Conservation Officer Career Guide

Conservation officers (sometimes referred to as fish and game wardens) enforce laws that protect natural resources, mainly fish and wildlife. Conservation officers are police officers who are often certified to enforce other state laws, such as motor vehicle laws and controlled substance statutes, within their jurisdiction.

Conservation Officer Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Conservation officers observe hunters, fishermen, and trappers to ensure they comply with state and federal regulations. Fish and game wardens inspect:

  • Licenses
  • Bag (tag) limits
  • Specimens collected
  • Equipment used
  • The methods used to collect game
  • Vehicles and watercraft for compliance with state and federal laws

Officers generally also:

  • Conduct educational programs on wildlife preservations
  • Enforce state and federal statutes in campgrounds and parks
  • Establish and protect the chain of custody of evidence collected during investigations of violations of fish and wildlife statues
  • Prepare and present cases in court
  • Work closely with other law enforcement agencies in cases involving multi-agency jurisdictions

How to Become a Conservation Officer: Requirements and Qualifications

The minimum educational requirement to become a conservation officer or a game warden is an associate’s degree. However, many agencies now require a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, environmental sciences, or biology. Prospective officers must be familiar with state and federal statutes, must posses the ability to perform the duties of a sworn law enforcement officer, and must be able to conduct public presentations. Because these careers are mainly outdoors, they can be very physically demanding. Therefore, most agencies also require conservation officers to be in peak physical condition. Aspiring conservation officers generally must pass several examinations, including physical and psychological. All candidates must be qualified to carry a handgun and must pass an extensive background investigation.

Conservation Officer Job Training

Training depends on whether an individual works for the federal government or the state. Officers hired by the federal government typically complete a 20 week training program with the first 12 weeks taking place at the Federal Law Enforcement Agency in Glynco, Georgia. Trainees spend the remaining weeks in West Virginia. The training academy focuses on criminal investigations and wildlife law enforcement, including the proper use of firearms and identification of wildlife. Upon the successful completion of the training academy, conservation officers spend the next 10 weeks under the mentorship of a Field Training Officer before moving to their assigned location. Individual states have their own requirements for training. Oklahoma, for example, requires all new hires to complete a 576 hour training program followed by on the job training for six months.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Conservation officers should be able to work independently. Those individuals with the ability to fix their own vehicles – whether a car, a truck, or a boat – may find those skills advantageous during the hiring process. Prospective fish and game wardens with previous experience with wildlife, including as a volunteer or in a paid job, may find it easier to secure employment.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Conservation warden
  • Environmental police officer
  • Fish and game warden
  • Game warden
  • Natural resources officer
  • Wildlife enforcement officer
  • Wildlife officer

Career Opportunities and Employers

Experienced fish and game wardens, especially those who excel in their jobs, may enjoy advancement opportunities to supervising or administrative positions or may be promoted to field training officer. Conservation officers typically find employment with state or federal agencies.

Conservation Officer Salary and Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the approximately 6,850 fish and game wardens employed in the United States earned an average annual wage of $44,540 in 2012.1 The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide job projections for fish and game wardens. Employment opportunities will depend on local and federal government budgets and vacancies due to retirements.

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

Are there any dangers to conservation officers?
Yes. In fact, conservation officers face even more dangers than police officers, according to the North East Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs Association, because most of the individuals with whom officers have contact are armed. In addition, fish and game wardens often deal with wildlife, making them prone to animal bites, stings, and other potential injuries.

What type of hours do conservation officers typically work?
Prospective fish and game wardens should be prepared to work a typical 40 hour workweek, although they may be required to work evenings, weekends, and holidays. Overtime may also be necessary.

What are the typical working conditions for conservation officers?
There are no typical working conditions. Conservation officers should be prepared to work in different, sometimes extreme, weather conditions and in various terrain, such as forests, woods, deserts, and wetlands. Fish and game wardens spend the majority of their time outdoors.

Are there any continuing education requirements?
Yes. Because officers enforce the laws, they must be up to date with all the changes in the law when they take effect. Depending on the state, conservation officers may have to meet minimum continuing education requirements each year.

Additional Resources

International Game Warden Magazine – “The world’s leading magazine for conservation law enforcement.”

North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association – A professional association for conservation officers in the United States and Canada, providing the latest news and resources.

North East Conservation Law Enforcemenet Chiefs Association – A professional organization for senior conservation officers and chiefs from the northeastern United States and Canada.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Association – A national organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and to educating the public about wildlife conservation.

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References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/oes/2003/may/oes333031.htm
2. North East Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs Association: http://necleca.org
3. State of California: http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/OccGuides/Detail.aspx?Soccode=333031&Geography=0601000000
4. US Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/refugelawenforcement/Interested.html
5. Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation: http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/careers/education.htm

Page Edited by Charles Sipe.