May 1, 2024

Meet the Staff: Matthew Hunsaker, District Wildlife Biologist

A biologist kneels next to a tranquilized bobcat for research in a grassy path in between a prairie and a wooded area.

Photos courtesy of Matthew Hunsaker.

Hudson, Illinois native Matthew Hunsaker, is returning to his home state to continue his career in natural resource conservation.

Having accepted the position as an Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) District Wildlife Biologist (DWB), based out of the Des Plaines Game Propogaton Center in Wilmington, Hunsaker will have ample opportunity to let his knowledge of resource conservation practices shine.

Hunsaker, whose interest in wildlife stemmed at an early age, recalls fondly the opportunities that growing up surrounded by Illinois flora and fauna provided.

“Looking back at time spent with my grandparents, starting at a very young age, I recall pheasant hunting, collecting leaves for tree identification and even time spent at Conservation World at the State Fair as being the building blocks for my trajectory into a wildlife career,” said Hunsaker.

Of course, the older Hunsaker got, the more involvement in wildlife he sought.

“In high school I began to spend a lot of time fishing with some of my closest friends and that eventually turned into archery deer hunting,” Hunsaker recalled.

These experiences culminated in the inspiration for Hunsaker to pursue a career in natural resources, which he did, attending Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville for his Bachelor’s in Biology. From there, he pursued field work- with fish!

A biologist in camouflage gear stands in a boat on a lake while holding a large fish. In the background is a brushy shoreline.

“After my undergraduate degree was completed, my first job was as a fisheries technician in Havana at Illinois River Biological Station, working for the Illinois Natural History Survey,” said Hunsaker. “If not for the job offer to work in Wisconsin on the Southwest Wisconsin CWD Deer and Predator Project (SWCDPP), there’s a good chance I would have pursued a career in fisheries.” Thankfully for wildlife, the offer from SWCDPP came through.

Along with his move to Wisconsin, Hunsaker attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison for his Master’s in Ecology. Working with the SWCDPP, Hunsaker assisted with studying deer dispersal patterns which complemented his thesis work. Hunsaker’s thesis focused specifically on the daily movement, ranges of movement, and dates of peak breeding season of white-tailed deer, particularly males during the rut in southwest Wisconsin.

Hunsaker is a wealth of resource conservation knowledge, with an impressive resume that affirms his extensive experience in the field. He began as a field technician with SWCDPP in 2018, where he worked his way up to field crew leader by 2023.

In a snowy woodland, a biologist in tan warm weather gear kneels next to a tranquilized deer for research purposes. In the background is a cooler, two backpacks, and a four all terrain vehicle.

“I worked for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as a wildlife technician where I gained a lot of knowledge, skills and experiences over the course of a summer, including prescribed burning, operating tractors, bird banding, spotlight surveys and nuisance beaver trapping,” remarked Hunsaker. “I also spent some time with Pheasants Forever as a Farm Bill biologist in central Illinois, gaining habitat planning and management skills,” he added. All of these learned skills make Hunsaker a great fit for IDNR’s Office of Wildlife Conservation.

Hunsaker joined IDNR in late fall of 2023 as a DWB serving Grundy, Iroquois and Kankakee counties in northeastern Illinois. Serving IDNR-owned and -maintained properties, such as Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, Iroquois County State Fish and Wildlife Area (SFWA), Kankakee River State Park and Mazonia-Braidwood SFWA, Hunsaker has many goals for work on such areas.

“My upcoming plans for public lands include enhancing habitat plans for pheasant hunting areas,” he explained. Additionally, he will be working to control overgrowth of invasive honeysuckle and conducting prescribed burns to better optimize recreational opportunities at his sites.

We’re glad to have you back, Matt!

Kaleigh Gabriel is a Wildlife Outreach Specialist with Lewis and Clark Community College, working out of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources building to assist the Division of Wildlife Resources. Growing up just between Sangamon and Christian counties, she spent a lot of her time hunting and fishing in Illinois. She received her bachelor’s degree in writing/journalism from Manchester University, Indiana.

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