Faculty profile: Dr. Eric Pelren, Wildlife Society adviser
Dr. Eric Pelren is an intelligent and down-to-earth outdoorsman. His students adore him with a passion.
"Dr. Pelren enjoys teaching the subjects about wildlife. He has provided advice about how to get my career started," said James Davis, a Natural Resources Management Senior.
Wildlife is not just a hobby for Dr. Pelren, but a career he cherishes dearly. He has a connection with his students, and like them he grew up entirely fascinated with the outdoors.
"I've worked with wildlife for most of my life. My father was a biologist and instilled a fascination and respect for wildlife and nature in me from a young age. Like many folks in my profession, I grew up hunting and fishing, hiking and camping, and spending every moment possible in the outdoors" said Pelren.
His affection for teaching grew due to the admiration of wildlife.
"I worked as a counselor in the conservation area at a Boy Scout camp in high school, and I learned from that experience that I loved teaching," said Pelren.
With the knowledge of his love for teaching wildlife, Pelren earned a B.A. in Biology at Berea College in eastern Kentucky.
"My interest grew in understanding the workings and interconnections of ecological systems.
From there, I went on to UT Knoxville for an M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science, then Oregon State for a Ph.D. and a Post-Doc in Wildlife Science. My graduate studies dealt with upland forest wildlife-habitat associations.
Specifically, I worked with ruffed grouse and blue grouse (think wild chicken). Along the way I did work in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Alaska.
As I was finishing my work in Oregon in 1996, I was offered a position here at UTM in the Natural Resources program. My wife Suzanne and I love the Pacific Northwest, but the Southeast is home to us, and I feel like the message that I have to give is to the culture that I know best. So, we've been here since 1997," said Pelren. During his time here at UTM, Pelren has seen his share of memorable moments.
"We have a student professional organization, the Wildlife Society, that gives out annual awards. One of them is the Roadkill Award, for the biggest, funniest mistake of the year. There have been some pretty interesting years."
"OK, I've gotten it a few times, but I'm kind of clumsy and I've been here a while.
The most memorable events for me are small shared moments with students enjoying the beauty and surprises that sometimes come along in the outdoors. Seeing an endangered animal, walking through a healthy habitat…things that won't translate well on paper," said Pelren.
Pelren is like an open book when it comes to his students, but they don't know everything about him.
"I've never seen a long-tailed weasel. I occasionally enjoy rock-climbing. I can roll a kayak. Once, a long time ago, my father might have written me a ticket for accidentally shooting a hen turkey. That's a long story," said Pelren.
Wildlife is a profession that takes skills, knowledge, dedication and honor. Not many people can handle that.
"The wildlife profession isn't for everyone. All told, I've spent over 6 years of my life sleeping in tents. I've been chased and bitten and scratched and pooped on by a great diversity of species.
A lot of early mornings and a lot of coffee. But I believe that this is a noble profession, and a fulfilling one.
We are working to improve the world. Serving in such a way, doing something we love – we in the wildlife profession feel very fortunate," said Pelren
Over the years Pelren has accomplished much, but he still has goals.
"I want our graduates to understand the difference between a healthy, functioning ecosystem, and a broken one, and I want them to know how to fix what's broken. And I hope with all my heart that I can instill them with enough passion to want to spend their lives trying to fix what's broken," said Pelren.
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