The current rate of extinction is 100 to 1,000 times faster than the natural rate. This negatively affects food, medicine, industrial products and vital ecosystem resources.
Conservation biology majors hope to change this.
Lydia Atchley, junior conservation biology major, explained that conservation biology is “like a double major between zoology and botany.”
“It’s a lot more focused on the outdoors aspect—plants, animals, ecology, the interconnectedness of the environment and how humans impact it—while regular biology majors are going to get more of a broad sense,” she said. “They’re also going to be focused on molecular level things, where we focus on that a little bit when it comes to plants and stuff, but not as much.”
Classes involve many projects, such as gathering and identifying sticks, plants and insects. Other times, they are putting up scentlures (stakes topped with coyote urine) and seeing what animals come by.
One of the most memorable parts of the major for Chelsey Sauls and Susanna Mann, sophomore conservation biology majors, has been a camping trip to trap small animals and practice netting fish.
“When I was practicing, I threw my net wrong and I was like, ‘Eh, ok, I’ll try again,’ but then I brought a fish up!” Mann said excitedly. “It was a complete accident and everyone was super shocked.”
Sauls originally planned to major in zoology but realized conservation biology not only allowed more field work and hands-on experience, but was better suited to what she hopes to do.
“I want a job where I can be outside at least half of the time, and conservation goes well with that,” she said.
There are several career options for conservation biology majors, such as environmental research and wildlife rehabilitation. Sauls is considering becoming a park ranger.
Atchley is planning on working for the National Park Service.
“I think environmental outreach would be really cool, especially with kids, because that’s a really influential age where you can really get them interested in outdoors and realize going on a hike isn’t going to get them killed by a bear or anything like that,” Atchley said.
A future in biology is something Atchely has been thinking about since sophomore year of high school.
“I was in an AP environmental class and each day, my teacher would open class with a Bible study and she would talk about how God called us to conserve nature and be good stewards of His creation and how He gave us dominion over the animals and plants and all of that,” she said. “I find a lot of joy when I’m outside and hiking and camping and backpacking, so I figured it would make sense to have a career that I could be able to that.”
In environmental ethics, Mann has been learning about what humanity is doing wrong, but there is hope because they learn how to make change.She said humanity has a significant responsibility to pay attention to where waste is dumped and how much pollution cars cause.
“In natural resource policy, we’re talking about the national parks a little bit, and in the national parks, pollution is actually a really bad problem, almost worse than in urban areas, because they have so many visitors come through and the air up there needs to be clean and it’s not so much,” Mann said.
In high school, Atchley recalls hearing people in church say that there is no point in saving the planet.
But in classes like environmental ethics, she sees the logic behind why God calls people to conserve, she said, comparing it to the parable of the three servants.
“God has given us this earth, just like the master gave his servants different amounts of money and I feel like on Judgment Day, God’s going to be like, ‘What did you do with this awesome creation I gave you?’ And we’re like, ‘Oh, you know, we polluted it, we cut most of the trees down, all of the animals are about extinct,’” she said. “I don’t think God’s going to be okay with that and that’s something we’re going to have to answer for some day.”
Sauls said God called people to conserve the environment, and this major helped her see the biblical reasoning behind the field of study.
“That’s what’s encouraging,” Sauls said. “Because we know we’re going to be in a position to make a change.”