Conservation employers have long valued the in-depth, highly technical training provided by graduate and undergraduate environmental science curricula. However, employers also highly value communication and critical-thinking skills beyond research science, especially the ability to make management decisions within sociopolitical, financial, and ecological contexts. I developed and implemented a budgeted management plan assignment in lower- and upper-level courses in biology and environmental studies programs at an undergraduate liberal arts college. Students must develop specific, assessable conservation objectives to manage a population within a budget that limits available money, time, and sociopolitical will. Students must conduct extensive scientific literature reviews, then decide which of 89 actions will be most cost-effective. Instructors and students responded positively to the assignment, particularly noting difficulty, realism, and interdisciplinarity as defining features, especially in comparison to more traditional field lab reports. The resulting writing assignment involves little class time and instructor supervision, can be customized for both advanced undergraduate and secondary education curricula, and involves high critical-thinking skills in all four cognitive dimensions of learning as described by Anderson and Krathwohl (2001).

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