Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences is in the process of creating a new degree, a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Enterprise Management.
The University’s Board of Trustees approved the degree June 8. It is now awaiting approval from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, which will vote in December.
“It’s to fill a specific need in the outdoor recreation industry,” said Dr. Mark Smith, associate professor for the School of Forestry and Wildlife. “[Graduates] could be in a range of places like single-owner hunting or fishing operation in the Southeastern United States, a corporate retreat facility focused on outdoor experiences or even an African safari outfitter.”
According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2017 report, the outdoor recreation economy contributes $887 billion to the U.S. economy and employs 7.6 million Americans.
In Alabama alone, outdoor recreation generates $14 billion annually, and the industry directly provides 135,000 jobs.
“If you look at these enterprises who are managing these kinds of activities, either they hire wildlife biologists who manage wildlife, or they go to hospitality, tourism or business graduates to focus on customers," said Dr. Janaki Alavalapati, dean of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. "Those people don’t know this side and these people don’t know this side, but if you are managing a hunting lodge or something, you would like to have people who are familiar with both sides of the business."
Auburn will be the second school in the nation to provide a degree in wildlife enterprise management, following Kansas State University.
“They have a great model, we made some definite changes to ours to try to improve it," Smith said. "I think we’ve got a lot more business management courses and hospitality courses then they had.”
Students will take business classes from the College of Business, hospitality classes from the College of Human Sciences and wildlife classes from the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.
Smith described the degree as a “jack of all trades” degree and said the amount of credit hours from each of the three colleges are close.
“[Wildlife enterprise management] is not to train these graduates to be hunting and fishing guides,” Smith said. “They may come in and start off as that but what we're really targeting is for a student to come into a business starting level, bottom rung. But they have the skill sets and knowledge to learn quickly and advance quickly up the ladder to more of a managerial position where they’re running the business.”
Students will take all of the classes necessary for a business minor in the curriculum. Some new classes are being created for the major such as “Hunting and Fishing the World," which will teach students the basics of hunting and fishing including safety.
Alavalapati thinks students from across all majors will enjoy this class and it will become popular.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised with the interest that we’ve seen thus far,” Smith said. “Several students are wanting to change majors, and I think it’s going to be a very good career option for a lot of students that have that passion, they’re passionate hunters, they’re fisher-people”
Smith said internships will be especially important for preparing students with this degree.
The new degree has already caught the attention of John Burrell, President and CEO and High Adventure Company, which manages sporting lodges both in the U.S. and internationally. The company has everything from Stag Hunting in Patagonia to Fly Fishing in New Zealand. Burrell has consulted with the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences on the new degree and has offered to provide internships.
“Creating the perfect employee right out of school would be a game-changer,” Burrell said in an interview with Shooting Sportsman magazine.
“We want [students] thinking bigger international, and aware of a lot of different opportunities out there rather than ‘I want to go back home and start a quail hunting preserve,’ that’s fine but also think bigger,” Smith said.
Burrell and the High Adventure Company are not the only organization to notice the new major. Before the Board of Trustees even approved the new degree, Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association, a non-profit organization that promotes outdoor recreation in Alabama’s blackbelt region, wrote a letter to the president’s office commending Auburn on the new degree.
“Auburn University is in a unique position to attract new students with the Wildlife Enterprise Management degree program that’s now available and by utilizing the advantage you have of being located in the Black Belt’s wildlife eco-system,” wrote Thomas Harris, Black Belt Adventures’ president, and Pam Swanner, director at Black Belt Adventures.
The new degree has already caught the attention of key figures in the Bahamas.
“I was recently at Blackfly Fishing Lodge in Abaco, Bahamas, and was discussing the WEM major with the general manager,” wrote Kevin Fussell to Alavalapati in an email provided to the Plainsman by Alavalapati. “Later that day, he had a meeting with the prime minister of the Bahamas, Mr. Hubert Minnis, where he discussed among other things this new program at Auburn. They have some ideas about potential collaboration with your students and fishing lodges in the Bahamas.”
Some of the classes such as outdoor safety and liability will be taught by outside experts and underwriter companies. More faculty and instructors will likely be hired to teach some of the new classes, Smith said.
“President Leath understands this one because he is an avid hunter,” Alavalapati said. “‘Hey this program is going to take off’ he said.”
Wildlife enterprise management will be the third degree that the School of Forestry and Wildlife management has created in the past 18 months.
“We are quite excited with this program, and I think, on campus, more and more people are going to be looking at this program,” Alavalapati said.