The life of a CPW wildlife manager
By Erin Malcolm
The adventurous young boy who spent every summer working hard on “odds and ends” jobs with his grandfather just so they could take the afternoons off to go fishing in the Black Hills of South Dakota and every fall take trips to the mountains to hunt for elk and deer with his dad would be proud to know that he eventually aligned his passion for the outdoors with his career to create his dream lifestyle.
Now a district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Aaron Berscheid said he wouldn’t change it for anything.
“Growing up fishing and hunting, I knew that was where I was truly happy and knew that if I did anything other than that I wouldn’t be as happy as I could be. So, everything was always geared in that direction,” Berscheid said.
Berscheid was born in Washington, and his family moved to Colorado when he was a toddler, which he joked is enough to qualify him as a Colorado native. He spent his childhood living in Centennial before graduating from Cherry Creek High School and moving to Fort Collins to attend Colorado State University. There, he pursued a degree in natural resources management with a minor in fisheries biology, a path he knew from the start that he wanted to trek.
“I picked the degree almost immediately, because I knew it would give a well-rounded background for anything I wanted to do in the wildlife related field,” Berscheid said.
By his junior year of college, he narrowed down his goals within the wildlife field thanks to a job with Larimer County Parks where he got his first look into the law enforcement side of the industry that he was unfamiliar with and unsure he wanted to pursue.
“If you were thinking about dipping your toes into a law enforcement field, there might be a lot of questions you’d have, like what types of things you’d encounter and if you could handle them,” Berscheid said. “I didn’t have any family members or know anyone who was in law enforcement, so I didn’t have anybody to ask and was going in blind. I think that leads to a lot of questions that can’t be answered until you experiment a little bit.”
Once he realized that side of the job was for him, every effort went toward landing his current job with Colorado Parks and Wildlife — but it didn’t come easily.
He endured a long three years of applying for the CPW position, while splitting time seasonally between working for Larimer County Parks and King Soopers. At one point, he held a temporary position in the Hunter Education Department of CPW in an effort to build a reputation within the agency.
Berscheid described the CPW hiring process as a rigorous one. He said at the time, from start to finish, it took about five months to find out if he would be offered the position. During his application process, there were about 800 applicants who initially applied, and the pool was gradually reduced throughout the multi-step process. The first cut was to about 200 applicants who took a multiple-choice test about Colorado and wildlife topics; then about 64 applicants made the cut to a physical fitness test and oral boards. There were additional tests such as a written test, background check, drug test and finally an oral panel with CPW leaders from all over Colorado. So, by the end of the entire five-month process, the original 800 applicant pool was reduced to only eight.
After being offered the position, Berscheid went on to complete a year of training in Denver, which consisted of six months in a police academy and six months of in-house training.
He then moved to Burlington — the last town on I-70 before entering Kansas — in 2014 to serve as a district wildlife manager for the first time. After four years there, he moved to his current location to serve as district wildlife manager over Northeast El Paso County and some of Elbert County.
His work as a district wildlife manager consists of three key parts: law enforcement, education and outreach, and wildlife management.
The law enforcement aspect is carried out primarily through enforcing wildlife rules and laws, but Berscheid is also a statewide certified peace officer, so he can also provide backup or assistance to other police officers if needed.
When it comes to education and outreach, Berscheid visits schools and homeowners associations to provide education on wildlife topics. “I also currently run a program, called the Rookie Sportsperson Program, which takes families and individuals who want to go hunting but never really had anybody to show them how, and we pair them up with game wardens throughout the area and give them one-on-one classes and eventually take them on hunts to give them experience,” Berscheid said.
For wildlife management, he works with CPW biologists to help manage the wildlife in his district. For example, he participates in plane rides to count big game species and classify them. “We use that information in models that help us predict trends in the population, as well as how many licenses we can give out based on harvest rate,” he said.
Berscheid enjoys the frequent variety that comes along with the different responsibilities of a wildlife manager. “During the winter and hunting seasons, you’re heavy in law enforcement and once those seasons are over, it’s a nice change of pace to do something other than law enforcement. So, the seasonal changes make it easier to rotate through job duties so it’s not always the same,” he said.
The most rewarding part of the job is doing school classroom programs and hunter education outreach because it gives him an opportunity to interact with the local community, Berscheid.
Another way he connects with the community is through his monthly column for The New Falcon Herald, where he aims to educate locals about wildlife topics. He was surprised at how much traction his column initially got and its reach so far. Berscheid said, “It definitely helps to get CPW’s message out and give a face — someone local — instead of just our logo. It definitely has a big community impact.”
Forming relationships in the community is essential to successfully managing wildlife for his district.
“You have to embed yourself and make people know that you’re the one to go to for certain problems,” he said. “If you have a problem you need to solve, let’s solve it together. It’s an intermingling of your personal life and work. It has to be a community effort. If you don’t build it that way, then you’re one man doing everything and that’s almost impossible.”
He described his work as a “lifestyle.” “A lot of the work goes home with you, because you’re a part of the work.”
He lives the lifestyle daily alongside his wife, whom he met through CPW only a couple of years after starting his job there (she worked there at the time and still works for CPW through the agency’s Habitat Partnership Program).
The couple married in 2018 and currently live in Falcon together with their children.
They are a family of hunters and fisherman and enjoy spending as much time outdoors as possible. Berscheid joked that if his kids had a choice, they’d be outside 24/7.
The adventurous lifestyle that Berscheid began living as a young boy is one that he’s happy to pass on to his kids.
“It’ll definitely carry on. I guarantee it,” he said.
People on the plains: Aaron Berscheid, CPW district wildlife officer, helps a participant with shotgun shooting as part of the CPW’s Rookie Sportsperson Program Dove Hunting 101 event.