Director Chad Bishop featured in The Wildlife Professional

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Today's Wildlife Professional 

Collaborating with People to Conserve Wildlife | For Chad Bishop, Science-Based Conservation is More Than a Family Affair

Peering over the colossal walls of Hell’s Canyon in western Idaho, Chad Bishop felt overwhelmed. At 20 years old, he’d never tracked a collared animal in the field before. Yet here he was, telemetry receiver in hand, attempting to find deer for the state wildlife agency, where he was a bio-aide that summer of 1993. 

 Chad Bishop assesses the body condition of an adult female mule deer using ultrasound and palpation in Colorado's Piceance Basin. Photo credit: Colorado Division of Wildlife.

After wandering around with no deer in sight, Bishop homed in on a mule deer and watched triumphantly as it trotted from the shrubs before him. 

“No matter how far you go in your career, you’re exposed to difficult circumstances where you might not have answers or experience you wish you had,” he said. “It can be unsettling, but you think back to those first moments of confidence and carry them forward.” 

That’s what Bishop has done over his 25 years as a wildlife biologist. He has tracked and studied more mule deer — and plenty of other species — than he can count. He has led colleagues, directed research and made scientific recommendations to assist natural resource management. Now Bishop administers the University of Montana’s wildlife biology program as its director and associate professor. 

It runs in the family 

Bishop grew up with the wildlife profession. His father worked for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Growing up in Indianola, he spent a lot of time outdoors, but he also tagged along to wildlife conferences, hung around family friends who were wildlife biologists and watched his brother take the wildlife path. 

“My entire upbringing,” he said, “I was exposed to different aspects of the profession in terms of research and administration.” 

When he started college at Drake University, Bishop wasn’t sure he wanted to be the next wildlifer in the family, but he realized he had a connection with wildlife, science and the outdoors his fellow students lacked. 

“People couldn’t even understand what ecosystem meant,” he said. Society was in trouble, he decided. It was too disconnected from nature. But he could do something about it. He followed his father and
brother into wildlife biology. “And I never looked back,” he said. 

Bishop wanted to help conserve large mammals in the intermountain West, where less human development left more habitat. Every professional move he made was to realize that vision. 

After transferring to Montana State University, Bishop landed a job as an undergraduate wildlife technician at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game where Jim Unsworth, now the director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, was a
research biologist and Bishop’s supervisor. 

“His work ethic is unmatched,” Unsworth said. “I threw him out in the water and told him to swim. He did and then some.” 

Bishop completed his bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology in 1995. Focusing on mule deer in southwestern Idaho, he earned a master’s degree in wildlife resources at the University of Idaho three years later.

The following year, Bishop joined the Colorado Division of Wildlife as a mule deer researcher. Through his work using vaginal implants to study neonatal fawn survival, he simultaneously received a doctorate in wildlife biology at Colorado State University in 2007. 

“He’s motivated,” said Gary White, vice president of The Wildlife Society, who was Bishop’s PhD supervisor and a contractor for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “He’s idealistic. He’s always looking to make things better.” 

Managing wildlife — and people 

Chad Bishop hikes with his son and daughter in the Flathead National Forest, located in Montana. Photo credit: Laura Bishop.

Over his time at what became Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Bishop ascended the ranks to serve as mammals research leader and then assistant director for wildlife and natural resources. By 2012, he was supervising 225 employees and advancing the science on managing conservation easements and private properties for wildlife habitat, an achievement of which he’s particularly proud. 

“I worked across the gamut of fish and wildlife species in Colorado, taking the science researchers are
producing and representing it, helping inform management and conservation decisions,” Bishop said. “I’ve liked different ways to engage in the profession.” 

In 2015, Bishop transitioned into academia at the University of Montana to run the institution’s
integrated wildlife biology program and use his state agency experience “to help bridge connections between state and federal management agencies and universities,” Bishop said. 

“He tries to reach a consensus among people on what ought to be done,” White said. “He’s a good people manager.” 

Sustaining relationships has been a crucial part of Bishop’s career through the years. He remains engaged with leaders from state and federal wildlife agencies and nongovernmental organizations and continues to attend a variety of wildlife conferences. 

“He has excellent social skills and this ability to relate to people,” Unsworth said. “He not only does the math and science, but he can also communicate to hunters, fishermen and other nonprofessionals.”

Lessons from an active wildlifer 

An active TWS member since 1996, Bishop has presented at state, section and national meetings. He served as an officer for the Colorado chapter for four years before becoming its president, and is president-elect of the National Association for University Fisheries and Wildlife Programs. 

Bishop stresses the importance of drive, planning and persistence for new wildlifers. “You don’t have the ideal job one or two years after graduation,” he said, “so couple passion with patience.” 

He recommends early-career biologists lay out specific goals and strategies to attain them. “Being careful about definitions of what you’re willing to do helps when you’re looking for a job and doing outreach,” he said, “and it helps you define realistic opportunities for steps forward.” 

Developing as a wildlife biologist, Bishop learned that “your ability to make positive contributions requires being flexible to change and strategic in how you work.” 

Unsworth praised his approach. Bishop “recognizes changes are going to occur in our profession and what the public expects from fish and wildlife management, can envision that future and get things done,” he said. 

Bishop sought leadership training after realizing it was key to improving communication skills, interacting with decision makers, influencing wildlife policy and meeting priorities of conservation and management. He encourages young biologists to participate in the TWS Leadership Institute. 

“I’m excited about the future, especially being able to educate the next set of professionals,” Bishop said of his new position at the University of Montana.

“I see opportunities to continue strengths in the program, influence bridging science and management at a national level and have big impacts on the wildlife profession.”

By Julia John Published in the November/December 2017 issue of The Wildlife Professional. This is an exclusive benefit for members of The Wildlife Society. Visit to learn about the many benefits of TWS membership.

Photos: Chad Bishop assesses the body condition of an adult female mule deer using ultrasound and palpation in Colorado's Piceance Basin. Photo credit: Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Chad Bishop hikes with his son and daughter in the Flathead National Forest, located in Montana. Photo credit: Laura Bishop.