How to Become a Fish and Game Warden in Illinois

Illinois is home to more than 120 state protected parks, wildlife areas, nature reserves, and other areas, not including several federal and locally protected environments. As indicated by the nickname “The Prairie State,” Illinois has an abundance of land that serves as a habitat for many species of animals, plants, and other wildlife.

Illinois offers a variety of hunting and fishing opportunities. Deer, waterfowl, raccoon, coyote, fox, and opossum are common species. Many state parks offer hunting and fishing for outdoor enthusiasts. Examples include:

  • Matthiessen State Park
  • Weldon Springs State Park
  • Rend Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area

Illinois also has over a million and a half acres of water, providing some of the best fishing locations in the country. From the deep blue waters of Michigan to the Illinois River to the Mississippi River to many sizeable lakes such as Lake Sangchris, Clinton Lake, and Lake Springfield, Illinois anglers have a wealth of options when it comes to fishing. Common fish species in the state include:

  • Crappie
  • Catfish
  • Striped bass
  • Chinook salmon
  • Yellow perch
  • Walleye

Fish and game wardens with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are responsible for enforcing the laws associated with natural resource protection and recreational safety. They enforce laws in state parks, patrol rivers and lakes to ensure boating safety, enforce fish and wildlife laws, as well as laws that are in place to protect endangered species.

How to Become a Fish and Game Warden with the Illinois Department of
Natural Resources

Fish and game wardens in Illinois are called Conservation Police Officers. They have full police authority to enforce all the laws of the state of Illinois, although their specific focus is on natural resource protection and recreational safety. Other duties include speaking and interacting with the public at various events; assisting with hunting, boating, and snowmobiling safety programs; and assisting other law enforcement agencies as requested.

Meeting the Degree and Experience Requirements – Conservation Police Officers enforce Illinois firearms and FOID laws, are members of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, and are important contributors to Homeland Security efforts, drug prevention operations, and disaster relief and search and rescue operations. As such, education and experience qualifications are quite stringent:

New applicants must have either:

  • An Associate’s degree plus 3 years of experience as a police officer

OR

  • A 4-year Bachelor’s degree

The education requirements may be waived if one of these conditions has been met:

  • Honorable discharge and awarded a service medal
  • Active member of the Illinois National Guard or a reservist in the US Armed Forces and awarded a service medal as a result of honorable service while deployed on active duty

How to Apply – Applicants must complete the State of Illinois CMS (Central Management Services) Employment Application for the position of Conservation Police Officer Trainee. Applicants must take an examination for the position of CPO Trainee which tests:

  • Observation and memory
  • Public relations
  • Writing skills
  • Reading comprehension

The Department of Central Management Services will notify applicants regarding the examination date.

Testing and Evaluation – Eligible applicants are then invited to participate in a POWER (Peace Officer Wellness Evaluation Report) test, which assesses:

  • Aerobic capacity through a 1.5-mile run
  • Strength using bench press weights
  • Muscular endurance as determined by the quantity of sit-ups completed in one minute
  • Flexibility measured by a sit and reach test

Applicants must pass all four tests to continue in the process.

If applicants pass the POWER test, they must complete a swim test which involves

  • Swimming 300 yards using any stroke recognized by the American Red Cross
  • Treading water for 10 minutes
  • Retrieving a 5-lb weight from at least 10 feet of water

This is followed by an oral interview. A positive interview is followed by a thorough background investigation.

Conservation Police Officer Trainee Program – If the outcomes of the interview and background investigation are positive, the candidate is offered the position of Conservation Police Officer Trainee (CPOT), contingent upon a successful medical examination and psychological assessment. New hires are considered Conservation Police Officer Trainees for a minimum of one year.

During the first year of training, the CPOT attends 24 weeks of training in two different programs.

  • 12 weeks of the 480-Hour Basic Law Enforcement Course, which covers basic peace officer topics such as human behavior, patrol techniques, and police proficiency skills
  • 12 weeks of Basic Conservation Police training, which includes 480 hours of training topics that include wildlife enforcement, watercraft safety, state park and site regulations, and endangered species protection

Upon completion of these two training courses, CPOTs receive five months of on-the-job training by working with veteran field officers in a rotation of various field locations. A Conservation Police Officer is considered a “trainee” for at least 12 months, and then undergoes four months of probation before being certified as a Conservation Police Officer.

Becoming a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent in Illinois

Illinois Conservation Police Officers work, often in conjunction with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Special Agents, to protect various threatened and endangered species of fish, birds, mammals, plants, and other natural resources found in the state.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents are federal law enforcement officers that protect wildlife and natural resources throughout the United States. These officers target criminal activities such as wildlife trafficking and habitat destruction, smuggling, illegal hunting of protected species, and other crimes against wildlife resources throughout the country.

To become a Special Agent with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, applicants must be uniquely qualified and undergo extensive training.


Illinois Wildlife Officer Salary

In Illinois, fish and game wardens are employed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The Illinois Department of Central Management Services provides very detailed information about how fish and game wardens in the state are paid.

In Illinois, fish and game wardens are actually recognized as Conservation Police Officers, and they start out their employment as trainees for a 2-month period. They receive a monthly salary of $3,858 during the first month and $4,010 during the second month according to information published by the Illinois Department of Central Management Services in 2013.

Once they have successfully completed the training protocol, they move up to become Conservation Police Officers. There are two rank levels for Conservation Police Officers (I and II), and they are paid on a 7-step salary program:

Conservation Police Officer I

Step 1: $57,708
Step 2: $60,456
Step 3: $64,848
Step 4: $67,896
Step 5: $71,076
Step 6: $74,448
Step 7: $74,448
Conservation Police Officer II

Step 3: $65,808
Step 4: $68,880
Step 5: $72,036
Step 6: $75,420
Step 7: $75,420
Longevity pay begins at the 9-year mark and progresses all the way up to 25 years of service. Annual salary, thus, increases accordingly:

Conservation Police Officer I

9 Years: $77,988
10 Years: $82,560
15 Years: $85,848
25 Years: $85,848
Conservation Police Officer II

9 Years: $78,960
10 Years: $83,544
15 Years: $90,864
25 Years: $110,088
Illinois Department of Central Management Services, 2013

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