Bill Swaney

From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.

Position                                       Environmental Science Instructor
Department                                 Department of Environmental Science
Organization                               Salish Kootenai College

When did you get interested in ecology? Who was most influential in guiding you into ecology?

First of all, I owe a lot to my parents for the way I was raised. Every summer we spent most of our time in the mountains camping and fishing, and in the fall I spent many hours hunting, and from that learned an appreciation for ecological relationships. I was also fortunate to know Dave and Peg Harriman, who operated a trout hatchery next door to where I grew up. Dave was an astute and knowledgeable observer of nature, and I spent many hours looking through his collection of books as a child. The Harrimans were pioneers in western Montana in terms of their early concerns with pesticides use and other environmental issues.

How did you learn about ecological careers? What is your position title now?

I learned quite a bit in college and more as an employee of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation. Much of what I have learned I use in my current position as an Environmental Science Instructor at Salish Kootenai College, where I just completed my third year of employment.

Describe your route to a career in (or using) ecology. What challenges did you need to overcome? What was your training, and what positions have you held?

I was always interested in science and nature and became interested in a career as a wildlife biologist in high school. After high school, I attended the University of Montana from 1981 to 1983. I left for three years to take a wildlife technician position studying the effects of fluctuating water levels on nesting Canada geese, and then returned to the University of Montana and completed my B. S. in wildlife biology in 1990. I was accepted into UM’s graduate program and completed my thesis in 1993 on the effects of predator removal on ground-nesting bird communities in western Montana. I suppose the biggest challenge for me to overcome was the difference in culture between a university setting and the rural area where I was born and raised. I owe a great deal of my success to Dr. Dan Pletscher at the University of Montana, who was my undergraduate advisor and the chair of my graduate committee. Dr. Pletscher was an excellent instructor who held me to high standards and had faith in my abilities to meet them. In addition, I benefited from the experience and knowledge provided by Dr. I. Joe Ball and Dr. Erick Greene, who served on my graduate committee. My formative academic experiences in ecology were provided by Dr. Richard Hutto and Dr. Lee Metzgar, who never failed to challenge me and stimulate my interests. Dr. Greene also instructed me in the finer points of theoretical ecology and opened my eyes to the need for emphasizing math in ecology. I have held various positions with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, including technician positions in forestry, hydrology, and wildlife, wildlife biologist, and a management position in environmental protection prior to joining the faculty of Salish Kootenai College as an environmental science instructor.

What key advice would you offer a student today?

I think every person has something special inside of them that only they can offer to the world. The key is to find that something special and then just go for it. It’s OK to take some time to find out what you want in life and it’s also OK to fail. The most important piece of advice I would give a student is to believe in yourself.

The students at my institution are as diverse as the field of ecology itself. not practical. Our challenge as ecologists today is to reduce the distance we have put between ourselves and nature. We are as dependent on the earth for our continued survival as a child would be to it’s mother, and through ecology, we can help people realize this.

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