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How to Become a Fish and Game Warden in North Carolina

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 230 people worked as game wardens in North Carolina in 2012.  About 200 of them worked for the Division of Law Enforcement of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission while the rest were federal employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Game wardens who work for the state of North Carolina are known as Wildlife Enforcement Officers.  Like their federal counterparts, they are certified law enforcement officers with a high level of knowledge related to state wildlife issues.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over 90% of crimes against wildlife go unreported. To reverse this trend, state and federal game wardens have worked in tandem to investigate crimes against wildlife in North Carolina.

The illegal hunting of black bears has been a persistent problem in the South.  State and federal game wardens worked together on a four year undercover operation in North Carolina and Georgia targeting illegal poaching rings.

These officers were able to infiltrate some of the rings, resulting in the arrest of over 80 people in 2013.  They documented about 900 wildlife violations and expect that these arrests will help to deter future crimes against wildlife in North Carolina.  Some of the crimes they encountered included the following:

  • Bear baiting
  • Illegally using dogs to hunt
  • Illegally taking bears and deer, along with other types of animals
  • Operating illegal bear enclosures in North Carolina
  • Guiding hunts in the national forest without the proper permits

Becoming a fish and game warden in North Carolina can be highly competitive, with a process that varies depending on whether applicants are seeking state or federal jobs.  The requirements and training for these different types of positions are described below.

How to Join the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

The Wildlife Resources Commission of North Carolina receives hundreds of applications for game warden jobs and typically only hires 12 to 20 people at a time.  They only accept applications when the agency needs more officers and is prepared to schedule a training academy for recruits.  There may be one in the summer of 2014.

Basic Requirements to Apply:

    • Must be at least 20 years old when they take the exam
    • Must not have been charged or convicted one of the following:
      • Any felony
      • Certain misdemeanors within the past five years

 

  • Must be able to read at the 10th grade level
  • Must be willing to live and work anywhere in the state

Educational Requirement for Applicants:

  • A high school education
  • Although not required, the agency advises getting a formal degree in criminal justice before applying

Physical Requirements for Applicants:

    • Excellent vision
      • Corrected vision of 20/30
      • Uncorrected
        • Wearers of glasses must have at least 20/100 vision
        • Wearers of contact lenses for at least a year must have at least 20/200 vision
      • Be able to see colors
      • Normal depth perception

 

  • Excellent hearing
  • Excellent physical health

Steps in the Hiring Process:

  • Medical physical
  • Extensive background check
  • Psychological screening

Training of Recruits:

    • Basic training at an academy
      • 19 weeks at the North Carolina Justice Academy
        • Military boot camp structure
        • 5:30 AM physical training each morning

 

  • On the job training
    • At least six months with a veteran Wildlife Enforcement Officer

 

How to Join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in North Carolina

Game wardens of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement are required to have an in depth knowledge of wildlife management practices and law.

Basic Federal Law Enforcement Requirements:

  • Driver’s license that is valid
  • Age of 21 to 36
  • U.S. citizenship

Educational Requirements for Applicants:

  • A bachelor’s degree in one of the following or a related field:
    • Criminal justice
    • Police science
    • Wildlife management

Training Requirements for Recruits:

    • Twenty weeks of academy training:
      • FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center)

 

  • Forty-four weeks of field training
    • Conducted at the first duty post

 

Law Enforcement Duties of Game Wardens in North Carolina

One of the main reasons that Wildlife Enforcement Officers in North Carolina need to be in excellent health is the intensely physical nature of the job.  The agency expects game wardens to remain in top physical condition throughout their careers to meet the basic demands of their work.

In addition to needing to be able to traverse backcountry wilderness, game wardens are expected to be able to carry out the following duties:

  • Conducting searches
  • Processing crime scenes and collecting evidence
  • Operating vehicles at high speed
  • Using physical force to struggle with people
  • Using deadly force
  • Identifying motor vehicle characteristics such as license plates
  • Working in settings with low amounts of light
  • Reading legal papers

Wildlife Enforcement Officers must be ready for duty at all times, since the state’s Wildlife Resources Commission dispatches them via a 24 hour radio communication center.


North Carolina Wildlife Officer Salary

The North Carolina Labor & Economic Analysis Division’s D4 System, which is the Demand Driven Data Delivery System, indicated that the average North Carolina wildlife officer salary was $39,970 in 2013. However, the gap between the average starting salary ($30,230) and the experienced-level salary ($44,840) was considerable at 32.5%. With time and experience, there is a lot of upward financial mobility for wildlife officers in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Labor & Economic Analysis Division provided the following salary information regarding wildlife officers employed in the Raleigh and Cary areas in 2013:

Raleigh – Cary

Entry: $33,320
Average: $38,560
Experienced: $41,180
Wildlife officers in North Carolina also receive a generous benefits package. This includes 11 vacation days per year, which increases over time but maxes out at 25 days per year after 20 years of service. They are also allowed 12 sick days per year, and 11-12 paid holidays per year, in addition to a state health plan and participation in the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System.

Other benefits include:

Longevity pay
Academic assistance
Promotional priority
State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU)

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