DNR @ Work
Ed Thompson,
Western Region Wildlife & Heritage Ecologist

Ed Thompson, Regional Ecologist with DNR’s Natural Heritage Program, was born and raised in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania. He received his B.S. degree in wildlife management at West Virginia University and his M.S. degree in wildlife management at Frostburg State University. He began working for DNR in 1980.

Why did you decide to pursue a career as a DNR ecologist? What inspired you to become an ecologist?
I was always interested in nature from as far back as I can remember. Like a lot of kids, I was really into reptiles and amphibians and I was always catching critters and bringing them home. Particularly snakes. Much to my neighbor’s dismay!

What exactly does an “ecologist” do?
That depends. In our program, “ecologist” is a field-oriented title and the work involves the conservation of special habitats as well as uncommon or rare plants and animals – in a nutshell – the conservation of Maryland’s biodiversity. I’m involved in the management and conservation of non-game animals, which covers those species not hunted - small mammals, forest interior birds and amphibians and reptiles such as hellbenders, salamanders, rattlesnakes and wood turtles. And, I’ve assisted with the recognition and designation of special management areas on State Forest land. This was part of the10-year management planning process several years ago.

Describe your typical day – what does it entail?
I really don’t have what you could call a “typical” day – but I will say, I think I’ve got one of “the best” jobs at DNR! Generally speaking, my fieldwork begins in March, when I take off into the field to conduct studies. This spring I’ll be looking for wood turtles at Allegany County stream sites, monitoring Jefferson salamander and other amphibian sites, and monitoring timber rattlesnake populations. I’ll also be conducting rare butterfly surveys, and continuing my work identifying lands for special protection and/or acquisition.

What is the most important element you would try to relate to the general public about preserving our state’s resources?
To be appreciative of, and have a healthy respect for, the earth and nature. I guess the key word here is “awareness” – I think people today are too removed from the natural world.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
Two people: My Dad and a college professor [at WVU]. Dad, because he was an avid hunter and fisherman, and he’d always bring stuff home for me from his hunting trips. I remember one time he’d gone out bow hunting and when he got home, he pulled a ring-necked snake out of his quiver! Then when I got to WVU, Bill Wylie was my instructor for an ornithology field class, and he’d take us out into the forests to teach us how to identify various bird songs. That class directly impacted my future career choices.

What is your advice for someone interested in becoming an ecologist?
First and foremost, you must have a real passion for the outdoors. Set about to learn as much as you absolutely can about the natural world on your own and then get a degree in a related field.

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