Hunting and outdoor recreation in Nebraska’s parks contributes $2.64 billion to the state’s economy every year, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s 2018 annual report.
This windfall for the economy helps to keep state conservation officers on the heels of those who want to deprive Nebraskans of the right to responsibly enjoy the outdoors. Operations in recent years have included:
- In December of 2018 a multi-year investigation saw 14 suspects arrested on more than 230 charges, many relating to the poaching of hundreds of deer, in a multi-state investigation that included violations in Nebraska.
- In February 2019 when a man was caught chopping down old-growth black walnut, a high-end hardwood that can net thieves $600 per tree.
Game wardens in Nebraska work to protect the state’s wildlife. Both the state and the federal government employ law enforcement officers who specialize in investigating crimes against wildlife.
State game wardens in Nebraska, referred to as conservation officers, work for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, while federal wardens work for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement.
The requirements for obtaining these types of jobs are quite different, and described in detail below.
Becoming a Game Warden with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
- Being 21 years old before the training program is completed
- Being willing to relocate anywhere in Nebraska
- Being a U.S. citizen
- Having a valid driver’s license
- Being able to understand English at the 11th grade level
- Not having any of the following convictions:
- Any crime that is punishable by a year or more in jail
Required Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities:
- Possessing good character
- Being knowledgeable about wildlife, fish, and parkland resources
- Communicating effectively both orally and in writing with the following:
- Agency personnel
- The general public
- Other law enforcement agencies
- Being able to operate the following types of equipment:
- Motor vehicles
- Being able to travel by foot over heavy terrain
- Knowing how to use firearms
- Being able to maintain records and prepare reports
- Having a basic knowledge of using computers
- Being able to learn the following:
- State statutes and criminal codes
- The regulations of the Game and Parks Commission
Nebraska does not specify the need for any particular educational background to become a fish and game warden. However, applicants are not even considered for testing for game warden jobs unless they can demonstrate that they have sufficient knowledge, skills, and experience to carry out conservation law enforcement work.
Many applicants accelerate their level of expertise to become a game warden by obtaining an associate or bachelor’s degree in a field such as one of the following:
- Criminal justice
- Wildlife management
The initial test of applicants includes the following:
- A personality profile appraisal
- The TABE test for adult education
- This exam assesses the academic skills and knowledge of adult learners
- An assessment of job related skills
Applicants who scored high enough in this process will be invited back for further testing.
Conservation officer recruits are trained to perform the following types of tasks:
- Conducting investigative work
- Patrolling assigned areas
- Educating the public in the following areas:
- Enforcing the laws for hunting, fishing, parks, and boating
- Protecting public resources
- Preparing state cases for prosecution
- Assisting in preparing federal cases for prosecution
- 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
Becoming a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Office Special Agent in Nebraska
- Being a U.S. citizen
- Being 21 to 36 years old
- Possessing a valid driver’s license
- Being registered with the Selective Service System (if appropriate)
- Having a four year degree in a field such as:
- Criminal justice
- Wildlife management
- Federal Law Enforcement Training Center—20 weeks learning:
- Criminal investigations
- Wildlife law enforcement
- Field Training and Evaluation Program—44 weeks at the first post of duty
Conservation Initiatives and Issues in Nebraska
Wildlife Crimestoppers – Illegal activities against wildlife are at such high levels in Nebraska that the state has a toll-free hotline similar to that of Crime Stoppers. It encourages citizens to report crimes such as poaching to the Nebraska Wildlife Crimestoppers hotline. The state offers callers the option to remain anonymous.
Game wardens investigate crimes that citizens have reported. They work with a group of concerned citizens known as the Nebraska Wildlife Protectors Association (NWPA). These citizens determine the amount of any reward to be paid. Crimestoppers pays rewards when charges on the case are filed, even if the person is not found guilty.
Reintroduction of Bighorn Sheep – Bighorn sheep are a prized item for big game hunters, although hunting was not permitted in 2013 due to the small number of mature rams. These sheep were native to the Nebraska panhandle, but died out in the early 1900s. Unregulated hunting was one of the reasons for their disappearance.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has been reintroducing bighorn sheep to the state since 2001. Initially, they had to travel to other states and to Canada to obtain sheep to release, but the herds have done so well that a 2014 reintroduction of 26 sheep was able to use animals from Nebraska.
The bighorn sheep have thrived in some places, but not in others. Two herds are doing well in the Wildcat Hills area in the Hubbard Gap region. It has been more of a struggle to establish a herd at Fort Robinson. Crews used helicopters to transfer the sheep from the Wildcat Hills to their new location in Pine Ridge.
Nebraska Wildlife Officer Salary
The non-profit organization Open the Books publishes publicly-available salary data for government employees. In 2018, the organization found that there were 51 conservation officers on Nebraska’s state payroll earning an average annual salary of $57,974, or $27.78 per hour. Thirty-one percent of the state’s conservation officers earned $68,640 ($32.89 per hour), while the top earners made $74,005 that year, or $35.46 per hour.
That year there were also 31 game and parks conservation technicians working in supporting roles earning an average of $32,381 or $15.49 per hour. The top earners made $40,640 ($19.47 per hour) that year, while those new to the job earned an average of $32,827 ($15.73 per hour). The mid-point salary for conservation technicians was $33,320 ($15.97 per hour) that year.
Entry-level technicians (referred to as Conservation Technician I) earned an average salary of $26,869 ($12.87 per hour), while the top earners in this position made $28,831 ($13.81).
The Nebraska Department of Labor projects that the number of Game Warden jobs will increase by 6.9% in the decade leading up to 2026.
Salary data sourced from Open the Books – https://www.openthebooks.com/search/?PensionCode=3201&F_pensionnm=State&F_employernm=Game%20%26%20Parks%20Commission%20-%20Agency%2033&F_employeenm=&perpage=500
Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of employment andfor workers at all levels of education and experience. It does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
All sources accessed in July 2019.