What is a Fish and Game Warden?

A fish and game warden, otherwise known as a conservation officer or wildlife officer, are hired by the state and federal governments to enforce state laws around fishing, boating, hunting and general wildlife protection and natural habitat conservation.

They act as safeguarders of the rural habitats of their state, ensuring Fish and Wildlife Codes are adhered to, and managing wildlife conservation and education programs.

A fish and game warden’s responsibilities will be specific to the challenges faced in the state and habitat they work in, from monitoring salmon populations in Alaska to preventing illegal bison hunting in Oregon.

They work within the environments they are protecting, including mountains, lakes, coasts, forests and plains. Fish and game wardens must share an affinity with nature and the outdoors and a keen interest in protecting wildlife.

Job Description and Common Tasks

A fish and game warden is responsible for both protecting the wildlife within a national park or conservation area and assisting visitors to that area. They prevent illegal poaching, fishing in protected areas, and also keep an eye on damage to the habitat itself, such as pollution or the illegal dumping of hazardous materials. They have the ability to make arrests, and often conduct investigations into illegal activities around fish and wildlife. They also assist search and rescue operations in national parks and rescue animals which have wandered into residential areas, from coyotes to grizzly bears.

Fish and game wardens have an exceptionally wide range of skills to handle the different habitats they cover.

Day-to-day activities can include:

Patrolling natural areas by off-road vehicle, boat, snowmobile, airplane, watercraft or horse, depending on the habitat. They navigate these vast areas using GPS and radar systems

Collecting evidence to present on court for crimes against Fish and Wildlife Codes

Inspecting fishing and hunting licenses of visitors to protected land

Running programs involving the local community, such as teaching people how to fish responsibly, and conducting education programs on protecting local wildlife

Assisting with animal population surveys or biological data collection

How to Become a Fish and Game Warden

Becoming a fish and game warden requires a significant amount of training in order to safely and confidently navigate what can be dangerous habitats.

Those interested in becoming a fish and game warden need to be over 21, hold a valid driver’s license and possess a relevant bachelor’s degree in a closely related subject, such as criminal justice, natural resource management or parks and recreation sciences. Those without a degree should have at least one year’s experience in either law enforcement or natural resource management.

Those who want to be a fish and game warden must also pass a series of tests and checks before embarking on intensive training, including background checks to ensure they can possess a firearm, medical and psychological screenings, drug tests and the Physical Efficiency Battery (PEB) test.

If selected to become a fish and game warden after tests and an interview, candidates will then undergo an arduous training program on the job which can last up to a year. Those working for the federal government complete a 20 week training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Agency in Glynco, Georgia, including further training at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown West Virginia.

Training will cover learning about the Fish and Wildlife Code and law enforcement procedures alongside practical skills such as proper use of firearms, first aid and wildlife identification.

Finally, those who have completed training will gain hands-on experience with a field training officer for 10 weeks.

Pros and Cons of Being a Fish and Game Warden

Fish and game wardens are responsible for protecting over 850 million acres of land across all 50 states, and their office is the great outdoors. The role certainly isn’t for everyone, but those who love working in nature should consider the career path.

Pros of Being a Fish and Game Warden Include…

Though pay does vary across states, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that fish and game wardens earn an average annual salary of $57,710, with an upper salary of $80,000

The job has several career advancement opportunities, including becoming a Field Training Officer (FTO), becoming a senior officer, working in an administration role or specializing in a role such as Canine Officer

The role is incredibly varied, with the opportunity to work at exciting locations across the United States. No day as a fish and game warden will be the same, and you will work with a diverse range of people

Cons of Being a Fish and Game Warden Include…

Working closely with wildlife in remote habitats comes with its risks. Fish and game wardens may have to face dangerous situations with wild animals and poisonous plants, and may get bitten, scratched or encounter more serious injuries

Enforcing laws in isolated areas can also lead to confrontations with suspects if vehicle searches or arrests are met with resistance

The role can be very physically demanding, and fish and game wardens are often tested on their physical fitness. Fish and game wardens could be expected to hike across rough terrain, chase those breaking wildlife codes for arrest and work in extreme weathers which make conditions challenging

Who Employs Fish and Game Wardens?

The majority of fish and game wardens are employed by state government, with the remaining employed by local government. Though most work in rural areas, there are an increasing amount of fish and game wardens working in urban areas, often protecting wildlife in large parks or on coasts.

If you are interested in becoming a fish and game warden, contact your state’s Department of Fish and Game for information about local opportunities.

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