How to Become a Game Warden | Conservation Officer

Game Warden

Game wardens, often referred to as a conservation officer, combine law enforcement with an understanding of natural resources to protect the environment, ensure recreational safety, and uphold strict regulations that govern the use of natural resources. If you’re interested in this career, you should plan on spending much of your time outdoors. Wardens and conservation officers may work in parks, lakes, forests, and other natural areas. However, they may occasionally go into residential areas to capture animals.

Game Warden Job Description

The work of a game warden can change from day to day and season to season. For example, during the deer hunting season, game wardens may be on call 24 hours a day to check out reports of illegal or unsafe hunting practices. Large municipalities may have multiple game wardens that take turns being on call. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife notes that wildlife officers are responsible for country areas, bodies of water, beaches, and deserts. Since game wardens oversee hunting and other recreational activities, there may be situations that include firearms. In addition, the time spent in natural environments may bring you face-to-face with wild animals.

Game wardens/conservation officers tend to work independently, so it’s possible to go days without seeing a peer or another law enforcement official. While it’s very important to be able to work alone, game wardens should also be capable of collaborating with other law enforcement personnel and departments when the situation calls for it.

Game wardens can have a long-lasting impact on local ecological systems and animal populations. They frequently investigate and stop poachers who threaten endangered animals, as was the case recently in Wyoming when poachers pled guilty to shooting a buck mule deer.

How to Become a Game Warden

Prior to entering the workforce as a game warden, it’s recommended to follow the education and training requirements listed below.

Education Requirements

Depending on which state you live in, you may need an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree to apply for a game warden position. A few states do not have any educational requirements for game wardens. Many states require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in environmental conservation, environmental science, or a related field. A two-year associate degree is sufficient in some states. For some employers, any bachelor’s degree or associate degree is all that’s required. While you may not need an environmental science or wildlife management degree, you may need to have a certain amount of natural science credits.

However, since game wardens are still law enforcement personnel, the education requirements do not stop there. After earning your degree and getting a job as a game warden or conservation officer, you’ll likely need to attend a police academy. This training tends to last less than six months, and it is typically sponsored by your employer.

Training Requirements

No matter where you live, you’ll likely need to go through an intensive testing process to become a game warden or conservation officer. For example, the hiring process at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources takes about seven months. You must first pass a written exam that tests your written skills, mathematical skills, and basic comprehension.

If you pass the preliminary round of testing, you may be selected to attend the conservation officer program. In Indiana, there is a specific school for conservation officers. In other states, potential game wardens may attend the general police academy. Regardless of which facility you attend, you’ll likely receive training on wildlife conservation, boating laws, hunting laws, and other laws specific to your area.

Game Warden Salary and Career Outlook

Game wardens and conservation officers are hired all over the country, but the job outlook may be best in areas with large amounts of wildlife and natural space. In addition, states with a focus on hunting and outdoor recreation may have a greater need for conservation officers.

Overall, the average salary for conservation officers is $56,410 per year (O*Net, 2017). However, the average salary varies significantly between states. In California, O*Net reports an average annual salary of $77,900. Illinois game wardens earn an average of $90,650 each year (O*Net, 2017). The median salary in Texas, $66,060 is about $10,000 higher than the national average (O*Net, 2017).

You may earn more if you work irregular hours, which is common for game wardens. Some employers offer incentive pay for weekend or late night hours. As you gain seniority with your park or state agency, you may increase your earning potential.

If you enjoy wildlife and want a career in law enforcement, learn more about this career path by contacting the schools in our directory today!

How to Become a Park Ranger | Education & Career Info

Park Ranger

If you’re looking for a criminal justice career that allows you to spend lots of time outside, educate visitors on park safety and wildlife, and maintain safety in a state or national park, you may be interested in becoming a park ranger. Park rangers may be employed by the National Park Service or a local parks and recreation department.

Park Ranger Job Description

Park rangers spend much of their time outdoors, which means sometimes working in conditions of extreme heat, cold, snow, or rain. Park rangers may serve a number of purposes in their community, particularly in small communities that only have one or two rangers. You may have to spend much of your time teaching children and adults about animals in the park, park safety, and the types of flora and fauna found in the park. You may also collect data on animals or plants in the park to measure how populations are growing or changing. Since some parks are in remote locations, you may also play a law enforcement role. While rangers still defer to police officers in many situations, they may be expected to enforce laws and maintain park security while waiting for backup.

An education in law enforcement, environmental science, or ecology may pave the way to a park ranger career. Most park and recreation departments require at least an associate degree, while other employers may insist on a bachelor’s degree.

How to Become a Park Ranger

Earning an associate or bachelor’s degree is the first step to becoming a park ranger. The National Park Service requires a bachelor’s degree for park rangers or a combination of education and experience. You may want to focus on a field that includes wildlife, environment, and ecology education.

Degrees & Courses

If you opt to complete a degree in wildlife ecology, you may take courses like Fundamentals of Chemistry, Ecological Statistics, Wildlife Population Dynamics, and Wildlife Policy & Administration. The learning outcomes of this degree line up well with a park ranger career. In addition to learning about local wildlife and fauna, you may learn about how to assess population growth and encourage ecological balance in your park. Policy and administration courses can give you a strong background in environmental law, which may play a big role in your new career. Other common degree choices include environmental science, environmental policy and administration, and ecological sciences.

Many police departments or park and recreation departments require park rangers to become sworn officers. For example, the California State Department of Parks and Recreation notes that park rangers must start out as State Park Ranger Cadets. After attending a basic law enforcement academy as well as a Peace Officer Standards program, park rangers may begin to work under the supervision of a sworn-in supervising ranger.

Training Requirements

Park rangers must be educated in law experience, customer service, budgeting, and administration. Park and recreation departments often have courses that are specifically designed for potential park rangers. As you prove yourself at each step of the hiring and training process, you may be required to complete courses in first aid, CPR, visitor services, resource management, and park operations. These courses, combined with a relevant associate or bachelor’s degree, can provide you the knowledge you need to work independently as a ranger.

Park Ranger Salary and Career Outlook

According to O*Net, the job outlook for park rangers and park naturalists is expected to grow at the average rate for all jobs, about 5-9%, in the U.S. between 2016 – 2026. The outlook is greater in states with large natural areas; for example, the demand for park rangers is expected to increase 15% during the same time frame in Colorado. As a result, you may need to move to a state with lots of parks and natural areas to find the greatest range of job opportunities.

The specialized knowledge needed for this career may allow you to earn a rewarding salary. Across the country, the average salary for a park ranger in 2017 was $61,480 per year. In many states, park rangers may earn higher average salaries. O*Net indicates that California park rangers earn an average annual income of $72,470 in 2017. Similarly, Illinois rangers earn an average of $69,840 per year. Texas park rangers earn an average salary of $55,620 each year.

To really thrive in a career as a park ranger, it’s important to have strong people skills. Working with people of all ages and backgrounds is a big part of this job. You may spend much of your day running educational events, teaching people about the safe use of park resources, and answering visitors’ questions.

Ensuring the welfare of animals and people is another responsibility that belongs to park rangers. Accidents aren’t uncommon in national parks; National Geographic interviewed park rangers and come up with a list of the most common accidents in natural parks. As you patrol your park, you may come across animals or humans that are wounded or in need of medical care. While waiting for the appropriate transportation to arrive, you’ll likely need to comfort the hurt animal or human and wait with them. If you are passionate about wildlife and serving people, this career can change your life.

Learn more about criminal justice programs that can help you become a park ranger. Use our free directory of schools to get started today!