Game wardens, otherwise known as wildlife officers, are some of the most extensively trained state and federal law enforcement officers. Their primary responsibility is to protect the natural resources of a particular region trough conservation, education and enforcement efforts. Although it is generally understood that these conservation officials are responsible for enforcing laws related to game and wildlife, fish and game wardens in most jurisdictions have law enforcement authority that covers environmental, water regulation, and forestry laws.
Getting hired as a state or federal game warden marks the beginning of a long period of training. In fact, these highly skilled peace officers generally participate in three, distinct periods of training: basic academy training, field training, and specialized training.
Fish and Game Warden Basic Academy Training
Because of the wide scope of this profession, training is decidedly extensive. Basic academy training for new game wardens, depending on the wildlife department, may last anywhere from three months to nearly eight months.
State Training – Initial training for wildlife officers in Texas includes 15 weeks of instruction to meet the state-mandated training requirements for peace officer certification, while new game wardens in Virginia must complete a 29-week basic law enforcement training academy program. Full POST (peace officer standards and testing) certification for wildlife officers in Louisiana includes just 9 weeks of training.
POST certification typically consists of the following topics:
- Physical conditioning
- Defensive tactics
- State and federal laws
- Law enforcement and arrest procedures
- First aid/CPR
Depending on the wildlife department, basic academy training often focuses on state- or region-specific needs.
For example, game wardens in Oregon utilize different types of patrol equipment to accomplish the agency’s mission, including all-terrain vehicles, jet boats, drift boats, whitewater rafts, aircraft, horses, snowmobiles, and mountain bikes. Further, technological equipment, such as night vision goggles, GPS units, digital cameras, and radar-spotting scopes, are frequently used. Basic academy training in must include study and training in these areas.
In addition to the 15 weeks of basic academy training in Texas, all new game wardens receive an additional 700 to 750 hours of training in topics related to wildlife and fisheries enforcement, which include: wildlife and fisheries identification; public relations and communications; boat operation; ATV operation; and specialized patrol tactics.
Likewise, conservation officers, following the completion of basic academy training, attend “breakout” or “agency specific” training that lasts about eight weeks. Some of the topics covered during breakout training include: fish and wildlife conservation laws, vessel accident investigation, vessel handling, ATV training, and man-tracking.
Federal Training – New federal game wardens with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must complete 20 weeks of formal training in the areas of criminal investigations and wildlife law enforcement at the Federal Law Enforcement Agency (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia.
Fish and Game Warden Field Training
Field training is a significant part of a game warden’s initial training. Field training, which may last up to a year, often takes place at the game warden’s assigned field station or at several field stations.
State Training – For example, Wisconsin’s wildlife officer training includes a field training period of one year, during which time new game wardens spend between 4 and 6 weeks with 4 different field training officers located throughout the state.
Training for game wardens in Minnesota, on the other hand, lasts just 6 months, which includes both basic academy training and field training, and field training in Florida lasts just four months.
Federal Training – New federal game wardens must complete a 44-week Field Training and Evaluation Program, which includes extensive work with experienced officers who provide guidance on investigative skills and wildlife laws.
Fish and Game Warden Specialized Training
Beyond basic peace officer training, new game wardens are usually required to complete specialized training in any number of areas. Specialized training usually focuses on specific task forces or positions, with the amount and extent of specialized training dependent upon the needs of the wildlife department.
Specialized training in Oregon, for example, includes study in one or more of the following areas:
- Boat operations
- Horse packing
- Environmental crime investigation
- Federal wildlife laws
- Game salvage equipment operation
- 4×4 patrol unit operation
- Wildlife and fish identification
- Commercial fishing vessels
- Outdoor survival
Specialized training in Minnesota concentrates on specialist positions within the state’s wildlife departments, which include:
- Aircraft pilot
- Community liaison officer
- Special investigations
- Training officer
- Wetlands enforcement
- Marine unit
California wildlife officers serving as marine wardens and within the state wildlife department’s Special Operations Unit also receive additional specialized training. Marine wardens in California focus their efforts on fisheries enforcement, search and rescue, homeland defense, and public safety operations, while wildlife officers of the Special Operations Unit focus on investigating, infiltrating, and apprehending individuals who poach for profit.
Specialized wildlife officer training in Texas is designed for game wardens in specialist teams, which include:
- Texas Maritime Tactical Operations Group
- K-9 team
- SCOUT Team (tactical response)
- Search and Rescue Team
- Underwater Search and Recovery Dive Team
- Forensics Reconstruction and Mapping Team
- Marine Investigations Unit
- Statewide Honor Guard