Florida is well known for its tourist industry, but it also boasts a variety of natural ecosystems that make it a popular destination for those who enjoy nature and outdoor activities. Its tropical climate and great expanse of shoreline give Florida several unique species of marine life, wildlife, birds, and vegetation.
Wildlife native to Florida that are under the protection of game wardens in the state include:
- American alligator
- Florida panther
- White-tail deer
- Wild turkey
Florida’s Wildlife Management Areas include almost 6 million acres of land throughout the state designed to sustain native wildlife in their natural habitats. More rugged than parks, these lands have fewer developed amenities. WMAs are managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which either functions as a cooperating manager with other governmental or private landowners or is the landowner and lead managing agency.
Wildlife Management Areas provide opportunities for outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, and wildlife viewing. They include:
- Florida Keys Wildlife and Environmental Area
- Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area
- Mallory Swamp Wildlife Management Area
These areas are protected by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement Officers, whose duties include enforcing fish and wildlife laws and regulations, ensuring boating safety, protecting game and non-game species, and providing general police protection for those who use the lands and waters of the state of Florida. Law enforcement officers have full powers of arrest and investigate alleged violations, seize evidence, and testify in court.
Basic Requirements to Become a Fish and Game Warden in Florida
Fish and Game Wardens in Florida are referred to as Law Enforcement Officers of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In addition to an interest and affinity for working in a natural setting, those interested in becoming a game warden in Florida must fulfill the following basic requirements:
- Have a background in law enforcement, public contact work, or military experience (work experience) or 30 semester hours at an accredited college or university
- Be at least 19 years of age
- Possess a high school diploma or equivalent
- Be a United States citizen
- Have a valid Florida driver’s license
- Meet police certification standards
The following are automatic disqualifiers for game warden jobs in Florida:
- Any felony conviction
- A conviction involving domestic violence
- A conviction involving perjury or a false statement
- A dishonorable discharge from any of the Armed Forces of the United States
- A record of Controlled Substance Abuse
- A poor driving history
- DUI/BUI within the past five years
- any traffic violation involving a refusal to submit to a breath/blood/urine test within five years
- More than four moving violations within the past three years
For prior law enforcement and correctional officers: Any sustained internal investigation for perjury or false statements
Application and Training Requirements
The path to becoming a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation law enforcement officer depends on whether the applicant is already a sworn law enforcement officer in the state of Florida or is a non-sworn applicant. The steps are basically the same, with non-sworn applicants required to complete two additional steps.
1. Interested applicants can find open positions with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and complete the State of Florida application and the supplemental Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission application.
2. Non-sworn applicants must also pass two exams. Test results must be sent with the application and any other requested documents.
- TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education) – which evaluates the education level in reading comprehension, math, language skills, and spelling. Applicants must pass with a total minimum score of 12.0.
- BAT (Basic Abilities Test) – which assesses an applicant’s ability to successfully complete the Basic Recruit Curriculum. Applicants must achieve a minimum score of 79.0.
3. Qualifying applicants will be required to undergo a Physical Fitness Assessment.
- Swim test – applicants must be able to swim 300 yards in 10 minutes or less in a pool.
- Physical Abilities Test – applicants must be able to complete this test which simulates the actual tasks and physical aspects of the job in 6:04 or less. The tasks include:
- exiting a truck/opening a tailgate
- running 220 yards
- completing an obstacle course
- dragging a 150 pound dummy
- obstacle course
- running 220 yards
- dry firing a weapon six times with each hand
- placing items in a truck/entering a vehicle
4. An Oral Interview with a panel of at least 3 Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officers takes place after the Physical Fitness Assessment.
5. After a successful interview, applicants undergo a thorough background check using the information from the Supplemental Application.
6. Applicants then undergo complete vision, psychological, and physical examinations, including a 7 panel drug screen.
7. Non-sworn applicants will be offered employment and be enrolled at the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement Training Center for a 19-week basic law enforcement training course.
8. Sworn applicants will be offered employment and undergo 8 weeks of agency specific training on topics such as:
- Fish and wildlife conservation laws
- Land navigation and GPS
- Water safety survival
- Man tracking
- Vessel Operation
- Species ID
Non-sworn applicants undergo the agency specific training upon completion of their basic law enforcement training.
9. Applicants are then assigned to a location where they undergo a 16-week Field Training Officer Program. Once this program is completed successfully, they earn approval for daily duties of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Law Enforcement Officer.
Qualifying to Become a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent
Florida is also home to more than 30 national wildlife refuges, fish hatcheries, and migratory bird programs. One such area is Everglades National Park, which is currently undergoing restoration to ensure clean water and reduce invasive species.
Law enforcement officials for federal lands and issues are called U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents. They work to combat wildlife crimes such as smuggling, unlawful hunting, and habitat destruction.
Special Agents receive 20 weeks of formal training in criminal investigation and wildlife law enforcement in Glynco, Georgia, at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Their training covers subjects such as electronic surveillance, crime scene investigation, and case report writing. They also complete a 44-week Field Training and Evaluation Program under the supervision of an experienced training officer upon assignment to their first duty station.
Basic requirements for a Special Agent include:
- 21-37 years of age
- valid driver’s license
- excellent physical condition
- four-year degree in wildlife management, criminal justice or similar field
Information about vacancies can be found at the Office of Personnel Management’s USAJobs website.
Florida Wildlife Officer Salary
In 2013, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity found that the median fish and game warden salary in Florida was $37,648. However, the average was about 13.5% higher at $43,534.
The Florida Occupational Employment and Wages report looked specifically at geographic location and found the following:
Entry Level: $34,590
Entry Level: $34,590
Entry Level: $40,580
Entry Level: $34,590
Based on this, clearly the most lucrative location in Florida for game wardens is Tallahassee. The average salary there was 32% more than the lowest paying location, which was Jacksonville, and 7.6% more than the national average of $49,400.
Additional salaries taken from the Florida Department of Management Services are shown here:
Fisheries & Wildlife Environment Specialist I
Fisheries & Wildlife Environment Specialist II
Fisheries & Wildlife Environment Specialist III
Salary data among federal game wardens in Florida is shown in the data here as provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2013):