience,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. “This MOU will help us connect our students with the programs and opportunities that the Fish and Wildlife Service offers. Most importantly, the MOU will assist us in recruiting a diverse student body representative of the American population and allow us to assist the Fish and Wildlife Service in developing a diverse workforce capable of addressing the conservation challenges of the 21st century.”

Together, the two groups will collaborate on special projects such as field trips, classes, labs, and other activities; provide students with career advice and information that will assist them in determining future employment opportunities; provide conservation-related work experience; and locate, develop, and engage with university groups and conservation organizations, including those that reach minority groups.

“This MOU is a tremendous step forward in our efforts to reach out and build relationships with the conservation biologists of the future,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Steve Guertin, whose agency works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. “Together we can work to cut across demographic divides and find and cultivate the Rachel Carsons and Aldo Leopolds of tomorrow, opening them up to the possibilities that exist at the Fish and Wildlife Service. Only then will we ensure our mission and conservation legacy survive.”

Relationship-building with individual students is a key component of the memorandum of understanding, recognizing that many students are unaware of the volunteer, internship, and work opportunities they may be missing at the service and the help these avenues may provide in their quest for future employment, particularly at the service itself.

With changing demographics, characterized by an increasingly urbanized population, successive generations of Americans are growing up with reduced expectations of their engagement in nature, ultimately resulting in less interest in natural resources-related careers. This MOU is part of a broader effort at the service to engage with diverse audiences with a view to ensuring the future relevance of its mission in this changing landscape.

For its part, Virginia Tech has a commitment to contribute to fish and wildlife resource conservation and management at state, national, and international levels through integrated programs in research, teaching, and engagement. It has one of the premier conservation programs in North America, rated best in the nation for three straight years by USA Today. This MOU is an extension of that commitment.

For information on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s role in this MOU, contact Gavin Shire at or 703-358-2649.

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