Alumni Spotlight | Jason Thiele

Courtesy of Jason Thiele
Courtesy of Jason Thiele

After spending a few years outside of Nebraska, Jason Thiele has taken on a new position as private lands biologist for the Northeast District of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission which has allowed him to return home.

A 2008 graduate of the fisheries and wildlife program, Thiele was an active member of the Wildlife Club, the UNL burn crew, which facilitated prescribed burns, and took part in the annual Tropical Field Ecology course in Puerto Rico.

“The School of Natural Resources (SNR) has a tremendous amount of resources available to students to prepare them for future careers. So many, in fact, that it is hard to utilize all of them. The first I would mention is a fantastic variety of course options. I know that I ran out of credit hours needed for graduation before I got to take every class that I wanted. This list gets even longer when you consider the additional courses available during the summer months at UNL's Cedar Point Biological Station.

My major, fisheries and wildlife, provided a solid baseline education that gave me flexibility to work in several areas of the field while also offering a great amount of flexibility to "specialize" in a particular area of interest if I chose to do so. The diversity of student organizations was also a great perk of the school that has benefitted me and many others. I also have to say that I was fortunate to come into SNR right at the time that Hardin Hall was being completed. It was wonderful to have classrooms, research labs, computer labs, and faculty offices all in one location.”

Like with so many other alumni, Thiele was happy to share memories from his time here in the school. Snorkeling in coral reefs, kayaking in a bioluminescent bay, and catching coquí frogs and anole lizards, as well as field trips for Dr. Wedin’s Intro to Ecology and Forest Ecology particularly stuck out. His proudest classroom memory though, will make anyone that has taken Dr. Tyre’s class chuckle.

“I’ll never forget the adaptive management group project in Dr. Tyre’s Biology of Wildlife Populations course when we managed our own populations of Tribolium confusum, the majestic Confused Flour Beetle. I still hang my hat on the fact that our group was the only one bold enough to make the controversial decision to create a hunting season for flour beetles, and we finished the semester with the most stable population of all the groups in the class.”

These resources not only offered Thiele exciting experiences, but helped shape his future career path.

“My career path developed gradually. As a college freshman, I had it in the back of my mind that I might pursue a career as a conservation officer, but as I got into my coursework and started talking with professionals in the wildlife field, I found that I was much more drawn to studying and managing wildlife and their habitats. I discovered that I had a desire to work with birds once I graduated. One summer I worked as technician for the Tern & Plover Conservation Partnership in Nebraska and then as a wildlife apprentice for the USDA Forest Service in Kentucky and Tennessee. During both of these jobs, my mentors were birders, and I got really hooked on learning all I could about all things avian. Those two jobs had a huge influence on my search for a graduate school and for future job applications.”

Thiele took a little over a year after graduating to gain more work experience before attended South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD, for graduate school studying habitat selection of Burrowing Owls in western South Dakota. He graduated in 2012 and has since held positions in North Dakota, Wisconsin, and North Carolina.

Now, as a private lands biologist, Thiele is able to take the knowledge he has gleaned over the years and put it to use. From giving technical assistance to landowners interested in improving wildlife habitat on their properties to conducting prescribed burns and training workshops to writing contracts for public hunting and fishing access on private lands no two days are alike.

“I enjoy the tremendous work variety of my position. The most challenging aspect, as is the case for a lot of work in this field, is trying to make positive changes to wildlife habitat at scale when there is a long-term trend of habitat loss. This involves getting people to change the ways they think and the ways they’ve been doing things for years – this includes landowners as well as us biologists – and this is not easy to do.”

Now that he has been graduated for some time and has delved into the “real world”, we asked if there was anything he would have changed about is time here.

“I’ll throw out a cliché here and say that hindsight is 20:20, so looking back I might have made some changes in my course choices when I was an undergraduate. For example, I wish that I had taken at least one elective in fisheries management, just because I sometimes get questions from people about how to manage a farm pond, for example. While I’m happy to refer them to our talented fisheries biologists at the NGPC, it would be nice to know a little more about this particular area, but it’s an opportunity for me to keep learning. Other than little things like that, I’m very satisfied with how my years at SNR played out.”

His last words of advice for any current students are, “If you really want to learn something, try teaching it. Some of my most valuable experiences have come from such activities as teaching Nebraska Hunter Education courses with the Wildlife Club, volunteering at environmental education events, and serving as a graduate teaching assistant during my time at South Dakota State. Teaching makes you learn things at a deeper level than you normally would and improves your communication skills. I previously dreaded getting up in front of people to teach them, but now I greatly enjoy it.”