Conservation Officer Salary

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Fish and game wardens (often called wildlife conservation officers and game conservation officers) are peace officers at the local, state or federal level. They are responsible for enforcing laws designed to protect fish and wildlife, patrolling assigned areas, and arresting criminals that violate laws designed to protect wildlife.

They also often educate landowners and the general public on everything from hunting and fishing laws to matters concerning the conservation of wildlife and the natural environment.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fish and game wardens earned a mean, annual salary of $49,400, as of May 2012, with the top 10 percent earning more than $70,750 during the same period.


Game Warden Salary According to Government Level

The salary for game wardens varies according to the wildlife department and the state or area in which they work:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hires game wardens at the GS-7, GS-9 or GS-11 federal pay level, depending on their level of education and experience:

  • GS-7: $34,319 – $44,615
  • GS-9: $41,979 – $54,570
  • GS-11: $50,790 – $66,027

The BLS reported that, as of May 2012, the mean annual salary for state game wardens was $49,960, while the mean, annual salary at the local level was $43,710.

The majority of conservation officers in the United States are hired through state wildlife departments (5,770), followed by local wildlife departments (560), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (250).

Game Warden Salary According to Geographic Region

According to the BLS, the top-paying states for fish and game wardens in May 2012 were:

  • New Jersey: $79,540
  • Maryland: $73,380
  • California: $69,870
  • New York: $67,770
  • Washington: $59,430

The metropolitan areas with the highest salaries during the same period were:

  • Baltimore-Towson, Maryland: $74,060
  • Providence-Fall River-Warwick, Rhode Island/Massachusetts: $67,130
  • Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tennessee: $59,610
  • Tallahassee, Florida: $52,720
  • Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Arizona: $48,420
  • Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Massachusetts: $44,330
  • Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut: $38,170
  • Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida: $37,060

The top-paying nonmetropolitan areas for fish and game wardens, as of May 2012, were:

  • North Central Tennessee nonmetropolitan area: $50,940
  • Hawaii/Maui/Kauai nonmetropolitan area: $50,530
  • South Central Tennessee non metropolitan area: $46,850
  • Northern Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area: $46,770
  • Western Tennessee nonmetropolitan area: $46,490

Although Tennessee did not make the list of the top-paying state for fish and game wardens in May 2012, the metropolitan area of Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tennessee, did, with an average salary of $59,610. Further, three nonmetropolitan areas of Tennessee were also among the top-paying in May 2012:

  • North Central Tennessee nonmetropolitan area: $50,940
  • South Central Tennessee non metropolitan area: $46,850
  • Western Tennessee nonmetropolitan area: $46,490

Although New Jersey ranked as the top-paying state for fish and game wardens in May 2012 ($79,540), none of its metropolitan or nonmetropolitan areas ranked as top-paying states, according to the BLS. Maryland, however, came in second among all states for its pay of fish and game wardens in May 2012 ($73,380), along with Baltimore-Towson, which ranked first in the nation among all metropolitan areas for its pay of game wardens ($74,060).

BLS statistics show that employment levels for conservation officers do not always coincide with higher salaries. The top states for employment of conservation officers were:

  • Florida: $42,860
  • California: $69,870
  • Georgia: $33,720
  • Texas: $53,000
  • Tennessee: $50,220

The metropolitan areas with the highest employment levels of conservation officers, as of May 2012, were:

  • Tallahassee, Florida: $52,720
  • Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tennessee: $59,610
  • Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Arizona: $48,420
  • Baltimore-Towson, Maryland: $74,060
  • Providence-Fall River-Warwick, Rhode Island/Massachusetts: $67,130
  • Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut: $38,170
  • Jacksonville, Florida: $35,740
  • Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Massachusetts: $44,330
  • Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida: $37,060

For example, California ranked as one of the top states for both employment and salary ($69,870), while New York ranked as one of the top-paying states for game wardens ($67,770) but did not rank among the top states for its employment of game wardens.

This table shows data related to game warden salaries for all the states that reported this information to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics at the end of their most recent reporting period in May 2012:

Area name
Employment
Annual mean wage
Alabama
210
46590
Arizona
140
46910
Arkansas
180
46880
California
480
69870
Connecticut
140
47890
Delaware
50
47380
Florida
630
42860
Georgia
430
33720
Hawaii
90
50370
Idaho
90
44340
Maine
130
43510
Maryland
110
73380
Massachusetts
100
46670
Montana
140
41390
Nevada
40
59410
New Jersey
50
79540
New Mexico
100
42710
New York
40
67770
North Carolina
230
39970
North Dakota
50
53660
Ohio
140
53360
Oklahoma
110
44100
South Dakota
100
37190
Tennessee
350
50220
Texas
410
53000
Vermont
30
52120
Virginia
240
45500
Washington
110
59430
Wisconsin
200
49350

 

Game Warden Salary Expectations According to Rank

Conservation officer salaries, as with most other peace officer personnel salaries, vary according to rank. For example, at the federal level, conservation officers within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may be hired at a salary of between $34,319 and $44,615 at the minimum federal pay level of GS-7. However, individuals with more education and/or experience are often hired at a higher rank (GS-9, GS-11); therefore, they may receive a salary of between $41,979 and $66,027. Most federal law enforcement officers can receive a raise of one federal pay level per year, depending on achievement.

Most states have clear salary steps according to rank within the wildlife department. California’s fish and game warden cadets, for example, earn a monthly salary of between $3,267 and $4,278, while individuals in Range A earn between $3,581 and $4,698 per month and individuals in the next salary level, Range B, earn between $4,271 and $5,642 per month. Further, game wardens in California who work out of designated “high cost counties” often receive an additional monthly differential of between $220 and $350.

Texas also has a clear salary schedule for its fish and game wardens:

  • Game Warden Cadet $3,131/month
  • Game Warden I (Probationary) $3,421/month
  • Game Warden I (1 year) $4,131/month
  • Game Warden II (4 years) $4,749/month
  • Game Warden III (8 years) $5,098/month
  • Game Warden IV (12 years) $5,333/month
  • Game Warden V (16 years) $5,586/month
  • Game Warden VI (20 years) $5,724/month

Many state wildlife departments also provide their fish and game wardens with longevity pay, which may result in an additional 1 to 7 percent pay, and educational incentive pay, with individuals possessing specific degrees or certifications earning more than their non-degree, non-certification holding counterparts.  Fish and game wardens also often earn overtime.

Finally, additional stipends may be awarded to individuals with mastery of a second language.

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