Interview with biodiversity ranger, Jesse Archer

Jesse Archer biodiversity ranger

What do you do?
I work for the government of New Zealand as a biodiversity ranger. I spend my work shifts organizing trip plans to go into the field to various locations across the country, and establish 20m x 20m plots to monitor vegetation. There are hundreds of sites located across the country and most have been visited and measured in the past to track changes over time. I work in teams of 3-6 people and we typically access our plots (which at times can be quite remote) by 4-wheel driving, long walks on or off track, or via helicopters. We collect biological data on trees, saplings, understory plants, non-vascular plants (mosses, liverworts, hornworts, and lichens), soils and site descriptions.

How long have you been in this field for?
I have been doing this job seasonally for about 8 years with various companies in Canada, and more recently here in New Zealand. Typically monitoring only runs through the summer and leaves me with a few months off season when I’m unemployed. Throughout the years I have focused my field monitoring on the biodiversity of plants, but have also been able to incorporate the monitoring of wetlands, birds, and fresh water fishes.

What inspired you to pursue this career?
Spending all of my free time in the outdoors and being passionate about nature, led me to pursue schooling in an environmental field. A little experience, and a few contacts later, and I was able to set out on my first field job—I’ve been hooked ever since! I just enjoy learning about nature, and being in a natural setting. There is no better feeling than being on a mountain ridge, staring across the landscape at mountain tops and forested valleys and thinking, hey, I’m getting paid to do this right now! (I’ll leave out the part about moquitos, bad weather, and smelly work clothing.)

What was the biggest hurdle in attaining your career goals?
The biggest hurdle for me to attain this goal was overcoming the perception that there are limited jobs in my field. Especially in Canada, environmental scientists are becoming a dime a dozen, and it can be extremely competitive to try and get a foot in the door. But if it truly is your passion then, with some hard work, there is little that can stop you from achieving your dreams.

What do you like most about your work?
There are so many things that I love about my job that it’s hard to pick just one. Perhaps it’s that I’m paid to travel, taking a helicopter to a remote alpine valley, or just checking out a nearby swamp. Perhaps it’s that I get to work with plants, and observe nature in detail, with all of its components large and small. Or perhaps it’s getting to work with some really incredible people, people who are as passionate or more passionate than I am about being out there doing the same work. My job doesn’t always feel like it’s work, but at the same time there can be some incredibly grueling days, which is likely why most people out there probably wouldn’t wish to be in my boots.

What do you find most challenging about your work?
The most challenging part of my job is that I am quite transient. Seasonal field work means that I can’t go home every night to my own bed. I am constantly on the move, and it can be difficult to plant roots or build relationships. It is difficult to visit family, difficult to visit friends, and because of the location of my work and the nature of my schedule I’ve missed out on weddings and births and important events. Working in the field has its own difficulties as well, from hacking your way through dense understories and vines, tripping and slipping on moss-covered logs, being eaten alive by mosquitos and bugs, and experiencing everything from heat exhaustion to hypothermia. My job also demands a high degree of fitness which is something I need to work on all of the time. Carrying 20 kilogram packs full of food, camping equipment, and plotting gear, uphill for hours can be exhausting and very strenuous on the body. I constantly need to be maintaining my strength and flexibility to prevent injuries and be confident in my abilities.

If you weren’t a biodiversity ranger, what would you be?
I have held positions in an office working behind a computer on environmental planning and mapping, but I struggled being inside and behind a computer, which drove me to find a rewarding career in the outdoors. I have dabbled with mechanics, landscaping, resort management, and playing gigs as a musician. Although I would have to say, I believe a dream job of mine is to work on a ferry boat as a greeter. I just love ferry boats and I would be super happy to improve the experience of other passengers as they travel on the ferry!

Name one hobby you have that’s not related to your work.
Outside of hiking, camping, rock-climbing (which I believe are all somewhat related to my career in field work), I love playing music. I have played the guitar for around 13 years, and also the banjo for about 5 years. I love jamming with friends and making music that I enjoy, and that also makes people laugh and dance.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
I usually get up and have a coffee and enjoy the sound of nature and the morning birds. I’d love to be the energetic type who gets up for a morning exercise, but I simply enjoy the warmth of bed too much to be an early riser.

And last thing you do at night?
I like to enjoy a refreshing beverage and read a book. Maybe play a tune on the guitar, preferably if I can get a campfire or the woodstove going!

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you enjoy your work.
Love it! I’m going a 9!