Georgia is a very diverse state in terms of its natural environment, which includes mountains (Blue Ridge and Piedmont Mountains), farmland, swamps, and coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. The Law Enforcement Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the laws and regulations regarding wildlife, DNR properties, and litter and waste as well as ensuring public safety for those who utilize the land for personal enjoyment.
Usually called conservation rangers or game wardens, these law enforcement officers provide educational and safety courses for the public in addition to their law enforcement roles regarding wildlife.
How to Become a Game Warden in Georgia
Game wardens (conservation rangers) in Georgia are certified peace officers employed by the Department of Natural Resources. They patrol using boats, aircraft, ATVs, and on foot; knowing how to operate these types of vehicles is helpful when trying to become a game warden in Georgia.
Degree and Certification Requirements – Qualifications for employment include a combination of education, certification by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (P.O.S.T.), medical standards, and physical skills. Qualified applicants will:
- Have an associate’s degree or 60 completed semester hours or a degree from a technical college, preferably in a field such as Wildlife Management, Criminal Justice, or Forestry
- Have P.O.S.T. certification or a passing score on the P.O.S.T. Entrance Exam*
- Be knowledgeable about hunting, fishing, boating, and other outdoor activities
- Be at least 21 years old
- Be a US citizen
- Hold or be eligible to obtain a valid Georgia driver’s license
- Undergo an oral interview
* The P.O.S.T. Entrance Exam is based on either the ASSET or COMPASS exams administered through the Technical College System of Georgia. Both exams cover reading, writing, and numerical skills, although for purposes of the P.O.S.T. certification, only the scores for reading and writing are considered. The ASSET exam is paper and pencil; the COMPASS test is computer based.
Other requirements for the position of game warden include:
- Background investigation
- No convictions punishable by imprisonment
- Successful completion of a polygraph examination regarding substance abuse and criminal activity
Medical and Physical Requirements – The job of a game warden in Georgia is very physical, so those who are interested in becoming a game warden must fulfill certain physical and medical conditions. These include:
- Vision – corrected to no worse than 20/40 in each eye
- Hearing – no significant hearing loss
- Physical skills – ¾ mile run, ¾ mile obstacle run, 50-yard swim fully clothed
- Medical examination – complete physical including laboratory analysis and emotional stability
Training Requirements – Training for game wardens depends on the applicant’s P.O.S.T. certification status. If the applicant is not P.O.S.T. Certified, conditional employment requires that the employee attend an 11-week basic law enforcement training course prior to attending the 12-week mandated law enforcement training for game wardens through the DNR.
Once this training is successfully completed, the applicant can be officially referred to as a Conservation Ranger or Game Warden, although they will continue to train in the field during a six-month probationary period.
Conservation Rangers are required to obtain a minimum of 20 hours of in-service training every year and can apply for advanced training through the Coast Guard, Federal Marine Law Enforcement Training Program, and the FBI National Academy. Another type of specialized training includes a three-month course with a canine training instructor in order to become part of a K-9 unit.
- Grand Canyon University - B.S. in Justice Studies and M.S. in Criminal Justice
- SNHU - Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
- Strayer University - Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice
- Rasmussen College - Law Enforcement Associate's Degree and Post-Degree Certificates; Criminal Justice Bachelor's Degrees
- Michigan State University - Online Master of Science in Law Enforcement Intelligence and Analysis
- Saint Joseph's University - Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice
- Utica College - Online Bachelor's of Science in Criminal Justice
- Penn Foster - Online Wildlife and Forestry Conservation Career Diploma
Joining the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Georgia
The federal government also has a strong role in protecting the various natural resources of the United States. The Office of Law Enforcement of the US Fish and Wildlife Service employs Special Agents, whose responsibilities include managing ecosystems, saving endangered species, preserving habitats, and promoting wildlife conservation in general.
Special agents specifically focus on threats to wildlife such as habitat destruction or contamination, illegal hunting and trade of animals or birds, and smuggling of imperiled animals.
Special Agents are highly skilled and trained law enforcement officers who gather information, analyze evidence using forensic science, and combat crimes against the environment using modern technology. They may be called upon to work undercover, run covert investigations, plan and carry out raids, make arrests, and prepare cases for prosecution.
For more information about becoming a US Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent, visit the FWS Office of Law Enforcement website.
Georgia’s Wildlife Areas and Natural Resources
Georgia has abundant water resources with more than 70,000 miles of streams and rivers, 425,000 acres of lakes, and 4.5 million acres of freshwater wetlands. Three of the largest and most popular lakes are Clarks Hill Lake, Lake Hartwell, and Lake Walter F. George.
Lake Hartwell, the sparkling jewel of the Hart State Outdoor Recreation Area, has almost 56,000 acres of water where visitors can enjoy swimming, boating, and fishing. These and other natural recreation areas provide ample opportunity for outdoor recreational activities.
More than 60% of the state is heavily forested with pine, making it a prime location for hunting and trapping. Georgia supervises Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), Natural Areas, and Heritage Preserves, which provide places for hunting. Click here for hunting maps in the state.
Hunting and fishing are popular and Georgia offers a variety of game wildlife, as well as and freshwater and saltwater fish. These species include:
- Blue crab
One of the most important aspects of game warden jobs in Georgia is serving as an environmental protector. Georgia has several threatened and endangered native species of plants, fish, and animals. Game wardens work to prevent illegal harm or harassment of these and other species:
- West Indian manatee
- Gray bat
- Humpback whale
- Leatherback sea turtle
- Loggerhead sea turtle
- Red-cockaded woodpecker
- Various types of mussels
Georgia Wildlife Officer Salary
The 213 wildlife officers of the Law Enforcement Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which are commonly referred to as conservation rangers, earn a starting salary of $41,236 as a Conservation Ranger I, with performance-based salary increases available annually and rank increases available at frequent intervals:
- Conservation Ranger I
- Conservation Ranger II
- Conservation Ranger 1st Class
- Conservation Ranger 1st Class II
- Conservation Corporal
- Conservation Sergeant
- Conservation Lieutenant
- Conservation Captain
- Conservation Major
Promotion to a Conservation Ranger II is achieved after completing the Ranger Academy and the Field Training Officer (FTO) program and achieving at least one year of experience as a Conservation Ranger I.
Promotion from a Conservation Ranger II to a Conservation Ranger 1stClass is achieved after achieving at least three years of experience, with at least one year as a Conservation Ranger I.
Georgia conservation rangers may also earn promotions to the Department’s Investigative Unit (13 conservation rangers work as regional investigators), Undercover Investigations (conservation rangers with additional training in undercover operations and equipment), the Critical Incident Reconstruction Team (includes 16 CIRT investigators throughout the state), Marine Theft Unit (assists law enforcement officers in the field), the Special Permits Unit, and the K-9 Unit (includes 7 K-9 handlers).
Salary and employment data compiled by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Law Enforcement Division – https://gadnrle.org/. Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of employment for wildlife officers. Data represents state salary ranges for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
Salary data accessed in July 2019.