How to Become a Fish and Game Warden

Fish and game wardens or conservation officers are peace officers who are commissioned in the state in which they perform their job duties. They ensure the Fish and Wildlife Code in their state is enforced and implement the fishing, boating, and hunting laws of the state and any federal laws that pertain to these activities.

Fish and Game Warden Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Fish and game wardens protect the nation’s wildlife – from such illegal activity as poaching, trapping, and falconry – and visitors at federal, state, and local parks. These highly trained officers keep a close watch on fish and wildlife, looking for changes, such as pollution, to their environment. Fish and game wardens investigate criminal behavior related to fish and wildlife, write reports, make arrests, gather evidence, interview suspects and witnesses, and may be called to testify in court. They also assist other law enforcement groups when wildlife – such as cougars, bears, or coyotes – inadvertently wander into residential areas. Fish and game wardens, who generally help during search and rescue operations, are uniformed officers and carry firearms.

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How to Become a Fish and Game Warden: Requirements and Qualifications

The age requirement for fish and game wardens is either 18 or 21 years, depending on the state. Successful candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, but some states will waive this education requirement if the applicant has a two year associate’s degree in addition to law enforcement experience or full-time fish and/or wildlife experience. As there are usually more applicants for fish and game warden positions than there are job openings, a four year degree can give an applicant an edge over other applicants. Once an individual is selected to become a fish and game warden, he or she undergoes further study at a training academy for approximately three to 12 months.

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In addition, fish and game wardens must be in good physical shape, must familiarize themselves with the outdoors and the laws contained in the Fish and Wildlife Code, and must study law enforcement policy and procedures. As this is a law enforcement position, a background check and polygraph are required in most states. Individuals must also be prepared to submit to periodic drug tests during employment.
Successful candidates must also:

  1. Have or obtain the right education level for your state.
  2. Understand if you qualify for other dimensions outlined (e.g., minimum age by state requirements).
  3. Contact your state’s Department of Fish and Game, e.g., http://wdfw.wa.gov/enforcement/careers/howtoapply.html.
  4. Request free info from a school below if you need to attain the minimum education requirement. Featured schools have online programs that allow students the flexibility to work while earning a degree.

Fish and Game Warden Job Training

Once an individual is selected to become a fish and game warden, he or she undergoes further study at a training academy for approximately three to 12 months. Those individuals who earn a position as a fish and game warden with the federal government must complete a 20 week training program. The first 12 weeks of training take place at the Federal Law Enforcement Agency in Glynco, Georgia while trainees spend the final two weeks in West Virginia. Training covers both wildlife law enforcement and criminal investigations, including such subjects as identification of wildlife and the proper use of firearms. Following successful completion of the training academy, fish and game wardens must shadow Field Training Officers (FTO) for 10 weeks, to gain hands-on experience under the watchful eye of a seasoned fish and game warden, before moving to their assigned location.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Previous experience working with wildlife, either in a paid or in a volunteer position, may enhance employment opportunities. Knowing how to drive a boat, a small airplane, or a tractor and understanding how to make basic repairs to motor vehicles are also beneficial.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Conservation officer
  • Refuge officer
  • Wildlife control agent
  • Wildlife enforcement officer
  • Wildlife officer

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Career Opportunities and Employers

Fish and game wardens who gain experience and engage in continuing education may find advancement opportunities as a Field Training Officer (FTO) or in administration. Fish and game wardens work for the federal government or a state government. Those states with the most jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Maine, and Idaho. Metropolitan areas that lead the list of most employment opportunities include Virginia Beach, Newport News (Virginia), Baltimore and Towson (Maryland), and Phoenix, Mesa, and Glendale (Arizona).

Fish and Game Warden Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fish and game wardens earn an average annual salary of $50,470.1 The top 90 percentile earn an annual salary of $71,510. The BLS predicts modest job growth of 1.2 percent – or 2,000 jobs – between 2012 and 2022.1

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Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

What is the work atmosphere like for fish and game wardens?
Fish and game wardens must have an affinity for the outdoors because their “office” is the outdoors, regardless of the season or the weather.

What kind of work schedule do fish and game wardens work?
Fish and game wardens generally work full time – which may include nights, weekends, and holidays – and should be prepared to work overtime when necessary.

How long does the hiring process generally take?
After submitting an application, candidates should expect the entire process to take a minimum of a few months.

Are there any risks with the job?
Yes. Candidates should be prepared for such risks as dealing with dangerous animals, poisonous plants, and hazardous materials.

Are there any continuing requirements for working with US Fish and Wildlife?
Yes. Fish and game wardens must initially pass a physical examination. A similar evaluation will be administered annually throughout employment. Fish and game wardens must pass the physical exam – which consists of a 1.5 mile run, push-ups, sit-ups, and agility – to ensure they are still able to effectively do their jobs.

Additional Resources

Federal Wildlife Officers Association – A resource for wildlife officers.

US Fish and Wildlife Service – US Fish and Wildlife Service’s official website.

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References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333031.htm
2. State of California: Employment Development Department: http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/OccGuides/Detail.aspx?Soccode=333031&Geography=0601000000
3. US Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/refugelawenforcement/Interested.html

Page Edited by Charles Sipe.